A common misconception about speech therapy is that it focuses only on helping patients say words more clearly and overcome impediments such as stuttering. In reality, speech-language pathologists (SLPs), or more colloquially “speech therapists,” do much more than that. According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), SLPs “work to prevent, assess, diagnose, and treat speech, language, social communication, cognitive-communication, and swallowing disorders in children and adults.”
What Problems Does Speech Therapy Address?
Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) can help with a wide variety of issues. Some of the most common reasons that people may work with an SLP include:
Speech disorders: Speech disorders are problems with language production. One example of a speech disorder is speaking with a stutter. Patients may also struggle with articulation and/or phonological processes. Articulation is the production of specific sounds; a problem with articulation could be saying “wabbit” instead of “rabbit.” A phonological process disorder may be diagnosed if a person exhibits sound error patterns. For example, when saying words that begin with two consonants, they may consistently leave off one consonant (broken becomes “boken,” spoon becomes “poon,” etc).
Language Disorders: These are problems in which a person struggles with receptive language (understanding others) and expressive language (expressing their opinions, feelings, etc). An individual with a language disorder may have difficulty with spoken/and or written communication.
Cognitive Communication Disorders: These disorders involve problems with attention, memory, problem-solving, organizing thoughts, etc. Often, these issues are the result of a traumatic brain injury, stroke, or dementia, but they can also be congenital.
Social Communication Disorders: People with social communication disorders sometimes communicate in ways that are considered socially inappropriate. For example, they may have issues with following conventions for greetings, waiting their turn to speak, or modifying their speech to suit the setting (e.g. speaking quietly in a library). People on the autism spectrum may have social communication problems, although in some individuals these are very subtle.
Inability to Speak: Speech-language pathologists can help nonverbal people or individuals with severe communication difficulties to use augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) systems. AACs can help people with both cognitive and physical disabilities to communicate. For example, a person with a severe cognitive disability may be able to express their thoughts through pointing at certain symbols that signify hunger, tiredness, etc. A person whose physical disability prevents them from speaking may be able to type (not necessarily using their hands) into a computer system that can then read their words aloud. One such system is VocaliD.
Dysphagia: Dysphagia is a condition that causes difficulties with feeding and swallowing. SLPs can help patients practice exercises to improve their muscle movements related to swallowing, suggest positions or techniques that can help them swallow more effectively, and recommend specific foods that may be safer and easier to eat.
Notes: (1) When communicating in a second language, people often struggle with articulation, phonological processes, receptive language, expressive language, etc. In some cases, they may choose to work with a speech-language pathologist to improve their abilities. However, unless they have similar issues in their native language, these problems are not indicative of a disorder. (2) It is also expected that young children will have some issues with speech and communication. If you are unsure whether your child is developing normally, a speech-language pathologist can do an evaluation.
Who Might Benefit From Speech Therapy?
People who attend speech therapy sessions may do so because of physical and/or cognitive issues. Some of these conditions may be caused by genetic factors (e.g. Down syndrome) or long-term environmental effects (e.g. drug abuse). However, many speech therapy patients have brain damage as the result of a sudden or traumatic event. In many cases, the event is an injury at or around the time of birth. The ultimate outcome of a birth injury depends on the location and extent of brain damage, as well as how it is treated in the immediate aftermath. Some of the most serious disabilities that can stem from birth injuries include hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), cerebral palsy (CP), and periventricular leukomalacia (PVL). Children and adults with these conditions often attend speech therapy.
Brain Damage, Birth Injuries, and Medical Malpractice
The following problems are common causes of infant brain damage and serious disabilities:
- Birth asphyxia
- Brain bleeds
- C-section errors and delays
- Fetal monitoring errors
- Misuse of forceps and vacuum extractors
- Mismanagement of a high-risk pregnancy
- Placental abruption
- Prolonged and arrested labor
- Umbilical cord complications
- Uterine rupture
In some cases, health care providers cause a birth injury, fail to prevent a birth injury, or neglect to promptly treat a birth injury after it occurs. These are examples of medical malpractice. Malpractice occurs when a medical professional deviates from the standard of care in treating a patient, resulting in harm. Standard of care is defined as what a reasonably prudent health care provider would or would not have done under similar circumstances. If you believe that you or your child suffered the consequences of medical malpractice, you may choose to pursue a birth injury lawsuit to ensure that you have the resources necessary to pay for medical care, speech therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and other expenses associated with having a disability.
Legal Help for Birth Injuries
Birth injury is a difficult area of law to pursue due to the complex nature of the medical records. The award-winning birth injury attorneys at Reiter & Walsh ABC Law Centers have decades of joint experience with birth injury, hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), and cerebral palsy cases. To find out if you have a case, contact our firm to speak with one of our lawyers. We have numerous multi-million dollar verdicts and settlements that attest to our success, and no fees are ever paid to our firm until we win your case. We give personal attention to each child and family we help, and are available 24/7 to speak with you.
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