Speech and language therapy…What’s that?

My journey My Voice was only made possible through the help of speech and language therapists throughout Northern Ireland. They took the idea into their hearts and invited their clients to think about taking part. In many cases our brilliant participants were supported to tell their stories by their therapists. Here Emer, a speech and language therapist from Northern Ireland, tells us more about what a speech and language therapist actually does and how they can change lives. 

"Speech and language therapy? What's that?" 

I get into a taxi at 8am and ask the driver to take me to a local health centre. The first question is always the same. "You a nurse love?" "No." I reply. "I'm a speech and language therapist." The taxi man jokingly responds, "Can you teach me how to talk right then?"

This happens more often than you would think. When I tell people I'm a speech and language therapist, most are unsure of what this means. Some ask if I give elocution lessons. Some think it's related to learning languages like French or Spanish.

A very small number of people will understand, having had a relative or friend who received speech therapy. But most say, "Speech and language therapy? What's that?" I think this is a sign that we need to proudly spread the word about what speech and language therapy is, and how it can change lives. 

As speech and language therapists, there is such a wide variety of people who can benefit from our services. We work with speech sounds, language skills, voices, swallowing difficulties, people with brain injury, people who have had a stroke; the list goes on. 

But how does that translate into real life? What does it mean? And what do speech therapists do?

A speech therapist will modify the diet of an elderly person with dementia so they can continue to have a cup of tea every night despite having swallowing difficulties. A speech therapist will help a 19 year old guy with a brain injury create a communication chart so he can still communicate with his friends when he's out at the weekend. A speech therapist will help a teacher who has lost her voice find it again so she can keep passing words of wisdom on to the next generation.

A speech therapist will provide a lady who has had her voice box removed due to cancer with a device that will allow her to speak artificially, so her children can hear her telling them she loves them again. A speech therapist will teach a seven year old how to produce sounds correctly to stop his dad worrying that his speech will hold him back from making friends.

A speech therapist will contact the teachers of a 10 year old girl with autism and provide them with strategies to help her thrive in her school environment, despite any difficulties she may be having. A speech therapist will refer a man who has been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease to a local support group when he says he’s been lonely since his wife died and would like to befriend people who have a similar experience with Parkinson's as him. In other words; a speech therapist aims to improve the quality of life of anyone in need of our service. 

Next time someone asks; don't be afraid to tell them exactly what a speech and language therapist is. With everything we do, you won't be stuck for words!

                                                                                          Emer, SLT, Northern Ireland. 

a speech therapist aims to improve the quality of life of anyone in need of our service.