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Speech-Language Pathologists: What You Need to Know

By Kate Kelly

At a Glance

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

  • They are part of the special education team.

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

When you hear the term speech-language pathologist (SLP), you might think of specialists who help kids with speech issues. But SLPs also handle a wide range of communication issues and reading issues.

If your child struggles with language and communication, he might work with an SLP at school. Or you can hire one privately. Learn more about SLPs and how they help with language and learning challenges.

Learning and Thinking Differences SLPs Help With

SLPs (also known as speech-language therapists or speech therapists) are trained to work on many types of learning differences. These include , , language disorders and . They also work with kids who have .

As part of their work, they address a wide range of skills. They might help a child with social skills issues make appropriate conversation, for instance. Or they might help struggling readers learn phonological awareness and gain comprehension.

SLPs in Public Schools

SPLs are part of the team in public schools. SPLs take part in the intervention and evaluation process. They work with kids who get related services through their . (They may also work with kids who get services through a .)

Their goal is to help improve how well a child is learning and performing in the classroom. To do this, they often focus on a child’s ability to understand and use language.

The SLP may work with classroom resources, such as the books your child is reading, as part of the therapy. Or she may choose other materials that are at your 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 an individual 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 classroom teacher.

How SLPs Help With Language and Communication Issues

SLPs at school may work with kids on language, speaking, listening and reading skills. If your child gets speech-language therapy through his IEP, the SLP will design activities for his particular issues. The activities might help your child in ways like these:

  • Boosting phonological awareness skills. This can help your child’s use of beginning reading and skills. The SLP might start by helping your child with rhyming and with identifying the beginning sounds in words.

  • Using language to express more complex ideas. The SLP may teach your child to speak in longer sentences and to share more details. For instance, she might focus on “joining words” like and, but or because to help kids combine their ideas in sentences.

  • Understanding inferences. These are ideas that aren’t directly stated in text. The SLP can work on helping your child understand the meaning of what he reads.

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

  • Using strategies to improve reading comprehension. The SLP may start by helping your child recall what he knows about a topic before he reads. She may also help your child find words or pictures in the reading that are clues to help with understanding.

  • Improving social communication skills. Your child 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.

SLPs and RTI

SLPs in public schools have a second important role. They assess kids who may have language and communication issues. The results help SLPs spot kids who can benefit from speech and language services.

SLPs have a major part in intervention systems, like response to intervention (RTI). The SLP may choose the specific intervention strategy that’s used to help a child. She may also decide how the child’s progress will be followed.

Then, depending on that progress, the SLP may suggest the child be evaluated for special education. She’ll then be a member of the evaluation team.

SLPs in Private Practice

Not all SLPs work in schools. Some are found in a medical setting like a children’s hospital. SLPs may also have a private practice and treat individual kids.

There may be reasons why you’d consider hiring an SLP in private practice. Perhaps you’re not happy with your child’s progress at school. Or you might want more sessions with an SLP than your child is receiving through his IEP.

Here are some things to ask about before you hire an SLP for your child:

  • Background: Talk with the SLP to make sure she fully understands your child’s specific issue. See if she has training and experience in that area. For example, kids with dyslexia need an SLP trained in multisensory phonemic awareness.

  • Education: SLPs must have an advanced degree. It’s often a master’s degree in communication disorders and science. Be sure the SLP has a license to practice in your state.

  • Target age: Some SLPs specialize in treating teens, while others focus on younger kids. Look for an SLP who knows and is comfortable with kids your child’s age.

  • Approach: Ask how the SLP will work with your child. For example, if she focuses mostly on skills and drills, is that a good match for your child? Also, find out if the SLP is willing to use your child’s school materials or similar resources in the sessions. It’s better for your child when the work with the SLP connects to what he’s learning in school.

Private Schools and Speech-Language Services

It’s important to know that the rules aren’t the same for private schools when it comes to special education. Private schools don’t have to provide services like speech-language therapy. Some provide speech-language therapy, but many don’t. If your child is in a private school that doesn’t offer these services, you still have options.

You have the right to ask a public school where you live to evaluate your child who attends private school. If the evaluation shows that your child should receive speech-language therapy, he may be entitled to services through the public school. However, he may not receive as many individual sessions as a child who attends the public school.

Getting SLP Support for Your Child

If you think your child could benefit from speech-language help, you can start by talking with his teacher about getting an evaluation. If he already has an IEP, ask the IEP team if this related service can help meet your child’s needs. And learn more about common terms you may hear if your child has language issues.

Key Takeaways

  • Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) work with kids who have an IEP.

  • SLPs have a role in identifying kids who may need speech-language services.

  • SLPs may use the same materials kids use in the classroom, or similar ones, or other materials at a child’s reading level.

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dyslexia:

auditory processing disorder:

social communication disorder:

nonverbal learning disabilities:

special education:

IEP:

504 plan:

decoding:

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