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AutismBC Talks

What is a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP)?

June 16th, 2022


For Caregivers, Professionals

Chelsea Jelic is a Registered Speech-Language Pathologist from POPARD (Provincial Outreach Program for Autism and Related Disorders). She will talk about what a Speech-Language Pathologist does, and how they can help support your child, your loved one or yourself.

Stella (S): What is a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP)?

Chelsea (C): SLPs are regulated healthcare professionals who are registered to practice in British Columbia through the College of Speech and Hearing Professionals. The main goal of a Speech-Language Pathologist is to help people enhance their communication skills. Communication is very simply the “sending and receiving of information.” We use communication in order to achieve all sorts of things and most of it has to do with connecting to other people – we communicate to express our thoughts and emotions to others, to understand other’s thoughts and emotions, to express our needs – whether we want something or don’t want something, to get someone’s attention, to share interests or experiences over an extended interaction like a conversation, and of course communication skills are important for achieving goals at school or in a workplace. Humans have a lot of ways they we can communicate with others and we are usually using a combination of communication skills – we may use spoken word to communicate, like I am now; we use many non-spoken forms of communication such as gestures, body movements, or facial expressions; we may also use written language, typed language, sign language, or use of symbols to communicate. A speech-language pathologist will work with you and your child to understand the ways that are easiest and best for them to communicate and also the skills that they may learn to increase their ability to communicate with others.

S: Is a Speech-Language Pathologist different from a Speech Therapist?

C: No, they are the same thing. Many times, when people talk about “Speech-Language Pathologists”, they may say “SLP” or “Speech Therapist.” All of these terms refer to the profession of Speech-Language Pathology – they are just a shortform or a quicker way to say it!

S: We hear the terms non-verbal and verbal a lot. What does it mean by non-verbal? Does it mean the person cannot speak or make sound?

C: The term “nonverbal” refers to a person who does not primarily use spoken words to communicate. They may make different sounds to communicate and even have some spoken words but they do not have the ability to use spoken words to meet all of their functional needs or social needs. Children who repeat spoken language of others but do not generate their own spoken words, what we call “echolalia” can also be considered nonverbal or minimally verbal because they can not independently use their spoken words. Lately, many people are preferring the term “non-speaking” over nonverbal because it is easier to understand but these terms have similar meaning. It’s important to know that if a child (or adult) is nonverbal or minimally verbal, they may still be able to understand a high level of language that is being spoken to them. We never want to underestimate a person who is not using spoken word to communicate.

S: What does it mean when an SLP is “working on speech”?

C: Working on speech or speaking is one skill that an SLP can address. When we work on Speech Skills, we are helping people make their spoken word easier to understand. This may mean practicing the motor movements for speech sounds, practicing the speed of speech sounds and words, or practicing the clarity of speech sounds or voice. The goal of working on speech is to help make the communicator easier to understand when they are speaking.

S: What does it mean when an SLP is “working on language”?

C: Language refers to the structured system that we are using to communicate – it includes all of the commonalities or rules that exist in a language that enable us to understand meaning and to express ourselves. People may need help learning or finding the words they want to use, putting words in the right order, putting full ideas in the right order, or using the right grammar for that language. Language skills are important no matter if we are using spoken word, written word or symbols. Other nonverbal language skills include gestures, body movements, or facial expressions that we use to convey meaning or understand others.

Language also involves social considerations, which we call Social Language. Social language is a type of language system that allows us to make ourselves and others feel comfortable when communicating and interacting, in order to make a meaningful connection. Social language includes the ability to use language for different purposes (saying hello, telling someone about something, asking a question), the ability to adapt language to meet the needs of the listener or a situation (talking differently to a baby versus an adult, or talking louder when there is lots of noise), and also following the “unwritten rules” of conversation and interaction, which involves skills like turn-taking and also thinking about how our body language and facial expressions are involved in communicating.

S: If a parent is worried about their child’s speech or language, when should they contact an SLP?

C: If you have concerns or questions about your child’s speech or language development you can contact a speech-language pathologist. You do not need to wait to reach out for more information. SL Ps are always interested to discuss speech and language development, at any age! Your child does not need to have a diagnosis of any kind and you do not need a referral from a doctor to connect with an SLP.

SLPs are available in community preschool settings and school settings, and they also work privately. You can find private SLPs using a professional search database – I will share the link with you at the end of this talk.

S: What does speech therapy look like for different communication challenges?

C: Speech therapy will often begin by doing an assessment, or if your child has recently had an assessment done by an SLP, like through an Autism diagnosis for example, they will refer to most recent assessments.

Once an assessment has been done and the SLP finds there are some speech or language delays or challenges, they will begin treatment or therapy sessions.

Speech-language therapy looks different depending on what communication challenge is being addressed.

All therapy includes the SLP teaching and modeling skills, not only to the child but also to parents, and then practicing the skills in a 1:1 session or a group format.

  • For example, for a child who is having trouble articulating their words clearly, the SLP will help train their speech muscles like their tongue and lips to coordinate sounds more easily.
  • For a person who is nonverbal or does not use spoken words to communicate, an SLP may help that person to utilize other forms of communication such as gestures, body movements, and facial expressions, as well as introduce tools for communication such as an alternative or augmentative communication devices that involves a person pointing to symbols, letters, or written words to communicate.
  • A child who uses spoken language to communicate or non-spoken ways to communicate, may also benefit from working on social language. In this case, an SLP often works to help a person understand the perspectives of others in order to communicate in a way that makes themselves and others feel socially connected.

S: We hear about Social Groups a lot in recent years. What is the difference between a social skills group and a socialization group?

C: Social skills training groups are often run by SLPs or sometimes Behaviour Consultants or OTs. In social skills training groups, professionals are teaching and practicing specific skills that will help a person connect with others, based on assessment information. Socialization groups, often called Friendship Groups or Interest Groups are different. These types of groups are usually not run by SLPs or other healthcare professionals, as they do not teach or practice specific social skills. These types of groups simply provide the opportunity for children to meet other children around shared interests, which is also important

S: Do SLPs work with adults?

C: Yes, SLPs can support people across the lifespan! Many times SLPs support adults who have had an accident or health issue that is affecting their communication ability, like a stroke for example. SLPs also work with the aging population, as we know aging affects our cognition and language skills. Or, if an adult has recently been diagnosed with Autism, they may want to connect with an SLP to practice skills that will make social connection easier for them.

C: If an adult needs to access SLP services, there are some community services available. But you can also find a private SLP through the professional search database I mentioned earlier that may work with you in your home or community setting.

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