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From mouth exercises and assistive technology to food textures and musical stimulation, there's much more to speech therapy than just helping someone who is having difficulty speaking. In fact, a speech-language pathologist (SLP) can create a customizable treatment plan for both children and adult patients who need help with speech, communication, or sometimes even swallowing.
What Do SLPs Treat?
A speech-language pathologist can help with the prevention, assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of speech, language, and social communication problems. They may also address aural rehabilitation for the hard of hearing as well as treat cognitive-communication difficulties and swallowing disorders as a result of injury or other health conditions.
Treatment Methods For Childhood Conditions
Speech-language pathology doesn't have a one-size-fits-all treatment. Some forms of therapy are created to benefit a child as they continue to develop, which could have redundant or unhelpful results for adults who need treatment for similar issues. Here are a few examples of treatment methods specifically aimed at pediatric speech and language difficulties.
Common SLP Treatment Methods
Many forms of SLP treatment are specialized for developing children, but many more therapy methods are effective for both pediatric and adult patients. While this isn't a comprehensive list of treatment methods used by SLPs, it can provide some perspective on the scope of assistance a speech-language pathologist can provide.
Many people deal with this condition as the result of a stroke. Identifiers for Aphasia may include difficulty reading, writing, and listening, which shares many symptoms with other conditions that SLPs may also treat. For aphasia and similar cognitive disorders, speech-language pathologists commonly use drills to improve targeted language skills, practice conversational skills in group therapy, and use gestures and writing to bolster communication skills.
Difficulties with swallowing and feeding are often displayed in childhood as messy eating or an aversion to certain textures and consistencies. In more severe cases, children may cough or choke while eating, have gurgled speech after a meal, or even start to lose weight. In adults, swallowing disorders typically form after injury or surgery, but the symptoms are very similar to how the condition appears in childhood. In both cases, a speech-language pathologist will first ensure the patient is receiving proper nutrition, which could involve a feeding tube and then focus on exercises to strengthen the swallowing, chewing, and tongue muscles as well as experiment with different food textures.
Aural Rehabilitation For The Deaf Or Hard Of Hearing
Among issues with verbal communication, speech-language pathologists can help those who are deaf or hard of hearing to communicate more effectively. Aural rehabilitation first uses a needs assessment to identify specific situations that may contribute to communication breakdown due to hearing loss, then aims to optimize the person's ability to take part in activities. Beginning with an in-depth hearing evaluation, a prescription for a device such as a cochlear implant or a hearing aid is usually a pivotal component of this approach to auditory healthcare.
Augmentative and Alternative Communication Systems
Speech-language pathologists can help someone communicate without talking by using augmentative and alternative communications (AAC) systems. According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), no-tech, low-tech, and high-tech AAC options are available.
No-tech and Low-tech options:
Beyond these common forms of speech-language therapy, many children and adults respond well to more specialized treatment methods, such as music therapy.
Speech-language pathologists have tapped into the power of music therapy as a specific medium of communication and expression. Music therapy may have a measurable effect on a child's delayed sense of speech by providing basic, supportive treatment.
Collaboration Between SLPs and Music Therapists
Music therapy is an evidence-based, allied health profession that seeks to accomplish individualized goals using musical instruments and interventions. A board-certified music therapist uses musical responses to assess physical and emotional health, communication abilities, cognitive skills, and social functioning.
A large part of music therapy's success is that it makes use of the structural similarities between language and music, which may be easier for some patients to digest when working towards their communication goals. Some similarities that prove helpful include:
Difference Of Opinions
Despite the benefits, music therapists operating in the same field as speech-language pathologists is not without controversy. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) and the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) are at a crossroads regarding the scope of practice in each discipline. Many states have regulated music therapists in light of ASHA's concern about infringement on the SLP's scope of practice and billing conflicts when speech therapy and music therapy intersect.
ASHA opposes allowing music therapists to diagnose communication disorders and believes regulation of music therapy should not be under the same regulatory board that oversees audiology and speech-language pathology. ASHA's position is that music therapists are not qualified to assess, diagnose or treat communication disorders and that these skills fall under the SLP scope of practice. There is also a question of reimbursement when both disciplines provide care on the same day and use the same billing codes designed for SLP services. This can lead to denial of reimbursement for one of either providers.
While ASHA takes a stand against music therapists fulfilling the functions that speech-language pathologists typically do, there is little to no issue with patients that have a communication disorder seeking music therapy to supplement treatment prescribed by an SLP, so long as it is billed under different codes. When considering therapy services, be sure to check the status of music therapy regulations in your state to ensure that there's little confusion when it comes time for treatment and billing.
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