Is your toddler not yet talking? Does your child stutter occasionally? Or, has your child’s school teacher expressed concern that your child may have a problem with certain speech or language skills. Do you stammer when you are talking to an audience or put in the spotlight? Have you always been conscious about the way you speak and it needs to be improved?
A visit to a speech pathologist may be a wise intervention. A speech pathologist or a speech-language pathologist or a speech therapist is a person who has a degree or diploma in speech therapy and works with individuals (adults and children) to assess, diagnose, treat and help to prevent speech, language, cognitive-communication, voice, swallowing, fluency and other related disorders.
Nature of work
Speech pathologists work in conjunction with physicians, social workers, psychologists and also by themselves to evaluate, monitor and treat speech and language disorders in adults and children. Speech disorders can include the following-
Articulation disorder (difficulties producing sounds in syllables or saying words incorrectly so that the listener can’t understand what is being said)
Fluency disorder (problems such as stuttering and stammering, in which the flow of speech is halted by abnormal stoppages)
Voice disorder (problems with the pitch, volume or quality of the voice that may result in discomfort for a child when speaking)
Oral feeding disorder (difficulties in eating, swallowing and drooling for the child that may be painful)
Language disorders can be-
Receptive disorder (difficulties in understanding or processing language)
Expressive disorder (difficulties in combining words together, poor vocabulary or unable to use language in a socially appropriate way)
Speech-language pathologists develop a personal plan for each patient, use special instruments to analyse and evaluate the extent of speech and language. They also conduct standardised tests, use alternative communication methods, including automated devices and sign language to teach individuals how to make sounds, improve their voices, and increase their oral and cognitive skills. Further, they also educate patients with techniques on how to strengthen facial muscles or use compensatory strategies to teach children to swallow food without choking, etc. They also counsel individuals and work with the family to recognise and help with changes in behaviour at home and show them communication-enhancing techniques to use at home. Finally, the speech pathologist works systematically with the patient by keeping records of the patient’s initial visit, evaluation and progress until discharge of the patient.
Educational requirements and eligibility criteria
Speech therapy is an allied branch of health sciences and there is a growing demand for speech pathologists and therapists.
There are about 20 universities that provide Speech Language Pathology and Hearing Sciences programmes that are accredited by the Rehabilitation Council of India. These are graduate level programmes and students from a science background can take up this course. A B.Sc. course that is of three years duration and includes courses in Speech Therapy and Audiology may be pursued. Following that, a postgraduate M.Sc. course of two year duration may be continued. Only individuals who have completed the Bachelors or both the courses are eligible to be called as speech-language pathologists or speech therapists.
Job prospects and compensation
With the growing awareness among parents about a child’s speech disorders and cognitive communication impairments, these professionals find positions in paediatric departments in private and government hospitals, health centres and in speciality clinics. The children will be directly referred to them by the child’s paediatrician for assessment and therapy. Also, these professionals are employed in rehabilitation centres located throughout the country. They also find careers in special education schools where they work as therapists. They can also find jobs in universities and government agencies as teachers, or as administrators for speech and hearing programmes. Some of them take up private practice which is becoming more common nowadays and also work part-time in any of the hospitals or schools along with this. They can also contract to provide services in schools, physician offices, clinics, hospitals or work as consultants.
Starting salaries for speech therapists in government hospitals can be from Rs.5,000 per month and can go up to Rs.20,000 after acquiring few years of work experience. Private hospitals and clinics offer better salaries and benefits. Also, private practice speech pathologists usually charge higher fees than those charged at hospitals. There is also a good demand for speech therapists overseas where the pay packages are higher than in India.
Where to study:
Ali Yuvar Jung National Institute for The Hearing Handicapped, Bandra, Mumbai
All India Institute of Speech and Hearing, Mysore University
Sri Ramachandra College of Allied Health Sciences, Porur, Chennai
J.M. Institute of Speech and Hearing, Patna, Bihar
Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research, Chandigarh
Topiwala National Medical College B.Y.L Nair Charitable Hospital, Mumbai Central
All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Ansari Nagar, New Delhi
University of Chennai, Centenary Building, Chepauk, Chennai
Medical Trust Hospital, MG Road, Cochin http://www.medicaltrusthospital.com/co
Dr.S.R. Chandrasekhar Institute of Speech and Hearing, Bangalore