This is a commonly used term that actually has three parts ─ Speech Therapy, Language Therapy and Communication Therapy.
Speech Therapy addresses motor problems involving the oral structures (lips, tongue, teeth, palate, nasal cavity, breathing mechanism), where the child is unable to produce speech sounds or cannot produce them clearly.
Language Therapy addresses cognitive (thinking) problems involving listening, paying attention, understanding, memory, organizing thought etc., where the child can speak but not in sentences, makes grammatical mistakes, has difficulty learning new words, and reading.
Communication Therapy addresses social problems involving interest to interact, adapting to people and the environment, where the child can speak but only when he chooses to, doesn’t follow instructions, avoids people, answers irrelevantly etc.
A speech disorder refers to a problem with the actual production of sounds, whereas a language disorder refers to a difficulty understanding or putting words together to communicate ideas.
Articulation disorders: Difficulties producing sounds in syllables or saying words incorrectly to the point that listeners can't understand what's being said.
Fluency disorders: Problems such as, in which the flow of speech is interrupted by abnormal stoppages, repetitions (st-st-stuttering), or prolonging sounds and syllables (ssssstuttering).
Resonance or voice disorders: Problems with the pitch, volume, or quality of the voice that distract listeners from what's being said. These types of disorders may also cause pain or discomfort for a child when speaking.
Dysphagia/oral feeding disorders: These include difficulties with drooling, eating, and swallowing.
Receptive disorders: Difficulties understanding or processing language.
Expressive disorders: difficulty putting words together, limited vocabulary, or inability to use language in a socially appropriate way.
Speech-language pathologists (SLPs), often informally known as speech therapists, are professionals educated in the study of human communication, its development, and its disorders.
SLPs assess speech, language, cognitive-communication, and oral/feeding/swallowing skills to identify types of communication problems (articulation; fluency; voice; receptive and expressive language disorders, etc.) and the best way to treat them.
In speech-language therapy, an SLP will work with a child one-on-one, in a small group, or directly in a Group to overcome difficulties involved with a specific disorder.
Language intervention activities: The SLP will interact with a child by playing and talking, using pictures, books, objects, or ongoing events to stimulate language development. The therapist may also model correct pronunciation and use repetition exercises to build speech and language skills.
Articulation therapy: Articulation, or sound production, exercises involve having the therapist model correct sounds and syllables for a child, often during play activities. The level of play is age-appropriate and related to the child's specific needs. The SLP will physically show the child how to make certain sounds, such as the "r" sound, and may demonstrate how to move the tongue to produce specific sounds.
Oral-motor/feeding and swallowing therapy: The SLP will use a variety of oral exercises — including facial massage and various tongue, lip, and jaw exercises — to strengthen the muscles of the mouth. The SLP also may work with different food textures and temperatures to increase a child's oral awareness during eating and swallowing.
Cognitive (intellectual, thinking) or other developmental delays
Weak oral muscles
Birth defects such as cleft lip or cleft palate
Motor planning problems
Respiratory problems (breathing disorders)
Feeding and swallowing disorders
Traumatic brain injury
Therapy should begin as soon as possible. Children enrolled in therapy early (before they're 5 years old) tend to have better outcomes than those who begin therapy later.
This does not mean that older kids can't make progress in therapy; they may progress at a slower rate because they often have learned patterns that need to be changed.
Speech-language experts agree that parental involvement is crucial to the success of a child's progress in speech or language therapy.
Parents are an extremely important part of their child's therapy program and help determine whether it is a success. Kids who complete the program quickest and with the longest-lasting results are those whose parents have been involved.
Ask the therapist for suggestions on how you can help your child. For instance, it's important to help your child do the at-home stimulation activities that the SLP suggests to ensure continued progress and carry-over of newly learned skills.
The process of overcoming a speech or language disorder can take some time and effort, so it's important that all family members be patient and understanding with the child.