Communicating for Life – Speech Pathology Across the Lifespan
What is a Speech Pathologist, and how can they assist with communication across the lifespan?
A Speech Pathologist is a healthcare professional trained to diagnose, assess, and treat individuals with communication and feeding difficulties across the lifespan. Speech Pathologists, who can also be known as Speech Therapist or a Speech-Language Pathologist, use various modes of communication, including speech, gestures, writing, pictures, and tools (such as iPads or charts), and provide education and training to clients, family, caregivers, and support staff. Speech Pathologists can provide support face-to-face or via Telehealth, and work alongside other health professionals to achieve a client’s goals.
Who needs a Speech Pathologist? The image below showcases a great depiction of how Speech Pathologists can assist with communication across the lifespan with newborns, toddlers, school-aged children, adults, and aged care (geriatric) clients.
Communication – Speech Pathology Across the Lifespan
For Speech Pathology Week 2023, the theme is ‘Communicating for Life‘
Did you know there are numerous areas of communication?
These areas of communication include:
- Articulation and Phonology: How we say sounds and words.
- Language and Literacy: How we understand and use language, both spoken and written.
- Fluency: How we speak smoothly and without interruptions.
- Voice: How we use our vocal cords and breath to produce sound.
- Communication and Interaction: How we communicate with others in different situations.
- Cognitive-Communication: How we use our thinking skills to communicate.
- Augmentative and Alternative Communication: How we use other methods to communicate when speech is not possible or effective.
How can Speech Pathologists support individuals with communication difficulties?
To support individuals with communication difficulties, Speech Pathologists diagnose and treat communication disorders, such as problems with speaking, listening, reading, writing, social skills, stuttering, understanding language, and using voice. They provide tailored advice, activities, exercises, and strategies to help people achieve their communication goals.
Speech Pathologists also use Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) aids, supports and technologies to assist communication when speaking is not reliable or available, create strategies to compensate for impaired communication skills. They also provide education to the client and their regular communication partners on how to facilitate effective communication.
Types of Communication Disorders
- Aphasia – Acquired language difficulty.
- Dysarthria – Motor speech difficulty.
- Cognitive – Communication disorder.
- Dysphonia – Voice disorder.
- Apraxia of Speech / Childhood Apraxia of Speech
- Primary Progressive Aphasia
- Developmental Language Delay
- Speech Sound Disorder
- Auditory processing disorder
What causes Communication Disorders?
- Developmental delays
- Developmental disorders i.e., ASD
- Atypical brain development
- Stroke / Brain Injury
- Neurological conditions (i.e., Dementia, Parkinson’s Disease, Huntington’s Disease, MND)
- Hearing impairment
- Cleft lip / palate
- Vocal fold impairment
What is involved in the Speech Pathology Assessment Process?
The Speech Pathology communication assessment process for paediatric clients involves:
- Comprehensive case history is completed including developmental milestones, the child and their family’s interests, strengths, areas of difficulty and support networks.
- Both informal and formal assessments are completed, depending on the client and their family.
- Assessment feedback and goal setting takes place with the family. MDT internal referrals are completed as needed.
- Family centered practice underpins all that we do!
The Speech Pathology communication assessment process for adult clients involves:
- Comprehensive case history is completed including relevant medical history, social history and communication history which involves baseline communication skills and noted changes/decline in skills, areas of strength and areas of difficulty, and communication goals. This is completed in interview-style with the client and/or the NOK or caregiver.
- Both informal and formal assessments are completed, depending on the client’s presentation, preliminary goals, and diagnosis with consideration of their capacity to engage in assessments.
- Assessment feedback and goal setting takes place with the client, family and/or NOK. MDT internal referrals are completed as needed.
Multidisciplinary Team Approach – Communication Management
What is the role of a multidisciplinary team for communication management?
- To assess and diagnose communication disorders.
- To implement intervention plan.
- Caregiver education and training.
- Assessing the client’s functional abilities and needs in daily activities that involve communication.
- Assess and make recommendations regarding the client’s upper limb function, posture, position, and seating requirements, as well as use of any adaptive or assistive equipment.
- OT: Upper limb function for writing skills.
