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How speech-language pathologists work with kids

By Kate Kelly

At a Glance

  • Speech-language pathologists help kids with all types of language and communication issues.

  • They’re often part of the special education team at school.

  • They may work with kids one-on-one or in small groups, or they may co-teach lessons with the classroom teacher.

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When you hear the term speech-language pathologist (SLP), you might think of professionals who help kids with speech difficulties. And that’s not wrong. SLPs work on challenges like stuttering or trouble pronouncing word sounds.

But SLPs also work on challenges that are related to language. That includes problems with communication and reading.

These specialists are trained to work on many types of learning differences, including:

  • Dyslexia

  • Auditory processing disorder

  • Language disorders

  • Social communication disorder

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SLPs (also known as speech-language therapists or speech therapists) often work with kids at school, where therapy is free. But some SLPs work in private practices. 

Speech therapy is tailored to meet a child’s needs. So, SLPs address specific skills. For example, they might help a child who has trouble with social skills make appropriate conversation. Or help a struggling reader connect letters to sounds.

SLPs don’t only help kids. Speech-language therapists who work privately may also treat adults with some language challenges. But it’s less common.

Dive deeper

How SLPs help with language challenges

In addition to working on speech skills, SLPs at school may work with kids on language, speaking, listening, and reading skills. They design activities based on individual needs. Here are some things they might focus on:

  • Boosting phonological awareness skills. These skills allow kids to recognize and work with sounds in words. SLPs might start by focusing on rhyming and identifying the beginning sounds in words.

  • Expressing more complex ideas. SLPs may teach kids to speak in longer sentences and to share more details. They might focus on using “joining words” like and, but, or because.

  • Understanding inferences. These are ideas that aren’t directly stated in text. SLPs can help kids understand the meaning of what they read.

  • Building vocabulary. Knowing more words can help kids with speaking, reading, and listening. To help kids remember new words, SLPs might act them out, use them to retell stories, or play vocabulary games.

  • Improving reading comprehension. SLPs may start by helping kids recall what they know about a topic before they read. SLPs may also teach kids how to look for key elements in stories.

  • Improving social communication skills. Kids may get help with the back-and-forth of conversation. This can involve learning to pay attention to the other person’s tone of voice, body language, and emotions.

Learn more about what happens in speech therapy .

SLPs in public schools

SLPs are part of the special education team in public schools. They’re involved in the intervention and evaluation process. They work with kids who get related services through an IEP. (They may also work with kids who get services through a 504 plan.)

As part of the therapy, SLPs may work with classroom resources, such as the books a child is reading. Or they may choose other materials that are at a child’s reading level.

SLPs work with kids both one-on-one and in small groups. They may coordinate with a special education teacher to support a child. They may also come into the classroom to work with kids in a reading or language center or to co-teach a lesson with the teacher.

SLPs play another important role in public schools. They assess kids who struggle with language and communication. The results help them spot kids who can benefit from speech and language services. SLPs can also help kids as part of the school’s intervention system.

Find out about IEPs and related services at school.

SLPs in private practice

Not all SLPs work in schools. Some work in a medical setting, like a children’s hospital. Others may also have a private practice.

People hire an SLP in private practice for different reasons. One is that they’re not happy with their child’s progress at school. Another is that they want more sessions with an SLP than their child is receiving through the IEP.

But paying for an SLP can be expensive. Some may offer a sliding scale payment. That means you pay a fee that’s based on your income. Some SLPs oversee services at university clinics, which can be low-cost or free.

Here are some things to ask about before hiring an SLP:

  • Does the SLP have training and experience in the types of challenges the child has?

  • Does the SLP have an advanced degree (usually a master’s degree in communication disorders and science) and a license to practice in the state?

  • Does the SLP specialize in treating a certain age group?

  • What is the SLP’s approach, and is it a good fit for the child? Is the SLP willing to use the child’s school materials or similar resources in the sessions?

Discover resources for finding local specialists .

Next steps

To get speech therapy at school, kids need to be evaluated for special education services. SLPs can assess a child’s challenges as part of the full evaluation process. Schools do these evaluations for free.

Parents and caregivers can also talk with their child’s pediatrician or other health care professional. They can be good resources when it comes to language challenges and learning differences.

For parents: Learn about the evaluation process at school

For educators: Find out about different language disorders .

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