Speech therapy is a branch of medicine that studies oral and written language and all related disorders. The speech therapist is a specialist in the prevention, assessment, treatment and rehabilitation of speech, voice, language, communication and swallowing disorders in children, adolescents, adults and elderly patients.
Speech therapy deals with primary language disorders (PLD):
- Articulation, phonological, lexical, morphosyntactic and pragmatic receptive and expressive language disorders.
- Language delays in so-called “late talkers”, i.e., children who show language issues and a limited spoken vocabulary already within three years of age.
The speech therapist also deals with non-specific language and communication difficulties, secondary to cognitive delays, syndromes, etc.
The speech therapist is involved in the evaluation and treatment of language-related learning issues at school:
- Dyslexia (difficulties reading due to problems decoding a text).
- Misspelling (writing disorder associated with impaired handwriting).
- Dyscalculia (affected ability to acquire arithmetical skills, working with numbers, processing calculations and solving mathematical problems).
- Learning issues at school secondary to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or cognitive impairments.
The speech therapist also treats:
- Disfluency (involuntary disruption in the flow of speech, such as stuttering).
- Dysphonia (disturbance of normal vocal function).
- Aphasia (language impairment as a result of brain damage).
- Dysarthria (difficulties related to the muscles involved in speech production).
- Hypoacusia (deafness).
- Neuro-cognitive disorders (syndromes, cognitive delays).
Finally, the speech therapist deals with swallowing disorders, dysphagia, i.e. difficulty or discomfort swallowing liquids, food, drugs, saliva, etc.
During the first visit, the speech therapist collects an accurate patient history with essential information to establish the clinical picture and define the impairment.
The speech therapist can then prescribe standardized tests on the patient to accurately and objectively assess the various aspects of the disorder.
At the end of the assessment, the speech therapist develops a treatment plan tailored for the specific needs of the patient.
Speech therapists have an independent approach but also often cooperate with a multidisciplinary team of professionals (general practitioners, pediatricians, medical specialists, psychologists, neurodevelopmental disorder therapists).