Treatment to help people develop, improve, or recover their ability to speak
Speech therapy is used to help children and adults who have verbal communication problems. Speech therapy can benefit children whose speech is delayed by impaired hearing or learning difficulties or by physical problems, such as a cleft lip and palate.
People with a fluency problem, such as stuttering, may be given speech therapy, as may people who forget words or who have problems with comprehension or swallowing after a stroke. A speech problem with a physical cause, such as cancer of the larynx, may be helped by exercises or artificial aids.
What does it involve?
At your first appointment, your speech therapist will assess the extent of your speech problem and evaluate the effect that it has on your daily life. For children, the assessment is usually through observation of play. Adults are assessed on their ability to carry on a conversation and to perform tasks such as describing a picture. Part of the assessment conversation may be recorded on a computer and analysed later. This recording is used to determine whether your speech patterns, vocabulary, and the pitch, range, and volume of your voice are within normal ranges. If you find swallowing difficult as a result of a stroke, your speech therapist will advise you on eating and drinking safely.
The approach used in speech therapy depends on the problem, its cause, and the age of the person affected. Play therapy is often used to help children to improve their speech and is likely to be combined with other approaches, such as voice exercises. Parents or carers are taught useful games and exercises so that the child’s speech improvement can continue at home.
Adults may be taught voice exercises or how to use artificial devices to aid communication. Speech difficulties that have been caused by a neurological problem such as a stroke may be helped by learning other ways of communicating. For example, you may be given a chart to indicate your basic needs until you are able to speak again.
Children are frequently treated for speech problems using play therapy and games and by encouraging them to use both verbal and nonverbal communication. The speech therapist may also teach parents or carers how to encourage speech development at home by playing games that incorporate verbal description or naming.
If you have a condition that affects your mouth, tongue, or larynx (voice box), you may be given exercises that help to improve your articulation. For disorders that affect your fluency, you may be shown exercises to help you to control your speech and make you feel less anxious. If you have speech difficulties as a result of brain damage, such as a stroke, you may need to do exercises, such as describing pictures, to improve your word-retrieval abilities. In cases in which the larynx has been damaged or removed to treat cancer, a person can be taught to produce speech sounds by trapping air in the oesophagus and gradually releasing it.
Use of artificial devices
There are a number of different electronic voice-synthesizers and artificial voice aids that may be used if speech difficulties are the result of a major physical problem. For example, if the larynx has been removed as part of treatment for cancer, a device called a tracheoesophageal voice prosthesis may be fitted. This device is inserted between the windpipe and oesophagus and uses inhaled air to produce sound. The sounds produced by the device can be converted into speech sounds using the lips, tongue, and teeth. Alternatively, a person may be taught to speak using a hand-held electromechanical device that generates sounds when it is pressed against the neck.
What can I expect?
Some problems, such as mild articulation problems, may improve with only a few weekly sessions of speech therapy. For other, more serious problems, regular speech therapy sessions over several months or years may be needed. Early treatment for children is particularly important because delayed speech affects the ability to relate to other people and may interfere with learning.
From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.
The subjects, conditions and treatments covered in this encyclopaedia are for information only and may not be covered by your insurance product should you make a claim.