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, difficulty making and/or combining sounds in words and sentences
- language – for example, trouble understanding what other people say or trouble using words and sentences to express ideas
- literacy, including spelling, 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 how clearly or fluently they speak. It might also include forms of assisted communication, like signs, symbols and gestures.
Speech pathologists also help children who have trouble feeding, as well as children and adults who have difficulties with 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 like genetic conditions, deafness and hearing loss, autism, cerebral palsy or intellectual disability. They might work in specialist intervention services for children with these conditions.
Speech pathologists work one on one with children and also with groups – for example, in the classroom. They’re 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 they have trouble with communication including:
- problems being understood by other people
- problems understanding what people say
- frustration because they can’t say what they want to say or can’t be understood by others
- a husky voice that’s hard to hear
- difficulties with spelling, reading or writing.
A speech pathologist will assess your child’s strengths and difficulties to work out the best way to develop your child’s 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 any history of speech or language problems in your family.
The speech pathologist might use some special tests to assess how well your child understands instructions and questions.
The speech pathologist might also ask your child to do some tests or tasks so they can listen to and assess your child’s talking. This helps the speech pathologist get a good idea of the words and sounds your child uses.
After the assessment, the speech pathologist will be able to tell you about your child’s communication abilities and needs. They might also give you a report that outlines your child’s speech difficulties and strengths, plus a therapy plan for your child. If the speech pathologist doesn’t give you this information, you can ask for it.
Other issues that speech pathologists can help with
Your child might also see a speech pathologist if they:
- need help with feeding
- have problems swallowing
- have an intellectual disability, genetic condition or severe speech difficulties and need help finding alternative ways to communicate
- have a history of ear infections and you’re worried about their communication.
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 – Find a speech pathologist.
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.
- Appointments: does the appointment need to be in person, or can it be via telehealth?
- 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 therapy?
- Costs: some speech pathologist services are free, and other services charge fees. If there’s a fee, you might be able to get a Medicare or private health insurance rebate or NDIS support.
- Locations: 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 want to talk about these and any other issues 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.