Understanding Speech and Hearing Therapy

Speech and hearing therapy (also known as speech-language pathology and audiology) are important health-related specialties concerned with normal development of human communication and treatment of its disorders. Speech therapy focuses on voice and speech-language skills, while hearing therapy deals with hearing and hearing impairment.

Speech or language disorders may be present at birth or acquired later in life by disease, illness, head injury, substance abuse or allergy.

Hearing loss may be acquired before or during birth if a pregnant woman takes certain drugs or contracts a viral disease such as rubella (German Measles). Children sometimes acquire hearing loss from infection and inflammation of the middle ear or from communicable diseases. Adult hearing may be affected by prolonged exposure to loud noise and the process of aging.

Who Needs Speech-Language Pathology and Audiological Services?

Speech-Language Pathology is used to help:

  • Individuals with voice disorders to develop proper control of their vocal and respiratory systems
  • Individuals who stutter to learn to cope with the disorder and increase fluency
  • Individuals with aphasia (a condition in which an individual has difficulty expressing thoughts and understanding others) as a result of a stroke or head injury. Speech-language pathology helps individuals relearn language and speech skills.
  • Children and young adults with language disorders

Audiological services are used to:

  • Determine existence and type of hearing impairments
  • Provide rehabilitative services
  • Assess amplification devices, such as hearing aids
  • Teach individuals ways in which they can make the best use of their remaining hearing

Speech and hearing therapists, recognized as speech-language pathologists and audiologists, who provide treatment are professionally trained specialists holding master's degrees or the equivalent from programs accredited by an Educational Standards Board of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA).

Some speech-language pathologists and audiologists hold doctoral degrees and work as teachers, advisors, researchers and consultants. Some specialize in certain areas, such as aphasia or hearing disorders in children, or participate in prevention and early identification programs.

Speech-language pathologists who use the initials "CCC-SLP" after their name have passed a national examination administered by the Clinical Certification Board of ASHA. Audiologists who pass a different national test, administered by the board, receive a Certificate of Clinical Competence in Audiology and qualify to use the initials "CCC-A" after their name. A person who meets requirements in both professional areas may be awarded both certificates.

Individualized Treatment Plans

A speech-language pathologist evaluates a person's speech-language skills, determines the probable cause and extent of any existing disorder and develops appropriate treatment to correct or lessen the communication problem. Clinical methods used depend on the nature and severity of the problem, the age of the client and the client's awareness of the problem.

An audiologist, after evaluating a person's hearing and determining the type of hearing loss, establishes a treatment plan. This may involve therapy, prescription of special equipment such as hearing aids and electronic communication devices and referral for possible surgery or medication.

Both speech-language pathologists and audiologists refer their clients to other sources when necessary and help the client and the client's family understand the problem and treatment plan. They work closely with other professionals in health and education, including physicians, dentists, psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, counselors and teachers.