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What is speech therapy?

By Gail Belsky

At a Glance

  • Speech therapy helps improve communication skills.

  • Kids with reading challenges may benefit from speech therapy.

  • Public schools provide this service for free as part of special education.

Speech therapy is a treatment that can help improve communication skills. It’s sometimes called speech-language therapy.

Many people think that speech therapy is only for kids with speech disorders that affect pronunciation. But it also helps kids who struggle with spoken and written language. That includes those with language disorders and reading challenges like .

The specialists who do this type of therapy are speech-language pathologists (SLPs). They start by identifying what kind of speech or language problem a child has. Then they determine what’s causing it and decide on the best treatment. 

In addition to speech challenges, therapy can target problems with:

  • Receptive language (understanding language)

  • Expressive language (using language)

  • Social communication (using language in socially appropriate ways)

  • Reading and spelling (including dyslexia)

Therapy can happen one-on-one or in small groups. It may last from a few months to a few years. The earlier therapy begins, the more helpful it is. Language difficulties are usually lifelong, but skills can improve with the right support. 

Speech therapy may help some adults, too. But it’s not usually covered by insurance, so adults don’t often seek treatment.

Dive deeper

How speech-language therapy works

Kids may get therapy in school for free as part of special education through an IEP . They might start even earlier, through their state’s early intervention system. Therapy can also happen in private settings.

Speech-language therapy is tailored for a child’s specific needs. Here are some common skills SLPs work on:

  • Phonological awareness. To improve this early reading skill, SLPs might focus on rhyming and identifying sounds in words. 

  • Expressing more complex ideas. SLPs might teach “joining words” like and, but, or because to help kids combine their ideas in sentences.

  • Building vocabulary. SLPs might help kids remember words by acting them out or using them to tell a story.

  • Conversation skills. SLPs might role-play conversation and help kids pick up on social cues.

Parents and caregivers can help kids practice these exercises at home. This can make speech therapy even more effective.

Learn more about how speech-language pathologists work with kids .

Speech-language therapy and reading challenges

One of the first reading skills is called phonological awareness. It’s the ability to recognize and use sounds in spoken language. Kids rely on that ability to sound out (decode) words. 

Kids with reading challenges like dyslexia typically have trouble with this skill. Speech-language therapy can help them hear that the word bat breaks down into b, a, and t sounds. This can improve reading comprehension skills and encourage kids to read.

Difficulty with language can also cause problems with reading comprehension. SLPs work on those skills, too.

Learn more about phonological awareness .

How to request speech therapy

To get speech therapy at school, kids need to be evaluated by the SLP. That usually happens as part of a full school evaluation for special education services. For some kids, speech therapy is the only service they need. Find out how to request a free evaluation for:

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  • Coming soonGoogle Classroom