Speech and language therapy refers to the assessment and therapeutic input provided by speech and language therapists for people with communication and/or swallowing difficulties. People of all ages can experience communication and swallowing difficulties. Speech and language therapists need to complete an approved undergraduate or postgraduate degree in speech and language therapy and be registered with the appropriate bodies in their country.
What is speech and language therapy?
Speech and language therapy refers to the assessment, support and treatment or therapy for children and adults with difficulties with their communication and swallowing. Communication difficulties include voice, speech, language and social communication difficulties.
People can receive speech and language therapy across a variety of settings, such as at school, home, hospital or in a clinic. The length and type of speech and language therapy input varies according to many factors such as the cause of the difficulty, the prognosis of recovery, the engagement/motivation of the individual and the individuals’ cognitive ability (as this can affect their ability to engage with certain therapy activities).
Speech and Language Therapists (SLTs) work with the individual with the communication and/or swallowing difficulty, their family, carers and other professionals such as doctors, nurses, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, psychologists, teachers and SENCOs. SLTs are Allied Health Professionals (AHP); AHPs make up the third biggest workforce in the NHS after doctors and nurses.
Who do speech and language therapists work with?
Speech and language therapists work with people of all ages who have communication and swallowing difficulties; from newborns through to individuals who are in the end stage of their life.
Typically, speech and language therapists either work with children or adults and there are many different specialisms within these age groups. Some therapists may work across all age groups in a particular specialism, e.g. dysfluency (stammering).
The following is a list of different groups of people who speech and language therapists work with:
New-born babies (who are having difficulty taking milk)
Children with speech difficulties, e.g. unable to make specific sounds such as ‘s’ or motor speech disorder secondary to a condition such as cerebral palsy.
Children with a language delay
Children with a language disorder, e.g. developmental language disorder (DLD).
Children with selective mutism.
Children with eating and drinking difficulties
Children with social communication difficulties, e.g. children with autism.
Teenagers with speech and language difficulties (these children can often have behavioural difficulties).
Young offenders, e.g. identifying any communication difficulties and supporting them through the justice service (i.e. so they know how to meet the terms of their parole).
Children with learning disabilities, epilepsy, autism, cerebral palsy etc. may have a mix of speech, language and swallowing difficulties.
People who have had a stroke.
People with an acquired brain injury, e.g. brain injury secondary to a fall, accident or a spontaneous bleed.
People with brain tumours or metastases.
People with voice difficulties; e.g. certain professions such as teachers and call centre workers use their voice a lot for work and may lose their voice.
People who stammer.
People with head and neck cancer.
People with learning difficulties.
People with a progressive neurological conditions, including Parkinson’s disease (PD), Motor Neuron Disease (MND), Multiple Sclerosis (MS), Huntington’s disease (HD), Progressive Supranuclear Palsy (PSP) etc.
People with dementia.
People with mental health difficulties, e.g. medication can have negative side-effects on people’s swallowing or they may have behavioural difficulties impacting their eating and drinking.
People who have a tracheostomy (that is, an artificial opening in the neck which people use to breathe).
People in a Prolonged Disorder of Consciousness (PDOC) state.
People who have Locked-In Syndrome.
People who are temporarily unwell and, consequently, have a temporary swallowing disorder.
End of life patients who need advice regarding the most comfortable consistencies (for eating and drinking).
If you want more information about the role of speech and language therapist please visit the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT) website https://www.rcslt.org/.
How do you become a speech and language therapist?
You must complete an approved undergraduate or postgraduate speech and language therapy course. Undergraduate degrees take three to four years; postgraduate degrees take two years.
SLTs must be registered with the Healthcare Professional Council (HCPC) and the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT).
How much do speech and language therapists earn?
A newly qualified speech and language therapist will receive a Band 5 wage in the NHS. In 2019/2020, this is £24,214. In 2020/2021 this will rise to £24,907.
A band 6 specialist speech and language therapist role begins at £30,401 (as of 2019/2020). A band 7 highly specialist speech and language therapist role begins at £37,570 (as of 2019/2020). In some NHS Trusts there are band 8a speech and language therapists, yet this is becoming increasingly rare.
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