Florida speech-language pathologists are in high-demand – at our Southwest Florida pediatric therapy clinic and elsewhere. Speech-language pathology (SLP) ranks as one of the most desirable – and fulfilling – careers out there. Not only do these professionals enjoy significant job stability, good compensation, and numerous opportunities for career advancement, they have a direct role in the tangible well-being of their patients – and that’s truly why most of us are drawn to this field.
We know that at FOCUS Therapy, watching a pediatric speech therapy session can seem a bit like you’re watching play time. (And don’t get us wrong – we do have A LOT of fun!) But there is actually a great deal of study and consideration that goes into tailoring each session to help the individual child reach their goals.
We find that for parents, it’s helpful to know exactly the kind of training and dedication these professionals take on to get to the point of being able to structure play-based therapy (the kind we find most effective when working with children).
What Exactly Do Florida Speech-Language Pathologists Do?
Speech-language pathologists are experts in communication, and can actually work with people of ages – from infants to the elderly. They treat many different kinds of issues related to communication and swallowing. Some of these include:
- Speech sounds. This is how we say sounds and put sounds together to form words. We sometimes refer to these as articulation or phonological disorders. They can also include dysarthria and apraxia of speech.
- Language. This is how well we understand what we hear or read and how we use words to tell others what we’re thinking. With adults, this is referred to as aphasia.
- Literacy. This refers to how well someone is able to read and write. Lots of people (especially children) with speech & language disorders may also have trouble reading, writing, and spelling.
- Social communication. This is how well someone is able to follow social rules, like talking to different people, how close you should stand to someone when you’re talking, and how to take turns in a conversation. Formally, this is referred to as pragmatics.
- Voice. This is how a voice sounds. One might talk through their nose, speak too loudly, lose their voice easily, sound hoarse, or struggle/be unable to make sounds at all.
- Fluency. Most people know this as “stuttering,” and it refers to how well speech flows. Lots of young children stutter, but many grow out of it. Those with persistent issues should consult with an SLP.
- Feeding and swallowing. This involves how a person chews, sucks, and swallows liquid and food. Poor nutrition can cause a host of health problems. Southwest Florida speech-language pathologists can help.
- Cognitive communication. A deficit in this area would involve problems with organization, attention, memory, problem-solving and other thinking skills.
You can find speech-language pathologists in private pediatric practices like FOCUS Therapy, but they’re also employable at schools, hospitals, doctors’ offices, rehabilitation clinics, and colleges/universities.
Steps to Becoming an SLP
The basic steps to becoming a speech-language pathologist in Florida are:
- Earning your bachelor’s degree in a related field. This is a four-year commitment. Two undergraduate degrees that many SLPs commonly earn are a Bachelor of Science in Communication Sciences and Disorders and a Bachelor of Science in Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology. These are ideal if you know early on you want to become a speech-language pathologist. But it’s not uncommon for people to switch majors a few years in. Other bachelor’s degrees that can be well-suited to a later career in speech-language pathology are education, linguistics, and psychology (particularly if you pair them with a minor in something like communication sciences and disorders.
If you ask any parent of young kids whether they’re game for a product that is affordable, reduces spills and messes, and is super convenient, of course you’re going to hear: Yes, Please! Unfortunately, convenience for parents isn’t always what’s best for children. Case-in-point: The sippy cup. Speech therapists who study feeding and swallowing development and speech-language development will tell you: You really should ditch the sippy.
It’s really made more for parents than for kids. Someone got tired of their toddler spilling all Tang on the carpet and the rest is history. Sippy cups are marketed to parents as a necessity. But our Fort Myers speech therapists will beg to differ.
Some things to consider:
- Overuse of the hard sippy cup spout impedes swallowing development. During the baby’s first year, he or she will primarily use a front-to-back tongue movement to pass liquids and soft solids to the back of their mouth so they can swallow them. Speech therapists call this pattern suckle-swallow. But by the time they get to be about 12 months, their swallow pattern will mature. The tip of the tongue will rise to the bumpy, gum line ridge (where you make the /d/ sound) and begin using wave-like motions. This is what allows them to swallow a greater variety of textured foods. If your child is drinking solely from a sippy cup or bottle, this development milestone can be delayed.
- “Paci-mouth.” Yes, this refers to the damage that can be caused by overuse of a pacifier, but something similar can occur with sippy cups. If the tongue isn’t able to go up during swallowing, it will generally come to rest in a forward position in the mouth. This can potentially impede speech-language development. If your child only uses a sippy cup very occasionally, this likely won’t be a problem. But for lots of kids, sippy cups are constant companions. Speech-language skills can be stunted for kids who don’t get past that suckle-swallow pattern by the time they’re 1.
- Facial development delays. There is a muscle in the face called the genioglossus. Heavy use of a sippy cup can impede its development, which can lead to mouth-breathing. Mouth-breathing is associated with slowed facial development.
Does your child say “brudder” for “brother”? “Dat” for “that”? “Fing” for “thing”? As our Fort Myers pediatric speech therapists can explain, the ‘th’ sound is one that develops later for a lot of kids. Some master it sooner, often when they start school and are constantly interacting with older kids. Others continue making this error. Most child development experts agree this is a sound that should usually be developed by age 7 or 8, though it’s certainly something you can begin working on earlier.
Of course, all children develop at their own pace, and a singular issue doesn’t necessarily mean your child is going to need speech therapy, particularly if your child is younger than 7 and your only concern is the “th” sound. Still, most kids develop their speech sounds in the same general order, beginning in the first year of life. (The American Speech-Language Hearing Association has a development chart you can use for reference.) The key is if you notice a delay, you don’t want to wait too long in addressing it.
An assessment from a licensed child speech therapist can help you determine if it’s something your child will likely grow out of or whether they need some additional help. Waitlists for child speech-language therapy services in Southwest Florida can be lengthy, so it’s best to inquire sooner than later if you have a question.
Building kids’ speech and language skills isn’t just some magic we cook up in the clinic – it’s something you can do in your very own kitchen too! As our FOCUS speech therapists can explain, the more you can help your child try to practice their skills everywhere but the clinic, the better off they’ll be for it. What we’re aiming for here is something called carryover, and it’s something the American Speech Language and Hearing Association underscores can help those lessons “stick.”
This is especially important if they’re schooling, extracurricular activities and social events have been significantly curtailed during the pandemic. They’re going to need all the extra help they can get!
Our speech therapists recognize that cooking is a great activity because it not only helps them with lots of speech and language concepts (up, down, over, in, stir), there are math and science components, it encourages creativity, responsibility, teamwork and independence. Cooking can be a very naturally social activity, and it’s one that can help you make wonderful memories. Plus, it can be easily tailored to the child’s age and skill level with just a little planning. Start out with it just being you and your child, and once they get more comfortable with it, you can work your way up to have siblings and others involved – make a play date of it!
Social Skills of the Sous Chefs
The sous chef is the second-in-command in the kitchen. Anytime you’re working with high heat or open flames or sharp tools, it’s important that kids understand who is in charge and how important it is to listen carefully and follow directions.