There are about 12,500 SLTs working in Britain, and as allied health professionals, they are regulated by The Health and Care Professions Council.
You will find Speech & Language Therapists working in hospitals, clinics and in the community, as well as more unexpected environments, such as prisons and courtrooms. Like other health professionals, increasingly they work independently, in private practice.
Speech and language therapy can benefit people of all ages.
Babies and children
• Premature babies, and those born with conditions such as cerebral palsy, cleft palate and Down syndrome can have difficulties with drinking, swallowing and early communication skills, all of which can be helped by the intervention of a SALT.
• Children with primary speech, language and communication difficulties – stammering, dyslexia or selective mutism, for example – as well as those with problems in this area associated with other conditions, such as learning disabilities, autism, language or hearing impairment.
Speech, language and communication needs are the most common type of special educational need for primary school age children. In some socially deprived areas, more than half of the children starting infant school have underdeveloped speech and communication skills. And to give an indication of the lifetime impact of such deprivation, more than 60% of young offenders have problems with communication, speech or language.
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Adults with communication difficulties
• SALTs support adults with developmental conditions: autism, learning disabilities and Down syndrome.
• Conditions that may occur in adults, and cause communication and/or swallowing problems, can be helped by SLTs. These include, for example, cancers of the head and neck; head injury; Parkinson’s disease; stroke; dementia; hearing loss
According to the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists, nearly one fifth of the population is likely to experience communication difficulties at some stage.
Following a stroke, about a third of people will have problems with communication (aphasia) and swallowing (dysphagia).
The role of technology
AAC (augmentative and alternative communication) is a means of helping people to communicate when they have severe difficulties with speech and language, for whatever reason.
Augmentative communication supports verbal speech and language, while alternative communication replaces it.
There are many different ways to achieve this, and they can be broken down into four broad categories:
• unaided – does not require an external device. This includes sign language, gestures, facial expressions and vocalisations.
• aided – some sort of device, either electronic or non-electronic, is used to transmit or receive messages, which may be:
• low-tech – systems of pictures, symbols, etc
• high-tech – sophisticated speech generating devices (SGD) and voice output communication aids (voca)
To access NHS support, you need to be referred by a healthcare professional who is treating you to your nearest specialised AAC Assessment hub. You can find their details here (link will open in a new browser window)