There are many reasons why people seek professional help from a speech-language pathologist. Some of these can include:
- You’ve noticed your child has struggled to reach developmental milestones appropriate for their age.
- You’ve received a formal recommendation to pursue speech therapy from your primary care physician, ENT, pediatrician, or other specialist.
- You have a lingering speech or language issue that was never properly treated in childhood, or has worsened over the years.
- You or a loved one are in need of rehabilitative care after a stroke, injury, or other medical diagnosis affecting communication or swallowing.
Regardless, it’s important to be properly informed and prepared when first starting out with a speech therapist. While licensed speech-language pathologists are trained, qualified, and experienced in treating a range of speech and language issues, it’s important to remain proactive in asking the right questions. This will ultimately help you feel comfortable and confident in your treatment decision, and establish a strong relationship with your speech therapist.
Before starting treatment, here’s some important questions to ask your speech therapist:
- Location: This may sound obvious, but it’s important to realize that effective speech therapy can be delivered in a variety of settings, including a clinic, hospital, outpatient center, school, your home, and online via video calls. Make sure you’re crystal clear where therapy will be delivered. And if you're receiving speech therapy virtually, make sure you have easy access to the video conferencing link (and bookmark it!).
- Time: Like learning any new skill, speech therapy takes practice and reinforcement. Make sure to ask your speech therapist’s availability and find a mutually beneficial time that fits with your work and school schedule. Many families choose to receive services during non-traditional hours, like evenings and weekends. If this describes your situation, find a speech therapist that can accommodate your preferred schedule.
- Cancellations and Reschedules: Kids get sick, work meetings pop up, and life happens! What’s important is that you understand and are comfortable with their policy. Make sure to ask your speech therapist for these details prior to initiating treatment.
- Costs: There are a number of ways speech therapists and companies charge their clients. Some charge a flat rate per session, some use a subscription-based model, some charge additional fees for an evaluation, etc. The last thing you want is a surprise bill. Make sure you thoroughly understand your speech therapist’s pricing model and all associated costs, as well as when payment is due and how it should be submitted.
If you have insurance coverage, this can lead to a host of additional questions. Every insurance provider is different, and many have restrictions on what diagnoses are covered, how many sessions they’ll allow, and how their reauthorization process works. It can be a headache. Make sure to call your insurance company to get all your questions answered.
Speech Therapist Credentials
Before choosing any medical profession, it’s important to do your research. This is especially important with speech therapy because it covers such a broad scope of services and diagnoses. You want to make sure that you find a qualified professional specialized to your area of need. Some questions to consider include:
- How long they’ve been practicing speech therapy
- What types of degrees, certificates, and licenses they have
- Whether they’re certified by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA)
- What types of patient populations they typically work with
Treatment typically begins with your speech therapist performing a thorough and comprehensive evaluation. Evaluations are used to conduct a variety of tests, measure communication skills, and identify speech and language challenges. Information gathered during the evaluation is imperative to developing a personalized treatment plan best suited to your needs.
Before your evaluation, ask your speech therapist what the evaluation will entail, what tests will be performed, the length of the evaluation, and how the information will be used.
What Speech Therapy Looks Like
Speech therapy goals for a child that has difficulty articulating their “r” sounds looks vastly different from a post-stroke patient that’s developed aphasia. Ask your therapist what a typical speech therapy session will look like, what goals you or your child will be working on, and the types of exercises that will be used to achieve these goals. This will help you stay informed so you can be an active contributor versus a passive participant.
Establishing Realistic Therapy Goals
It’s important that both you and your speech therapist are aligned about what “success” looks like. Reaching communication goals often doesn’t happen overnight - it takes practice and persistence. It’s important that you ask your speech therapist about short-term and long-term goals, and certain milestones that should be reached before graduating.
Additionally, these goals are not fixed and, depending on progress, can naturally evolve overtime. Ask your therapist how each of these goals will be monitored and adjusted overtime.
Your Role as a Parent or Caregiver
Most patients receive speech therapy once or twice a week. However, as mentioned, improving communication skills and regaining normal speech function requires constant reinforcement. While your speech therapist will provide valuable strategies, cues, and techniques while in-session, these lessons must be practiced on your own time to achieve the most progress. Ask your therapist how you can support your child or loved one outside of the session, and incorporate lessons learned throughout your daily routines. This can include at-home exercises, as well as simple language-building activities you can do during mealtime, before bed, while brushing your child’s teeth, and more.
Staying in Contact
During speech therapy, questions will naturally pop up. Maybe you’ve noticed your child exhibiting a new behavior or struggling with a particular lesson. Maybe you have questions about an at-home exercise or need to reschedule your session. For some families, their therapist’s responsiveness is an important factor. Ask your therapist what their comfort level is responding to questions outside of therapy.
Maintenance Once Therapy Concludes
At some point in your speech therapy journey, you or your child will “graduate” from services. Your speech therapist will conclude that you’ve reached necessary milestones or skill proficiency, and recommend that active speech therapy can end or be held less frequently (such as once a month). When that happens, we want to ensure that progress doesn’t regress. Ask your therapy about different maintenance strategies to ensure you retain as much information and skills as possible.