What do speech therapists do? We asked one at Fayette County Memorial Hospital


This content is sponsored by our partners at the Fayette County Memorial Hospital.

The month of May is Better Speech and Hearing Month. Fayette County Memorial Hospital employs four speech therapists to cover a variety of tasks. The Record-Herald sat down recently with speech therapist Julie Clark to talk about speech therapy and what speech therapists do.

What is speech therapy?

It covers a variety of things. We can see anybody from infants to geriatric population. We do language, which encompasses understanding simple concepts, to being able to express our wants and needs to be able to communicate verbally.

What can speech therapy include?

Speech therapy includes teaching kids with autism, maybe on an augmentative communication device or even an individual that has had a stroke.

It can include individuals that have ALS. As their conditions worsens, their speech gets unintelligible so they also turn to augmentative communication to help them communicate like they always have in the past.

We also do swallowing, and that’s one thing I don’t think people understand.

We do speech sounds, so kids that you can’t understand but who can talk, we can correct their speech sounds as well.

Where do speech therapists work?

Speech therapists work in nursing homes, hospitals, and schools. Our services include hospital out-patient clinic and we also do a school contract with Washington City Schools. We are quite busy.

What are some common things that people need help with?

Expressive language—like being able to express that they just simply need a drink of water, especially in the pediatric population, due to all of the syndromes and diagnosis that we have, they have a hard time being able to express, so we work on being able to use more than one word to get our thoughts across.

Some kids have difficulty being able to just produce a simple ‘K’ or ‘G’ sound so we work with that.

Being able to understand what’s being asked, especially individuals who have had a stroke, sometimes they have to go back to being able to identify simple letters and numbers, depending on the type of stroke. Sometimes they have a weakness so they can’t produce speech sounds correctly. Or they have a weakness and can’t swallow their food so we have to evaluate their diet.

If people have a fear of public speaking, would you work with people like that?

Not exactly. That’s more anxiety type. That’s a whole different realm of speaking. That’s more of a fear they would have to face. Now—if it’s related to maybe a stuttering, then we would address it that way. It depends on what the reason for the fear is, because a lot of our kids do have a fear of public speaking because they have that fear that maybe they’re not saying the word correctly or they do stutter so they can’t do it fluently.

The month of May is awareness for hearing and speech. Why? What issues have made it so there should be a hearing and speech awareness month?

To raise awareness, I think the one thing is that we have such a broad area that people don’t realize what speech therapists do because it has evolved from just simply being able to teach someone how to pronounce a ‘K,’ to being able to be understood, to being able to understand what we read, to be able to follow those complex language directions, to be able to swallow a hamburger after having a stroke.

We just have a wide variety of what we do. That’s why we have awareness.

I know we have some doctors who don’t realize our full potential of what we are able to do, especially with our adult population. If they come in and they can’t remember to keep their attention on something long enough, that’s something we can assist with after a stroke. Being able to understand what speech therapists do is the big reason for that awareness.

It sounds like maybe people aren’t always aware that speech therapy can be helpful in their situation, so they don’t know to ask for speech therapy.

Sometimes I go in (to see patients) and the first thing people say is, “I can speak just fine.” You’re right, you can, but there are other things you don’t remember—like today is Monday. You don’t remember that Bob just came to see you, or you can’t recall his name. The word retrieval from having that stroke is something where we would come in and teach those strategies.

We have a wide variety of people and situations that we work with and people just don’t know what we do.

So you hear from stroke patients: “I can talk just fine.” Part of that is people who want to acknowledge their own ability but not their own weakness. People want to maintain their independence, but you want to help.

They don’t realize what we do, especially in having a traumatic experience, it’s important to get help with that early.

We do things in the stroke population, like simple problem solving.

When you have had a stroke, it depends on where the stroke is—all strokes are different, so the level at where you need a speech therapist is going to be different than that of a friend who may have had a stroke. Not all strokes will require a speech therapist. Even just the memory of remembering where you’re at can be impacted.

What are some of the strategies speech therapists use?

Being able to just do simple problem-solving tasks: I can’t remember what day it is, so how do I solve that problem? Or someone asks me a question and I don’t remember how to find that answer, what would I do? Or, I can’t remember the word for table but I can remember door so how do I recall that information. Those are strategies that we would use to help.

Speech-Language Pathology services treat a variety of disorders in people of all ages. For more information about seeking a Speech-Language Pathologist, contact the Fayette County Memorial Hospital by phone at (740) 333-2862.


By Ashley Bunton

[email protected]

Ashley may be contacted by calling her at (740) 313-0355 or by searching Twitter.com for @ashbunton

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