This article was originally published in the October 2016 The Leaf as “Let’s Start Talking”
When you think of speech therapy, you may think of children who need help with lisps or who say “wabbit” for “rabbit.” You may even remember seeing a speech therapist when you were a child, to help you to talk. It’s true that lots of children benefit from speech therapy, but did you know that some adults need speech therapy services, too?
Speech therapy can help adults with a wide variety of speech, language, memory and cognitive difficulties, and even with swallowing! Therapy can help adults to speak clearly, which is important for work and for relationships. In fact, difficulty making yourself understood makes all sorts of daily activities more difficult, from ordering food in a restaurant to expressing opinions. Speech therapy also helps adults who have difficulty finding their words, or whose language is affected by memory or reasoning impairments. In addition, voice therapy can help adults with vocal fatigue, voice disorders, or gender transitions. Adults sometimes seek help with social language – especially the social language skills needed to get along in the workplace. Speech therapy can help adults learn to make small talk, use effective nonverbal communication, and express ideas and opinions well. These are only some of the skills that Speech-Language Pathologists can help to improve.
Lifelong challenges, such as Down Syndrome or Autism Spectrum Disorders, can continue to cause communication impairments in adults. Common causes of adult-onset communication impairments are strokes, traumatic brain injuries, or degenerative diseases. Adults with long-standing communication impairments sometimes seek professional support to better match their adult needs. My friend Kevin, who I met in university, did just that. Kevin had a stroke when he was a teen. Despite both his speech and language being affected, he completed a university degree and has been working as the Supervisor in the Computer Writing Lab for Rhetoric and Communications for many years. He recently won a Stars of Spence Street award for his dedication to the students he helps. Thirty-five years after his stroke, Kevin sought a tune-up for his speech and participated in a 10-week therapy program. Kevin benefited “immensely” from therapy – he reads more quickly, remembers what he is saying better, and sees himself as more knowledgeable and engaging. He even looks at people’s faces more when he talks to them and participates more in conversation. For some adults , speech therapy can result in a dramatic improvement in quality of life!
We used to think there was a small window to treat speech and language impairments, especially impairments caused by brain changes. In the case of stroke and other brain injuries, after 6 months or a year, we told people that they had recovered as much as possible. More recent research suggests that the brain can keep healing and improving for years, even decades, after an injury. In fact, supported by up-to-date therapy and modern technology, recovery can be lifelong. The key is finding a Speech-Language Pathologist who will work with you to help you reach your goals.
Speech-Language Pathologists do more than many people realize!