What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of speech therapy? For many people, it might be a child who’s a “late talker” or has a stutter. And while that’s certainly true, not everyone realizes how beneficial speech therapy can be for adults.
As an experienced speech-language pathologist, I’ve seen firsthand how speech therapy can help adults learn how to communicate more clearly and confidently. Whether you’ve dealt with a speech challenge for years or it’s a newer occurrence, it’s never too late to get the support you need.
Why do adults receive speech therapy?
Here are some of the most common reasons adults seek speech therapy:
Accent modification: Your accent is your speaking pattern, consisting of your own individual rhythm, pronunciation, intonation, and energy. It’s as unique as your own fingerprint! And while everyone has one, accents can sometimes make it difficult to be understood, creating communication breakdowns. Many adults seek to reduce or modify their accent with speech therapy to:
- Improve clarity when speaking
- Sound like a natural speaker of that language
- Decrease frustration
- Increase confidence
Autism spectrum disorder: Autism is a developmental disability typically diagnosed during young childhood. But many people forget that children with autism become adults with autism. Since autism is a spectrum disorder, there are a variety of different skills that can be addressed with speech therapy, including:
- Pragmatics, or the ability to use the right communication in various social situations
- Sentence structure
- Answering and asking WH-questions (what, why, when, where, and who)
- Reading comprehension
- Writing skills
- Interviewing skills
Aphasia: This language disorder typically occurs after a stroke or traumatic brain injury. Aphasia impacts a person’s ability to communicate, understand language, read, and/or write. One of the main treatments for aphasia is speech therapy, which can help individuals re-learn language skills and learn other ways to communicate.
Articulation disorder(s): These occur when an individual has difficulty coordinating movements of the lips, teeth, tongue, and respiratory system to produce the correct speech sound(s). The most common articulation errors for adults are the following:
- Lisping the “S” sound
- Lateral lisp, which happens when air escapes out of the sides of the tongue when producing specific sounds
- Making the “TH’’ sound
- Making the “R” sound
Fluency/stuttering: This speech disorder consists of repetition of sounds, syllables, or words; prolongation of sounds; as well as interruptions in speech known as blocks. People who stutter have frequent challenges with the flow of speech. Stuttering can make it hard to communicate and may negatively affect a person’s quality of life and relationships. Speech therapy can be extremely effective for individuals looking to correct their stutter. It’s helpful in managing and reducing the severity of a stutter, while empowering the adult to get back their voice.
Parkinson’s disease: This is a disorder of the central nervous system that impacts movement. Adults with Parkinson’s may need speech therapy to improve their vocal quality and articulation, as it may sound soft, monotone, breathy, or hoarse.
Voice disorder(s): This may be defined as hoarseness, vocal fatigue, raspiness, periodic loss of voice, or an inappropriate loudness or pitch. Voice disorders are incredibly common and often affect teachers, singers, fitness instructors, coaches, and professional speakers, among other occupations. That’s because voice disorders can be caused by misusing the voice, such as talking too loudly, shouting, straining, and constant throat clearing–even whispering.
Voice disorders can also stem from a virus or surgical procedure, as well as medical conditions such as asthma, acid reflux, allergies, smoking, alcohol use, and limited hydration.
Public speaking: Many adults experience “stage fright.” They’d rather do anything else than stand in front of people and speak. If this sounds familiar, you can work with a speech-language pathologist to gain the confidence and control you need to successfully speak in public. A speech therapist can teach you how to articulate under stress, use the right vocal tone and muscle coordination to improve speech quality, and even use the right body language for public speaking.
How long does speech therapy for adults last?
There’s no one answer to this question. However, there are factors that can help predict the duration of speech therapy. Some of these variables include:
- The person’s diagnosis
- How long the person has had the diagnosis
- Severity of the diagnosis
- Frequency of speech therapy sessions
- The person’s determination and commitment to making progress
- Consistency of family/caregiver involvement
- Daily completion of exercises and the use of strategies assigned by the speech-language pathologist
It’s important to note that how all the variables relate to each other can have an effect on outcomes. For example, I’ve treated adults with a severe diagnosis, but thanks to caregiver involvement, the frequency of sessions, their determination, and their consistency, they graduated from my services within a few months. On the other side of the coin, I’ve treated adults with a less severe diagnosis who weren’t as determined and didn’t complete their daily exercises. Their therapy took longer.
The power of speech therapy exercises
Speech therapists prescribe exercises and strategies for their clients to complete before each session. This is where the crucial “real work” happens–where you practice the skills taught during your therapy session at home, so they eventually become part of your daily life. In my years as a therapist, I’ve observed that consistent practice makes all the difference.
Think about it like this. Imagine if you started taking tennis lessons but only practiced during those lessons, for 30 to 60 minutes a week. Yes, you'd absolutely improve over time, though gradually. But how much more progress would you make if you practiced daily, on your own time, with family and friends? Chances are you'd reach your goals and ace that tennis swing much faster. Speech therapy is no different.
To give you a taste of what speech therapy exercises might entail, here are some that I prescribe to my clients: breathing exercises, voice exercises, public speaking demonstrations, social skills exercises, oral motor exercises, writing and reading exercises, as well as audio and visual feedback exercises.
How to find a speech therapist that treats adults
Online speech therapy for adults has become increasingly popular with the rise of telehealth. Not only is virtual speech therapy effective, it allows you to work with a qualified professional at a time that’s most convenient for you–whether that’s before or after work, on the weekends, or around your family’s hectic schedule. Plus, who wants to waste time commuting back and forth to a speech therapy clinic every week?
The first step to starting speech therapy, regardless of how it’s delivered, is to receive an evaluation from a certified speech-language pathologist. During the evaluation, your speech therapist may:
- Ask questions to learn about your background and speech challenge(s)
- Assess the challenging area(s) using formal and informal diagnostic tools
- Provide a formal diagnosis
- Discuss your goals
- Confirm the session frequency, day, and time
- Potentially prescribe home programs to complete before the next session
Depending on the diagnosis, it may be helpful for a caregiver or loved one to attend the evaluation and ongoing therapy sessions. That way everyone will be on the same page, and you’ll get the support you need for success.
When choosing a speech therapist, it’s incredibly important to find someone who is experienced in your area of need. As I mentioned, speech therapy covers a lot of issues. A speech therapist who specializes in helping children with early language development may not be the same therapist who’s comfortable treating adults learning to regain communication after an injury.
In addition, you want to find someone you trust and with whom you can build a strong relationship. Make sure your speech therapist is available to answer questions throughout the week and provides tips, strategies, and exercises you can incorporate at home for daily practice.
No matter what your age or speech challenge(s), clearer and easier communication is worth pursuing!