Speech pathologists study, diagnose and treat communication disorders, including difficulties with speaking, listening, understanding language, reading, writing, social skills, stuttering and using voice. They work with people who have difficulty communicating because of developmental delays, stroke, brain injuries, learning disability, intellectual disability, 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.
Where do speech pathologists practice?
Speech pathologists work across a range of health settings including hospitals, schools, community health centres, residential and aged care facilities, disability services, mental health facilities, juvenile justice centres and private clinics.
Services provided by government or not for profit organisations may be free of charge though there is often a waiting list for public services. Private services are provided by speech pathologists who may work in a sole practice or with other speech pathologists and in multidisciplinary practices.
When should I see a speech pathologist?
There are many reasons why a person might benefit from seeing a speech pathologist. A formal referral is not generally required to see a speech pathologist. Some typical issues that may lead a person to see a speech pathologist include:
- A child that has difficulty being understood by other children in the child care centre
- A high school student who stutters and wishes to speak more fluently and with confidence.
- A person experiencing difficulty speaking clearly after a brain injury
- A person with dementia who needs assistance communicating with family and carers and making choices about their future
- A person who is experiencing difficulties swallowing safely following a stroke.
What services do speech pathologists provide?
Speech pathologists offer a broad range of services to support people in managing their communication skills and capacity to swallow safely. Examples of the type of work speech pathologists undertake with people are:
- Providing communication strategies and augmentative or alternative communication devices for a person who cannot communicate verbally
- Teaching a person who has had a stroke to swallow safely without choking and/or regain their communication skills
- Helping children who have difficulty with their speech such aschildhood apraxia of speech
- Helping pre-school and school aged children who have difficulty understanding others or difficulty sharing their thoughts, ideas and feelings
- Helping children and adults who stutter to speak more fluently and with confidence
- Providing advice to parents/carers who have babies or toddlers with feeding and swallowing difficulties.
- Helping individuals with voice disorders including difficulties with voice quality, pitch or loudness.
How are speech pathologists qualified?
In order to practise as a Certified Practising Speech Pathologist (CPSP), speech pathologists must meet the following requirements:
- Complete a recognised undergraduate or masters level qualification
- Complete continuing professional development as set out by Speech Pathology Australia
- Demonstrate that they have practised as a speech pathologist in the previous five years for a minimum of 1000 hours to meet Recency of Practice requirements.
Speech pathology is a self-regulated profession. Speech Pathology Australia is recognised by the Department of Education and Training as the assessing authority for speech pathologists in Australia.
For more detailed information about speech pathology, please visit the Speech Pathology Australia website.
Find a speech pathologist
Speech Pathology Australia has a Find a Speech Pathologist service that can be accessed here.