The Benefits of Speech Therapy

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A speech-language pathologist (SLP) can help you with speech, language, and swallowing. They provide speech therapy to children and adults who may have speech or language disorders.

People with certain medical conditions may also benefit from speech therapy. Medical conditions that may cause speech or swallowing impairment include traumatic brain injury, stroke (brain damage due to a blood vessel blockage or bleed), and dementia (decline in memory and thinking functions).

This article looks at the various uses for speech therapy, what to expect during a session, and the techniques involved in this type of therapy. 

What to Know About Speech Therapists - Illustration by Theresa Chiechi

Verywell / Theresa Chiechi

Uses

Speech therapy can help with a variety of conditions.

Speech Disorders

Speech therapy may help with speech disorders like:

  • Stuttering: Stuttering may involve repeating parts of words, prolonging words, or struggling to get out certain words. You may be more likely to have a stutter if you have a family history of stuttering.
  • Apraxia: This motor speech disorder makes it difficult to move the tongue and lips to make sounds required for speech. In some cases, people with apraxia cannot speak at all. Causes for this disorder include brain tumors, dementia, stroke, and any other condition that causes brain injury.
  • Voice: Voice disorders can be temporary or permanent and make it hard to speak. Chronic voice disorders include chronic cough, vocal fold paralysis, vocal polyps (growths on the vocal cords), and spasmodic dysphonia (vocal cord spasms).
  • Dysarthria: People with this speech disorder have muscle weakness that makes it difficult to talk. They may slur or mumble their words. Dysarthria can happen due to brain injury or chronic degenerative conditions like Parkinson’s disease or Huntington’s disease.

Language Disorders

A language disorder (aphasia) is a condition that makes it difficult for a person to read, write, speak, or understand speech or other modes of communication. 

Someone with this type of disorder may struggle to:

  • Find words
  • Use incorrect words for things
  • Say complete sentences 
  • Understand what other people say
  • Understand jokes
  • Read or spell 
  • Do math 

Brain tumors, traumatic brain injuries, and degenerative disorders that affect cognitive function can all cause aphasia.

Feeding and Swallowing Disorders

Feeding and swallowing disorders can occur in both children and adults. A feeding disorder involves trouble with eating, sucking, drinking from a cup, or chewing. The specific term for swallowing disorders is dysphagia. Children or adults with dysphagia have trouble swallowing food or drink. 

Problems swallowing or feeding may or may not be related to a medical condition. Conditions that may cause a swallowing or feeding disorder include:

  • Cleft palate or cleft lip
  • Asthma and other breathing issues
  • Heart disease
  • Premature birth
  • Nervous system disorders
  • Reflux 
  • Muscle weakness 
  • Sensory issues
  • Autism 
  • Behavior problems
  • Certain medications

What to Expect

Speech therapy begins with an evaluation to assess your difficulties and whether any structural issues contribute to your speech, language, feeding, or swallowing problems. An evaluation may involve a standardized test to help determine what you most need help with. Informal conversations may also help figure out your needs. 

A speech-language pathologist will then work with you to help improve your ability to speak, converse, or swallow. This may involve:

  • Educating you on how to do certain things like articulating or pronouncing sounds
  • Teaching you language skills
  • Providing you with educational materials
  • Giving you exercises to help strengthen your muscles 
  • Giving you exercises that help you breathe better
  • Participation in group therapy sessions 

You should also expect to practice the skills and exercises you learn in speech therapy sessions at home. Your speech-language pathologist may provide you with workbooks, worksheets, or virtual apps for at-home practice.

Speech Therapy for Adults

Depending on the reason you’re seeking out speech therapy, a speech-language pathologist may:

  • Help you learn to move your muscles correctly to make sounds if you have apraxia or dysarthria
  • Teach you how to use your breath to speak louder if you have dysarthria
  • Help you learn to manage stuttering by teaching you to lower stress levels in certain situations
  • Help you strengthen your mouth muscles to make it easier to swallow and eat if you have a feeding or swallowing disorder due to a brain injury or disease

Speech Therapy for Children

A speech-language pathologist’s approach will depend on the child. When working with a child who has a feeding or swallowing disorder, they might focus on:

  • Strengthening the muscles of the mouth
  • Helping the child with chewing
  • Encouraging the child to try new food and drink
  • Changing food texture to make it easier to swallow food 
  • Helping with sensory issues related to food

Other skills a speech-language pathologist may work on with a child include:

  • Language complexity: For example, they might teach words like "and" and "or" to connect ideas within sentences.
  • Conversation skills: This may include role-playing to help the child with socialization and improve their read of social cues. 
  • Vocabulary: They may use games or storytelling to help build the child’s vocabulary. 
  • Phonological awareness: This recognition of the sounds that make up words is an important skill for reading. The SLP may work on helping the child identify sounds and rhymes in words to build this skill.

Healthcare professionals will also test your child’s hearing to see if hearing loss may be contributing to language and speech issues.

Results

If you or your child is getting speech therapy from a qualified speech-language pathologist, you might wonder how likely it is that you’ll see improvement in speech, language, or feeding. 

Results will depend on the individual. It’s also essential to follow the exercises, tips, and strategies provided by the speech-language professional. Regular visits and keeping up with practice activities and exercises make it more likely to see an improvement in yourself or your child. 

Summary 

A speech-language pathologist works with children or adults who have speech, language, or feeding and swallowing disorders. Typically the first session will involve an evaluation to determine the areas that are causing you the most problems. 

From there, they may teach you exercises and strategies to improve your speech, language, or ability to swallow and eat. 

A Word From Verywell

Think you or your child would benefit from speech therapy? Get in touch with your primary healthcare provider and ask for a recommendation. You can also use the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association’s (ASHA) Find a Certified SLP Tool

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do I know if my child needs a speech therapist?

    Not all children develop at the same rate, but if your child has issues understanding language, doesn’t use gestures, or doesn’t seem to be learning new words, you might consider having them evaluated by a speech therapist. 

  • Does speech therapy actually work?

    While this may depend on the individual and the cause of speech-related problems, research suggests that speech and language therapy can significantly improve speech and language issues.

  • What are some common speech therapy techniques?

    One example of a typical speech therapy technique is articulation therapy. This technique teaches the person to make specific sounds, sometimes by showing them how to move their mouth or tongue.

  • What is a language delay?

    A language delay is when a child has difficulty in speaking and understanding speech that is unusual for their age.

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11 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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