What does a children’s speech pathologist do?

Children’s speech pathologists in Sydney’s northern beaches explain what speech pathologists do and how a speech pathologist might be able to help your child to live a happy, successful life.

Speech pathologist at kids first

People often ask me what my job as a children’s paediatric speech pathologist involves. Like any health profession, speech pathology helps people of all ages and abilities, but when it comes to supporting children aged 0-18, there are a few areas that therapists like me tend to specialise in.

  • Speech – ‘Speech’ refers to the way your children say sounds within a word. For example, your child may be using the ‘th’ sound instead of an ‘s’ sound or may be using a ‘t’ instead of a ‘c’ so ‘cat’ is produced as ‘tat’. When your child uses these words in sentences their speech might sound very unclear. As a speech pathologist, I teach children how to form sounds and words correctly so that they can be understood.
  • Language – ‘Language’ includes your child’s understanding and also the way your child is able to select words and expressively use their words in sentences that join together. For example, if your child has comprehension difficulties, they may struggle to follow instructions correctly. If your child has expressive language difficulties, they may jumble the words in their sentences up or have vocabulary difficulties, causing them to forget what objects are called and use lots of ‘filler’ words such as ‘thing’. My job as a speech pathologist is to help your child understand concepts so that they can remember, learn and interact appropriately with friends.
  • Literacy – Some people wonder how a speech pathologist could possibly support children who struggle with reading, writing and spelling. Fundamentally, literacy begins with how your child hears and uses sounds and words. It’s also about what they can understand and remember. As a speech pathologist, I am trained to assess the underlying causes of a child’s literacy difficulties and find practical ways to overcome these challenges. Often this means working on just one or two skills that are getting in the way of a child’s reading and writing success, but intervention can make a big difference to a child’s confidence and performance at school when their literacy hurdles are crossed.
  • Stuttering – Also known as ‘dysfluency’ and ‘stammering’, this is when your child’s words do not come out in fluent way. For example, your child might repeat sounds …‘ b-b-b-but’. Sounds can be stretched ‘mmmmmmm-um’ and sounds can also be blocked so that no sound comes out but you can tell your child is trying to say something by tension appearing on their face. This is an area of speech pathology that I love to work in because, with support and if addressed early enough, many children can overcome their stuttering difficulties and go on to academic and social success that might once have seemed impossible.\
  • Pragmatic language/Social skills – Pragmatics refers to the social language skills your child uses in daily interactions with others. They include what your child says, how they say it, their body language and whether it is appropriate to the given situation. Children, adolescents and adults with poor pragmatic skills often misinterpret other people’s communicative intent and have difficulty responding appropriately (either verbally or non-verbally). This can lead to social skills and friendship problems as they get older. As a speech pathologist, I show children how to children to improve their pragmatic skills. Through life, they will need to communicate their thoughts, ideas and feelings, as well as the things they’ve learned, so having good pragmatic skills is vital to their futures.
  • Disabilities – Specialist speech pathologists like me can also work with children who have disabilities that affect their ability to communicate. Children with Autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and developmental delays sometimes need speech therapy from a young age. Improving verbal communication is often the main aim of speech therapy for special needs kids, however sometimes a child’s disability makes this difficult for them. When learning to speak is tricky, speech pathologists focus on helping non-verbal children to communicate through alternate methods such as signing, picture exchange or communication devices.
  • Voice – Speech pathologists who work in this area look at the way the voice sounds. Your child’s voice should not sound hoarse, gurgley, squeaky and should not be too quiet or ‘lost’. Any of these symptoms may indicate problems with your child’s vocal cords and voice box. Speech pathologists who have experience in this area help children to speak clearly in a sustainable way so that they don’t suffer life-long injuries to their voice that prevent them from talking and living a full life.
  • Swallowing – Sometimes children’s ability to swallow food and drink is impaired. Swallowing difficulties can be caused by many different things including traumatic brain injuries, disabilities or syndromes. The treatment of swallowing is a highly specialised area of speech pathology and the process of support often begins in major hospitals where clinicians tend to see these kinds of challenges most often.

Where to start

Before a speech pathologist like me can really help your child, we need to find out what challenges your child is experiencing and how that is affecting their life and learning. Most speech pathologists will start with some form of assessment so that they can be sure which area of communication to begin working on and what kind of therapy is necessary. This usually involves evaluating your child’s communication skills in a formal assessments or play based informal assessment.

What happens at Speech Therapy?

Therapy is always tailor made to your child and there is no single way to describe a speech therapy session, because every session is different. However, a typical session might involve looking at pictures, learning new words and playing games as a reward for good speech or language. Regardless of the reason your child is coming to speech therapy, they would be given lots of praise for trying and succeeding in their attempts.

Finding a speech pathologist for your child

If you are looking for a speech pathologist for your child, try to find someone who will work in partnership with you. While magic can happen in a 45 minute speech therapy session, experienced speech therapists know that you are the key to your child’s success. As a speech pathologist, my aim is to equip and empower you so that you can support your child at home and be your child’s advocate at school and pre-school.

Does your child need speech therapy?

Kids First’s experienced team of children’s speech pathologists supports kids aged 0-18 at our clinic in Sydney’s northern beaches.

Contact us on (02) 9938 5419 or email us here

Learn more about Speech Therapy at Kids First Children's Services

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