- Implementation of communication strategies.
- Recommending and providing assistive devices or technology that can facilitate communication.
- Upper limb function.
- Can provide education on breathing and coughing techniques for individuals with respiratory issues.
- Liaison with SP to develop individualised exercise programs that target both physical and cognitive aspects of intervention.
- Assessment of behaviours.
- Behaviour support plan.
- Supportive strategies.
Let’s look at some case studies to see the Multidisciplinary Team Approach for Communication Management in action.
Adult Case Study
Peter is a 63-year-old gentleman who has a confirmed diagnosis of Early Onset Dementia (Alzheimer’s Disease). His wife reports that he is experiencing word finding difficulties, difficulty engaging in group settings, forgetfulness, difficulty with dressing himself, and losing his balance when climbing up and down the stairs.
Peter has a supportive wife, two adult daughters and two grandchildren. He is a retired real estate agent, and enjoys watching AFL, playing golf and socialising with his family and friends.
Peter has recently been approved for NDIS funding and this is his first NDIS plan.
Speech pathology can help Peter maintain his communication skills, cognitive abilities, and swallowing function, by providing assessment, intervention, and education. Some examples of speech pathology goals are:
- To strengthen and preserve Peter’s receptive and expressive language skills.
- To enhance Peter’s cognitive-communication skills such as his auditory memory, decision making, attention and problem-solving skills.
- To provide communication partner training to Peter’s family to ensure they feel well equipped in supporting Peter’s communication success daily.
- To prevent or manage difficulties with swallowing or mealtime participation.
Occupational Therapy can help the Peter optimise his participation in daily activities, by conducting assessments, interventions, and modifications. Some examples of occupational therapy goals are:
- To maintain or improve Peter’s self-care, leisure, and social skills.
- To adapt Peter’s environment and routines to suit his needs and preferences.
- To provide assistive devices and strategies to enhance Peter’s safety and independence at home and in the community.
Physiotherapy can help Peter preserve his mobility, balance, and strength, by offering exercises, equipment, and advice. Some examples of physiotherapy goals are:
- To prevent or delay functional decline and falls.
- To improve Peter’s balance, gait, posture, and range of motion.
- To reduce pain and stiffness.
Paediatric Case Study
Mila is an 8-year-old who has a confirmed diagnosis of Cerebral Palsy (hemiplegic). She has been seeing a physiotherapist for a block of intervention focusing on developing her gross motors skills.
Mila frequently trips and reported in her last session that she is struggling to keep up with peers in the playground. She takes a long time to eat and is upset that she misses out on play times and time with potential friends.
Her physio seeks a referral to speech pathology to address these concerns.
Following discussion in the physio session it was identified that making friends has been difficult for Mila since starting school.
Mila identified that increasing her confidence and developing friendships was a personal goal. Physio explained to Mila that a Speech Pathologist could support her to develop her social communication skills.
A mealtime assessment also helped Mila learn to manage new foods, and to organise mealtimes so she does not miss out. Education was also given to school, and conversations with home identified more support was needed to help Mila learn to manage chewable foods and to reduce how much food she needed to eat at different times of the day.
At the end of the Physio session Mila attempted to put her jacket on. It was noted that her affected upper limb appeared tight and she was struggling to get it through the sleeve. Upon investigation Mila reported that because of her affected upper limb she also has difficulty tying her shoelaces, getting dressed and doing her hair independently. Mila would like to be able to do these daily activities without help from her mum or teachers. Physio identified the need for an Occupational Therapy review to explore Milan’s upper limb function and range with the aim of increasing her independence and participation in daily tasks.
Positive Behaviour Support
Mila continued to show signs of anxiety, which was one of her biggest barriers. Behaviour Support was then suggested.
Contact National 360 to assist with communication across the lifespan!
Our experienced and qualified Speech Pathologists work with clients of all ages, providing a range of assessments and therapies to support those with difficulties or impairments related to speech, language, communication, literacy, voice, fluency, and swallowing.
We take a client-centered, strength-based, and goal-focused approach to all our treatments, working closely with clients, their families, carers, and other members of their team to achieve the best possible outcomes.