Speech and language

What is Speech and Language Therapy?

A Speech and Language Therapist (SALT) is qualified to work with children, young people and adults who have some form of communication disorder. It is often thought that a Speech and Language Therapist is only able to help with actual speech production problems, but in fact the range of services is much wider.

What does a Speech and Language Therapist do?

A therapist working with children and young people will initially assess both comprehension (understanding of language) and expressive language (how language is used).


The Therapist will look at various areas where difficulties might occur including:

* Vocabulary – types of words such as nouns (naming words), verbs (actions) and prepositions (in, on, under etc.)

* Understanding language structures such as following instructions – eg. “brush dolly’s hair”, “give me the yellow pencil”

Expressive Language

Spoken language may be assessed for the following:

* Speech sounds – often termed phonology. The child or young person may not have certain speech sounds in their vocabulary, or may use them inappropriately eg. “dog” becomes “dod” (termed fronting) or “glove” becomes “glub” (termed stopping)

* Articulation difficulties – the production of speech sounds may be difficult, possibly due to a physical problem such as cleft lip/palate or poor dentition or even a co-orindation problem – Dyspraxia

* Fluency – is there any evidence of dysfluency (stammering) or general hesitancy in speech

What can be done if the child/young person has little or no speech?

Language is not only the spoken word but can include communicating by various alternative methods. Some of the more common ways are:

* Symbol systems – a simple line drawing is used to represent an object or concept eg. Makaton, Rebus, Mayer Johnson

* Pictures/photo systems – actual pictures or photos are used to indicate objects, activities etc.

* Signing systems – include British Sign Language (BSL) and Makaton. These systems use manual signs to convey meaning

* Eye pointing – by using a special board with symbols or pictures, it is possible for a parent or carer to interpret what the child/young person wants to communicate by following their eye gaze until it stops at the item they want. This can be useful for children or young people who have physical difficulties and no speech.

* Communication aids – these can range from simple picture boards to complex computers with voice synthesizers

What other aspects of communication are assessed?

Other areas which Speech and Language Therapists might look at and which underpin communication are:

Listening and attention skills/concentration – can the child or young person attend to a task? Not to be confused with a hearing impairment – the child or young person may hear what is said but cannot concentrate sufficiently to process the information

Play and imagination – can the child play alone, alongside others (parallel play) or take part in group play? Is imaginative play present ? eg. putting doll to bed, pretend tea parties

Social communication – can the child or young person interact with others? Do they understand the rules of conversation, such as turn taking, repairing conversations, keeping on topic and appropriate greetings?

Functional use of language – can the child/young person use whatever system of communication is appropriate to them to make choices, comment on events, question or refuse?

Behaviour – an inability to communicate can be very frustrating for the child/young person and may result in agitated or challenging behaviour patterns.

How does the Speech and Language Therapist carry out the assessment?

The Speech and Language Therapist will look at all areas in which the child/young person is experiencing difficulty.

* This may include observation or direct working with them in various settings, such as the home, school or college.

* Liaison with people who come into frequent contact with the child/young person is also very important. As well as parents, teachers, carers, other health professionals etc. may be consulted.