What is Speech Pathology?

What is speech pathology?

Aren’t you a speech therapist?

How do I know if my child needs to see a speech pathologist?

These are just some of the common questions asked by families that include a child who may need assistance with their speech, language and communication.

We sat down with Carla Mangion, Co-Director and Speech Pathologist at Make the Connection to get some practical information and answers to the most common questions health professionals receive when it comes to the world of speech.

What is a speech pathologist and what do they do?

A speech pathologist has many roles and works across lots of different settings.

Speech pathologists diagnose and treat communication disorders, including difficulties with speech, language, swallowing, fluency and voice. They work with people who have difficulty communicating because of developmental delays, stroke, brain injuries, learning disability, intellectual disability, autism spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy, dementia and hearing loss, as well as other problems that can affect speech and language. People who experience difficulties swallowing food and drink safely can also be helped by a speech pathologist (SPA, 2015).

Being a paediatric speech pathologist means that I work with infants through to adolescents, and the areas that I focus on include:

  • Finding the best way for a child to communicate. This may be through developing their speech skills or by giving them alternative methods to communicate by using sign, visuals (e.g. pictures) or other assistive communication (e.g. iPad, communication devices).
  • Supporting children to learn and understand language so that they can follow instructions and respond to questions
  • Supporting children to develop clear speech and the development of appropriate speech sounds.
  • Supporting the developing of child’s social skills and how they interact and connect with their peers
  • Supporting the inclusion of children in childcare, kindergarten and school
  • Supporting the development of skills needed for safe and effective eating and drinking
  • Working with children who are stuttering
  • Exploring and assisting with fussy eating
  • Assisting in the development of reading and writing (literacy) skills

What is the difference between a speech pathologist and a speech therapist?

The short answer is that there is no difference in Australia. In some parts of the world there is a different level of training. In Australia we are referred to as a Speech Pathologist but in other parts of the world our title can vary. For instance in the UK we are referred to as speech and language therapists where else in the USA we are known as speech and language pathologists.

How do I know if my child needs to see a speech pathologist?

A good starting point are fact sheets provided by Speech Pathology Australia, click here to visit the fact sheet page on their website.

Initial people you may also want to have a conversation with include your local doctor, maternal and child health nurse (MCH) and kindergarten and classroom teachers.

The MCH nurse will be able to assess whether your child is meeting all their milestones, including their speech, language and communication milestones. Checking in with your child’s educators, such as their kindergarten and school teacher is useful to ascertain any difficulties. Despite this, if you still have concerns, scheduling an appointment with a speech pathologist to screen or assess your child’s skills can also be very useful to determine if there is any need for therapy intervention.

How does a speech pathologist help my child?

Our first role is to gather background information from a range of people and assess whether there is any underlying speech, language or feeding issues. This is usually done through an assessment. If speech pathology intervention is required, a speech pathologist generally will work with a family to determine the most beneficial way to deliver services to enhance better outcomes for the child. Speech pathology services may be delivered in the clinic, to the home, childcare, kindergarten or school.

Do I need to be referred to a speech pathologist?

A referral is not required to see a speech pathologist. Your family GP may be able to recommend a speech pathologist who has a specific skill set in the area you are seeking support with. Recommendations from family and friends may also be a helpful way in finding a speech pathologist that suits you and your child.

Alternatively you can look for a speech pathologist on the Speech Pathology Australia website.

What diagnoses can a speech pathologist assist with?

A speech pathologist can support a child with any diagnosis that has an impact on their communication, speech and eating and drinking skills. For example a child diagnosed with global developmental delay, with delayed play skills, will benefit from the input of a speech pathologist to develop play skills from solitary to more interactive play forms.

What should I expect from my first appointment?

You first appointment will consist of your speech pathologist gathering information about your child’s overall development including medical information and looking closely at their communication milestones. The speech pathologist is likely to complete some observational assessments through interacting and playing with your child to determine any areas of concerns. They may also complete specific assessments to ascertain more detailed information about any areas of concerns. This assessment may happen in the initial appointment or in appointments to follow.

What does a speech pathologist cost?

Prices of a speech pathologist will vary from clinic to clinic and from speech pathologist to speech pathologist. It may be beneficial to ring a few different practices and enquire about the cost of service and what services involve.

Is there funding available, and how do I know if my child is eligible?

There are a few avenues for funding for speech pathology services that you may need to explore to see if you and your child are eligible. These include:

  • If you have private health extras cover, check with your health provider to see if speech pathology is covered.
  • Medicare items as part of the Chronic Disease Mental Health Plan.
  • FaHCSIA Helping children with Autism, this program for children under the age of seven with a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. Click here for more information.
  • FaHCSIA Better Start is for children under the age of seven with a diagnosed disability. Click here for a list of disabilities covered under this program

Carla is a Speech Pathologist and Co-Director of Make the Connection, graduating with both a Major in Disabilities and a Graduate Certificate in Developmental Psychiatry. Her areas of interest include treatment of children with varying abilities across a range of diagnosis, and she has extensive training in a range of certified programs to support communication, speech skills, fussy eating and positive behaviour supports.

Make the Connection provides home and school based therapy intervention to families in the northern and western subrubs of Melbourne. Social skills groups are also provided on Saturdays in Brunswick. To find out more about Make the Connection speech pathology and occupational therapy services click here to visit their website.