About speech pathologists
A speech pathologist is a university-trained health professional who works with anyone who has trouble communicating. This could be trouble with:
- speech and sound – for example, trouble making and combining sounds in words
- language – for example, trouble understanding what other people say or trouble using words and sentences to express ideas
- literacy, including reading and writing
- social skills
- voice problems like hoarseness or breathiness.
Speech pathologists help people find the best way to communicate to meet their needs. This might include strategies to improve speech clarity or fluency, or signs, symbols, gestures and other forms of assisted communication.
Speech pathologists also help people who have trouble swallowing food and drink.
Speech pathologists work in kindergartens and schools, hospitals, early intervention programs, community health centres, mental health services and private practice.
Speech pathologists often have special interests in areas of complex need like deafness and hearing impairment, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), cerebral palsy or intellectual disability. They might work in specialist intervention services for children with these disabilities.
Speech pathologists work one on one with children and also with groups – for example, in the classroom. They are often part of early intervention teams of different specialists who work with children – for example, occupational therapists, psychologists and dietitians.
If your child has health or development concerns, allied health professionals like speech pathologists are there to care for your child and help you understand your child’s condition and treatment. With the support and expertise of these professionals, you can help your child thrive.
Why your child might see a speech pathologist
Your child might see a speech pathologist if he has trouble with communication including:
- problems being understood by other people
- problems understanding what people say
- frustration because he can’t say what he wants to say or can’t be understood by others
- a husky voice that’s hard to hear
A speech pathologist will assess your child’s strengths and difficulties to work out the best way to develop her ability to communicate.
During the assessment, the speech pathologist will talk with you about what your child has trouble with. The speech pathologist will also ask you about your child’s development, including medical history, and whether anyone else in your family has speech or language problems.
The speech pathologist might look at how well your child understands instructions and questions. The speech pathologist might also listen to your child talking to get a good idea of the words and sounds your child uses.
Other issues that speech pathologists can help with
Your child might also see a speech pathologist if he:
- needs help with feeding – for example, if your baby has a cleft palate
- has problems swallowing
- has an intellectual disability and needs help finding alternative ways to communicate
- has a history of ear infections and you’re worried about his communication
- needs help learning to read.
You don’t need a GP referral to see a speech pathologist, but talking to your GP or child and family health nurse could be a good place to start if you’re worried about your child’s health or development. You can also use Speech Pathology Australia’s find a speech pathologist service.
Before going to a speech pathologist
There are a few things to think about before you visit a speech pathologist:
- Why you’re going: it’s important to understand why your child needs to see a speech pathologist. You might like to write down any concerns or questions you have about your child’s speech or language, so you’re ready for your visit.
- Waiting lists: how long before you can get an appointment to see the speech pathologist?
- Is there anything you can do while you’re waiting for the appointment – for example, can your child start some treatment or therapy?
- Costs: how much will the appointment cost? The speech pathologist can tell you whether you can get money back from Medicare, private health insurance or the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), or whether you can get some other kind of financial help.
- Location: find out where you have to go to see the speech pathologist – for example, a public or private hospital, community health centre or consulting rooms. You might have to travel further than you expect, depending on your child’s needs.
- Qualifications: is the speech pathologist a member of Speech Pathology Australia (SPA)? Registration isn’t compulsory in Australia, but registered speech pathologists are qualified and up to date with professional development and practice.
You might want to talk about these things and any other questions you have with your GP or child and family health nurse before you go to the speech pathologist. You could also ask the speech pathologist’s clinic when you make the appointment.