May 26, 2023

What Your SLP Can Do for You

General Health

SLPs, or speech-language pathologists, are medical professionals who specialize in diagnosing, preventing, and treating communication and swallowing disorders. SLPs work with people at every stage of life, from infants to adults. They work in schools, hospitals, residential care facilities, corporate settings, government agencies, and more. If you have any trouble with communication or swallowing, an SLP can evaluate your abilities and develop a personalized treatment plan that’s right for you.

What do SLPs treat?

SLPs treat disorders relating to communication or swallowing, including genetic disorders, developmental disorders, progressive neurological disorders, and disorders related to stroke and brain injury. There are a wide-range of disorders that SLPs treat, ranging from very common to very rare. Some examples of disorders SLPs treat are:

Speech Disorders

Speech disorders occur when someone has trouble with speech sounds, fluency (the flow of a person’s speech), or voice. They can be caused by brain injury, autism, hearing loss, and other injuries and disease. Some examples of speech disorders include dysfluency, or stuttering; dysarthria, or slurred or slowed speech; and dysphonia, or poor voice quality, which can cause hoarseness or vocal fatigue due to overuse or injury to the vocal folds. Apraxia is another speech disorder that occurs when a person cannot carry out motor movements to create speech, despite having the desire to and the muscles being otherwise unimpaired. Apraxia occurs when the message from the brain to the mouth and throat is disrupted along the way.

A person with a speech disorder might exhibit:

  • Repeating or prolonging sounds, such as in stuttering
  • Mispronouncing or distorting sounds
  • Speaking slowly or more quickly than is common
  • Frustration trying to communicate
  • Inability to speak

In children, errors in speaking are common as they grow. Speech disorders may be diagnosed if a child’s speech does not develop by the time they reach a certain age or pass developmental milestones.

Language Disorders

Language disorders are characterized by difficulties with spoken, written, and symbol language systems. These disorders can take many forms and range in severity. Aphasia is a language disorder that results from brain damage either due to stroke, injury, infection, or progressive neurological disease. Aphasia can impair one’s ability to read or write, or to understand or communicate spoken or sign language. A developmental language disorder (DLD) is another language disorder, often seen in childhood that can persist into adulthood. A child with DLD may have difficulty understanding spoken instructions, following multi-step directions, or putting sentences together correctly.

People with language disorders might experience difficulty:

  • Thinking of the words they want to say
  • Saying the words they mean to say
  • Saying words correctly or using complete words or sentences
  • Understanding the names for things
  • Understanding when people are talking
  • Reading, spelling, or putting together words and sentences

Cognitive-Communication Disorders

Cognitive-communication disorders are difficulties with communication caused by a disruption of cognition. They occur when cognitive processes like attention, memory, organization, insight & reasoning skills, perception, and executive functioning are compromised. Traumatic brain injury, genetic disorders, tumors, and developmental disorders are some causes of cognitive-communication disorders.

Symptoms of cognitive-communication disorders include:

  • Difficulty paying attention while speaking
  • Trouble organizing speech or thoughts
  • Memory loss, including their own and other’s names or other personal information
  • Difficulty communicating on their own with speech or hand gestures
  • Difficulty communicating basic needs or exchanging routine information
  • Inability to communicate in an emergency

Social Communication Disorder

Social-communication, also known as pragmatics, involves how we use language to communicate with other people. Context, culture, and relationships all play a part in how we communicate socially. People with social communication disorder might have trouble understanding social cues or communicating or communicating for social purposes.

Social communication disorder (SCD) occurs when someone has difficulties with verbal and nonverbal language for social purposes. People with SCD have trouble with social interaction and communicating effectively in personal and professional relationships. Researchers have not determined a specific cause for social communication disorder, but progressive neurodegenerative disease, brain damage, environment, or genetics may play a part.

People with SCD might exhibit some of the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty using appropriate verbal and nonverbal communication including tone, gestures, facial expressions, and body language
  • Trouble interpreting verbal and nonverbal communication from others
  • Difficulty recognizing figurative language, such as turns of phrase
  • Disinterest in initiating conversation
  • Inability to make inferences or “read between the lines”

Swallowing Disorders

Swallowing disorders, called dysphagia, are diagnosed when a person has difficulties eating or swallowing. Dysphagia can affect children or infants who have trouble feeding as well as adults. Damage to the brain and nerves caused by injury or illness can affect swallowing as well as damage caused by disease or injury to the head, neck, throat, or mouth. Infections, stroke, tumors, developmental delays, and more can all potentially cause dysphagia.

Symptoms of swallowing disorders include:

  • Pain in the chest or throat, sometimes while swallowing
  • Coughing, sometimes throughout the day and not only at mealtimes
  • Choking
  • Regurgitation and nasal regurgitation, or when food or liquid comes back out through the mouth or nose without reaching the stomach
  • Persistent pain with swallowing
  • Taking longer to chew, drink, and swallow
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Pneumonia or other lung infections
  • Breathy, gurgly, or hoarse voice
  • Difficulty breathing during or after meals
  • Malnourishment and dehydration

Symptoms in children also include:

  • Falling asleep or fussing while feeding
  • Arching their back or stiffening when feeding
  • Refusing to feed
  • Couching, gagging, drooling, or spitting up
  • Delayed growth or weight gain

Should I see an SLP?

If you’re having difficulty speaking, communicating, swallowing, or eating, it might be time to consult with a speech-language pathologist. SLPs diagnose, evaluate, and treat communication and swallowing disorders, sometimes multiple at once. Their process is hands-on and takes into consideration a patient’s lifestyle, support structure, home environment, and medical needs.

SLPs offer speech therapy or speech-language therapy as treatment. Each treatment plan is tailored to an individual’s needs. Speech therapy can include exercises and strategies to facilitate efficient and safe swallowing, exercises to increase coordination and accuracy of motor speech, evidence-based strategies to improve cognitive function for daily tasks, activities designed to improve social skills and confidence in social situations, and more.

SLPs also offer augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) treatments to help improve communication and swallowing. AAC uses tools and resources to either supplement someone’s speech or to provide non-speaking means of communication. AAC can include sign language, visuals, and speech-generating devices and other assistive technology, such as text-to-voice applications.

If you’ve noticed that a child or adult loved one appears to be struggling with speech, language, communication, or swallowing, an SLP can help you understand options and provide you with resources and next steps.

Our SLP team offers inpatient and outpatient services. If you have any questions or would like to schedule an appointment with a speech-language pathologist, call any of our Therapy & Sport Centers in Fort Atkinson, Whitewater, and Lake Mills or at our Hospital Rehab Department at Fort Memorial Hospital.