What is speech therapy?

By Gail Belsky

Expert reviewed by Kelli Johnson, MA

What is speech therapy? A speech therapist guides a child holding a mirror.

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

About the author

About the author

Gail Belsky is executive editor at Understood. She has written and edited for major media outlets, specializing in parenting, health, and career content.

Reviewed by

Reviewed by

Kelli Johnson, MA is an educational speech-language pathologist, working with students from early childhood through 12th grade.