Speech Pathologist vs. Speech Therapist – Apples or Oranges?

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Have you ever wondered about the difference between a speech pathologist vs. speech therapist?  The very word “pathologist” seems foreboding and the connotation feels negative.   Do you associate a pathologist with scary health outcomes?   I think that is where my sense of the word originates; waiting for the pathology results when friends and family are facing a health challenge.

Speech Pathologist vs. Speech Therapist

Pathology Lab Technician studiously doing her job.

And in the medical field a pathologist is someone who studies the origin, nature, and course of diseases. (1)

A speech pathologist is someone who determines how speech and language are not following normal, healthy, and efficient conditions (1) for language patterns.   So maybe the term ‘speech therapist’ sounds less foreboding.  Fact is they are one and the same even though in some circles a ‘speech pathologist’ prefers that name over being called a therapist.  Well, does the definition of pathology bring up a question begging now for an answer?

What Does a Speech Pathologist Do?

Well, let’s go right to the source, the horse’s mouth as the saying goes.  The authority in this field and the overseeing agency in the licensure of SLPs is the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA).  This association says this regarding what a speech pathologist does:  “pathologists have a central role in providing services and supports for families and their infants or toddlers with disabilities as members of the early intervention team.  Furthermore, the appropriately certified and licensed (as applicable) speech-language pathologist is qualified to address delays and disabilities in communication, language, speech, emergent literacy, and feeding/swallowing. “   Look, I think this is a mouthful!

Speech Pathologist vs. Speech Therapist

Going to the Horses Mouth

These are the areas of their expertise and support:

Cognitive abilities of being in communication with others; includes executive functions, problem-solving, attention and memory.

Speech, how the voice and resonance is produced, fluency, how the tongue, lips and palate are used to form the sounds of speech, and how the vocal cords are functioning in sound generation from the ‘vocal box’.

Language meaning the systematic organization of sounds,  patterns of word formation, syntax, semantics, and the communication evolves in social settings with regard to comprehension and written and oral expression, how language is processed, and fixing/assessing literacy skills of the client.

Swallowing or you could say the assessment of how the esophagus functions when swallowing with the exchange of air and sensory awareness for swallowing.

Voice the quality of the voice; breathy, hoarse, strained, rough and the strength or volume of the voice.

They KNOW What They KNOW!

Working with children whose brain and nervous system is so disorganized that accessing language becomes a struggle is work for everyone involved.  The help of a competent and compassionate SLP is part of bringing a semblance of normalcy, as much as is possible.  From this short video clip it is apparent that only until the nervous ‘storm’ has subsided in our child’s brain and body will it be possible to have any communication at all.  If your loved one is suffering with these meltdown events, my heart goes out to you!

Licensure Not Possible Without Extensive Education

Language and the ability to communicate is a very complicated process.  No wonder the SLP, the person who is your speech therapist has such an extensive education and required experience, much like a doctor’s internship, ensuring they are skilled at doing their assessments and evaluations.   In fact in order to be licensed as a Speech Language Pathologist they will have completed a Master’s from a communicative sciences and disorder program, spent at least 1260 hours as a clinical fellow in a clinical setting, and pass several comprehensive exams along their path to the board exam In order to become a licensed Speech Language Pathologist.

Oh my goodness, all of that knowledge and educational commitment is coming right to your doorstep!

What More Is Needed?

Of course, just because they have a Master’s degree that doesn’t mean they are skilled at observation or will be a good match for your child, you, and your family.  Focusing on the family and its overall needs is one necessary way that the child is helped with their language barriers.  If the child does not like and trust this professional who is working with them and the parent is not included or the family dynamics is not understood and acknowledged then progress could be hampered.

I have to say my current therapist is all of these things and more for my daughter and I.  I have learned so VERY much from her and consider her a treasure, one for which I am humbly grateful!  She never flaunts her extensive education and experience.  And trust?  She has my explicit trust and my daughter has grown to love her even though she has to sometimes use firmness when working through the exercises because when its hard my little one has an entire battery of avoidance techniques.  Yes I trust her and appreciate her .  Saying “thank you” is quite simply inadequate!

WHY Is This Important?

The fact that a qualified SLP can help you address communication delays and disabilities is SO very important.   It’s important because what our children may not be able to say affects their mental and emotional welfare.  Remember, laughter is like medicine, it’s really good for the soul but how does one laugh when you don’t understand a joke, or see the humor in a situation or story?  And maybe like me, you worry about how your child can tell you if something isn’t right, maybe even unsafe, or just share their thoughts and feelings with us.  Incorrect, inadequate understanding could be the setting for troubling social issues that will make it hard to make friends, follow directions in a classroom or say from an emergency responder, and could even involve abuse.

How does your child see their world AND engage with it?

My little one is very black and white about things.  It’s as if the world is set in concrete.   Coming from this mindset has made things difficult for her when it comes to playfulness and silly sayings, and yes, kid style joking around.   She doesn’t get it, she doesn’t get them.   So you can imagine she will often not socialize.   And here’s something to ponder, it will make it hard for our littles to identify when someone has lied to them?  The language delays cloud up seeing another person’s intention and they won’t see how what is being said doesn’t line up with what their experience is or has been.   A lie is neither black nor white; it’s a lie that without experience will be accepted as truth by one whose language abilities are challenged.  I don’t know about you, but I really despise the idea of my daughter being lied to, it’s associated with far too many scary outcomes.

What’s a Good Mom and Dad Supposed to Do?

Maybe your own biggest challenge will be accepting that your little one has disabilities that are impeding their ability to be happy, function well in the family, and in time be fully realized as a person in their world.  It may be hard to accept your child is disabled!   What is necessary might be to swallow that piece of humble pie and bring this professional into your lives and into your home.    Let’s face it, this is  hard!  But hard doesn’t have to be impossible.  And bringing therapy to your child is going to make your life so much easier and so much better for your child … and YOU!

So tap into these resources, it’s a ‘no-brainer’, because we aren’t always going to be around

to help and support our ‘special’ people.

We need to keep in mind, that if a child hasn’t as yet mastered language then how are they supposed to understand their feelings and explain what is going on for them?  How will they think about things and make wise decisions? It’s no wonder a child with language delays is angry or has emotional outbursts.  Ever have one of those crying fits, an unleashed moment, unload in your household?  A total meltdown?  Being conscious of how awfully isolating it is to not be able to communicate one’s feelings is going to help us be better parents.  Can you see how lonely that would be, not having enough language to put into words what she was upset about?  And maybe she hadn’t received and processed information in the exchange of communication setting the stage for those melt downs. (By the way this is called receptive and expressive language and will be another blog post.) Fewer meltdowns? Yup that sounds like a good family goal, don’t you think. Yes, indeed, a Speech Language Pathologist is a critical player in the very important work of establishing communication for our special needs children and youth.

What NOW?

Anytime we are talking about a diagnosis for a condition, this can be alarming. I understand, as I have had to make my way through five different diagnosis; global developmental delays, microcephaly, autism, a rare chromosome disorder, and moderate intellectual disability. There is so much to put our heads and hearts around when being told our little one is dyslexic, or ADHD, or has a chromosome disorder and has a moderate intellectual disability. Good heavens! It can sometimes mean we have to step back and keep that big picture in mind. What are we trying to do here anyway? Understand our children, right? And bring together whatever is necessary so they can become all that they are capable of becoming!

So, what do you think? Is bringing this support into their lives worth the time and effort?

Is it worth ours?

Let me know by Contacting Me Here or leave a comment below.

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