I am always conscious of the terminology we, as speech and language therapists use when talking to other professionals and parents, and those terms that we use in our reports. To us, after 3-4 years of training these terms become second nature; and sometimes we can forget that the words we use can seem a little confusing to say the least. So I thought I would define some commonly used words and terms used by speech and language therapists. But first, maybe it would be useful to know what speech and language therapy is, what we do, where we work, with whom we work etc.
Speech and Language Therapy is used to help people that have speech, language, and communication difficulties; it can also be used to help people who have difficulties swallowing, eating and drinking.
The role of a Speech and Language Therapist, or commonly used term SLT, or even SALT within a hospital environment, is to assess and treat speech, language and communication problems in adults and children. With the desired outcome that individuals will communicate to the best of their ability. They may also work with people who have eating and swallowing difficulties.
What type of difficulties will a SLT come across?
• difficulty in producing and using speech
• difficulty understanding language
• difficulty using language
• difficulty with feeding, chewing or swallowing
• a stammer
• a voice problem
Where do SLT’s work?
• Schools (mainstream & special schools)
• Hospitals (inpatients & outpatients)
• Clinics/community health centers
• Clients homes
• Sheltered accommodation
• Prisons, young offenders institutes
• Courts, as a intermediary
• Mental healthcare settings
• Private/independent practice
• Assessment units & day centers
What type of work does an SLT do?
• work directly with children & adults e.g. using games and interactive learning; carrying out exercises e.g. speech exercises, breathing exercises etc.
• provide clients with work to carry out at home
• work with children & adults with similar difficulties in a small group
• provide clients with relevant resources & information
• provide clients with relevant contacts and support with other professionals, co-workers, support groups etc.
• an SLT will also endeavor to provide clients and their parents or carers with emotional support and appropriate skills to help them on a daily basis.
• a large part of a SLT’s role involves working closely with others e.g. teachers, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, doctors, nurses, GP’s, psychologists, health visitors, social workers , orthodontists/dentists, dieticians, audiologists, politicians/government, other SLT’s i.e. team work.
Ok, so what about some of those terms we use, what do they mean?
Attention and Listening is the foundation to all learning. Children must practice, and learn to ‘listen’ and ‘look’ appropriately to control their own focus of attention. The ability to listen and concentrate is an important part of all children’s speech, language and communication development. It is so important to encourage and develop ‘good’ attention and listening skills for all children; especially those that have difficulties in speech and/or language development.
Communication is the exchange of information between two or more people; using verbal and non-verbal means.
Language takes the form of two parts; receptive language is the ability to understand what someone communicates, either through sound (auditory), or visually (reading and interpretation of sign). Expressive language is the ability to formulate a message into words and sentences; which can be spoken, written or signed.
Non-verbal communication (NVC) is the process of communication through sending and receiving wordless messages. For example, your facial expressions, gestures, tone of voice etc. can all convey meaning to our listeners i.e. about how we are feeling; without actually using words. NVC, is influenced by culture and society, and is shaped by experience, observation and practice.
Phonology is the sound system of a language, and the rules for combining these sounds to produce meaningful units of speech.
Play, why do SLT’s look at this? Symbolic play skills are important for language development. It is a lovely way for children to learn about communication, language and other people. A child’s play skills can help to aid a diagnosis, and is the best way to implement therapy as it is fun and interactive!
Pragmatics/social skills refer to the ‘rules’ of language in social situations. It includes the speaker-listener relationship, the context, and the intentions of the communication. Therefore, speech and language are not the only components important for effective communication.
Social interaction skills include:
· appropriate eye contact,
· ability to listen,
· ability to express ourselves,
· ability to take turns,
· ability to process what others are saying,
· ability to initiate a conversation,
· ability to maintain a conversation
· ability to close a conversation appropriately,
· awareness of a listeners feelings,
· an awareness of the impact of what you are saying on others
· the use of appropriate gesture, and the ability to understand it
· the use of appropriate facial expressions, and the ability to understand them
· ability to understand the intent of the communication, not just the literal interpretation
· ability to be flexible in using and adapting language in a particular context
Phew, amazing isn’t it? All these things we do all day everyday; and we quite often take it for granted! So how do we do it? Well, all these social interaction skills are culturally determined, and learned through observation, trial and error, and life experience!!
Semantics is the meaning behind the language that is transmitted by words, phrases and sentences.
Speech is the physical production of sounds e.g. p, t k, d etc.
There may be more terms that you have probably heard used by professionals but I hope this clarifies some things for you. My advice would be, if you’re with a professional i.e. doctor, dentist, teacher, SLT etc; and they are using words you find confusing don’t be afraid to stop and ask them what they mean. Sometimes we can forget how ambiguous we can be!