The ability to communicate effectively and efficiently is something essential in a gregarious and social being like the human being. Communicating serves us to transfer and express our thoughts, knowledge, emotions and intentions to the rest of the world, and their correct emission and reception can have a great effect on the social environment.
We learn to speak, read and write throughout our lives, but for various reasons sometimes that learning is not done properly or is influenced or altered by some kind of problem. That is why it is necessary that there are professionals who contribute to improve the situation of those whose abilities have been altered or reduced.
One of the professionals in charge of this is a speech therapist. However, this discipline covers a large number of different populations and situations, which means that in practice we can observe different branches of speech therapy . Let us see what they are.
What is Speech Therapy?
Before focusing on the different branches or outputs that speech therapy may have, it is pertinent to briefly mention what speech therapy is and what its purpose is.
Speech Therapy is a scientific discipline of a health and socio-health nature which is dedicated to the study of human speech and communication and of the set of organs and elements of the human body linked to these functions. Although communication is one of its main objectives, it also works with aspects such as breathing, ingestion or even auditory perception.
This is a branch of science that aims to prevent, detect and diagnose, evaluate and treat disorders and problems at the level of oral communication as well as to enhance and optimise these capacities at an oral and phonological level.
Thus, we are dealing with a discipline that, although it is based on firm theoretical foundations, focuses especially on the practical exercise of its functions in different contexts, in a welfare manner.
Although speech therapy is a health discipline, it must be taken into account that the people who practice as such are not doctors, but professionals directly trained in this sector. This implies that the speech therapist does not prescribe drugs nor does he or she carry out medical or surgical interventions, but rather he or she carries out his or her professional performance from a fundamentally behavioural, educational and psychopedagogical perspective.
Some of the techniques they use are language therapies, the practice of orophonatory exercises and learning psychoeducational guidelines focused on the improvement and/or rehabilitation of the subject’s expressive/comprehensive abilities. Elements such as articulation, posture, resonance, voice projection or rhythm are worked on.
Likewise, although speech therapy is socially identified as a profession focused on the child stage, the truth is that this is not the only area of work.
It can work with people of all ages and conditions, such as adults with aphasia or communication problems that may be caused by brain disease or injury, problems acquired or untreated in youth (e.g., dysphemia or stuttering), or even dementia (where it helps maintain and preserve language functions).
Different branches of Speech Therapy
Speech therapy is a profession that focuses, as we have seen, on the functioning of the audiophonatory and maxillofacial system and specifically on language and communication (although aspects such as breathing and mastication can also be worked on).
But the truth is that not all speech therapy professionals are in charge of or focus on all aspects of this profession and/or all types of population: there are several specialisations and branches of speech therapy , some of which we will see below.
1. Children’s speech therapy
As we have previously indicated, language and communication problems do not occur only in childhood, but even so the stage of child and adolescent development is one of the ones that receives the most attention and one of the most well-known branches or specializations.
In this sense, speech therapy professionals who specialize in this sector of the population usually attend to cases of dysphasia, articulation problems or dyslalia that have an organic cause (e.g. cleft lip) or are of a functional type (learning and psychological causes).
It is common for them to attend to cases of specific language disorder, stuttering or dyslexia , or even to work with children who suffer from problems such as autism, ADHD or intellectual disability (at the oral and communication level). Their role is usually preventive in order to avoid possible problems or even diminish the effect that a language impairment may have throughout their development.
2. School speech therapy
One of the areas where language and communication problems are often detected is in school. In this sense, it is essential and of great interest that there are psychopedagogues and speech therapists who can evaluate the language of the child , their development of this skill or incorporate individualised plans or specific programmes that can contribute to improving the situation of the child in question.
Here again, it is common for professionals to focus on problems such as dyslalia, mutism, dysphonia, stuttering or dyslexia. Also in intellectual disability or autism. Last but not least, the school speech therapist may have to assess and promote the oral communication skills of children with sensory disabilities, especially in the case of deafness .
3. Clinical speech therapy
Another major branch of speech therapy, now far removed from the school setting, is clinical speech therapy. In this sense, in addition to minors, clinical speech therapists usually work with adults with expression or articulation problems .
Among the various difficulties they may encounter, they may have to treat people with slurred speech (e.g. due to anxiety problems), language problems resulting from psychopathology (e.g. in the case of negative symptoms of schizophrenia), stuttering, nerve or muscle diseases, brain injuries, tumours, paralysis or even dementia.
4. Geriatric speech therapy
Another age group that may require attention at the speech therapy level is the elderly.
With age the faculties for expression and communication may diminish . It is also common at this age for neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia or cerebrovascular accidents to appear, which means that in practice it is not uncommon for professionals in this sector to work with problems similar to those of neurologopedics (although in this case they do not always have to be faced with a neurological disease).
This branch or specialty of speech therapy incorporates, in addition to the usual knowledge of general speech therapists , knowledge regarding the functioning of the nervous system and various neurological affectations , as well as notions of neuropsychology.
Here the focus is on language difficulties arising from specific neurological injuries or diseases, in order to improve the quality of life of the patients and in the case of a neurodegenerative disorder to try to preserve their abilities as much as possible.
6. Speech therapist specializing in voice disorders and voice re-education
Speech therapy is usually associated with our oral communication, but within this category there are many aspects that can be worked on. Among them is the voice, which can be altered in people with aphonia or respiratory problems among others, regardless of their pronunciation or articulation. In this sense, there is a specialisation or branch of speech therapy which focuses on voice problems.
Moreover, its services can be aimed not at rehabilitating but at enhancing the users’ communication resources . It is also a branch that tends to treat as patients with professionals who depend to a great extent on their voice to carry out their professional work. Presenters, singers, diplomats or actors may be some of the types of clients who may require this type of service.
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