As a parent with young children who have difficulty with speaking or feeding themselves, you may find yourself referred to a speech pathologist. While it might sound scary, it can be a valuable tool to help your children learn to adapt to their problems. What do you need to know about speech pathology if you need to make an appointment with one for your child?

Speech Pathology vs. Speech Therapy

First, what is the difference between speech therapy and speech pathology?

The answer is nothing.  The two terms refer to the same sort of medical treatment that uses therapy to handle speech, language and feeding disorders in both children and adults.  The terms can be used interchangeably and you may hear one, the other or both if your child receives a referral to one of these specialists.

What is Speech and Language Disorders?

Speech pathologists specialize in helping both children and adults learn to manage speech and language disorders.  What is classified as speech and language disorders?

Speech disorders fall into one of three categories: articulation, fluency and resonance disorders.  People with articulation disorders have trouble making certain sounds and may say words incorrectly.  Stutters, partial word repetitions, and prolonged sounds fall under fluency disorders, and problems with pitch and speech volume are classified as resonance disorders.

Language disorders also fall into three categories: receptive, expressive, and cognitive-communication disorders. Those with receptive disorders have trouble understanding language, while those with expressive disorders have trouble putting words together. Cognitive-communication disorder is a broad term that defines any language disorder that applies to memory, attention and problem-solving.

What is Feeding Disorders?

Speech pathologists can also help children or adults who live with feeding disorders.  Also known as dysphagia or oral feeding disorders, these conditions affect the patient’s ability to eat and drink. Sometimes a physical condition can make it difficult to eat or drink and may manifest as choking, gagging or coughing, as well as refusing foods.

Speech pathology can help children and adults learn to manage these disorders and to eat and drink without a problem.

What does a Speech Pathologist Do?

What does a speech pathologist do?

Being unable to communicate is incredibly frustrating, especially for children who might not have the skills to write or sign their needs and desires. If often leads to them acting out, being defined as troublemakers or diagnosed with other disorders when all they needed was help being understood.

A speech therapy appointment might be one-on-one with your child, in a small group or in a classroom setting, depending on the specifics of the child’s diagnosis and their individual needs. According to some studies, 70% of preschool children who underwent speech therapy — regardless of the presence of a speech or language disorder — experienced improvement in their spoken language skills.

Speech therapy isn’t a quick fix but over time it can help individuals improve their language and communication skills.  It’s also something that you can practice at home with the skills that you and your child have learned during your appointments.

Making Your First Appointment

Finally, what should you do if you need to make an appointment with a speech pathologist?

First, don’t panic and don’t stress yourself out about it. Speech therapy is nothing more than a useful tool.  Your first appointment will consist of meeting the therapist as well as assessments to determine where your child is in their language skill.  This isn’t a test like you might be thinking.  Instead, especially with younger children, much of the assessment — and the therapy itself — is done through play.

The therapist will also ask you some questions about your family history and other information that might help them determine the best way to treat your child to improve their communication skills.  This conversation between you and the therapist also gives your child time to warm up to them, so communication will come more easily.

Once the assessment is complete, you and the therapist will set up an appointment schedule, depending on the child’s needs.  This could be as often as three or four times a week or as few as once a week.

Moving Forward

Don’t let the name scare you away.  Speech pathologists can be valuable allies if your child is having trouble communicating or feeding.  If you’ve received a referral from your child’s doctor, make an appointment as soon as possible. Speech therapy takes time and the sooner you get the process started, the sooner your child can benefit from this unique specialty.