Speech, language and communication difficulties can affect every aspect of life and more than 2.5 million people in the UK have speech, language and communication needs. Everyday, speech and language therapists work with a huge variety of people – from young children who stammer to older people recovering from stroke and brain injuries.
Increasing demand for this profession is due to a contribution of factors such as an ageing population, the rise in dementia, and the growing number of children with complex speech, language and communication needs, indeed the supply of speech and language therapists is predicted to increase by 36 per cent in the next five years.
Speech and language therapists in the UK diagnose, treat, and assess people to prevent communication and swallowing disorders. Speech, language, and swallowing disorders result from a variety of causes, such as a stroke, head injury, brain injury, hearing loss, cancer of the mouth and throat, neurological disorders (Parkinson’s disease), developmental delay, a cleft palate, cerebral palsy, learning disability or emotional problems.
Speech and language impairments can present as a delay or a disorder, impairments can occur as a primary condition or with secondary conditions, such as, cognitive, autistic, learning, hearing, behaviour and emotional impairments. Spasmodic dysphonia (a voice disorder caused by involuntary movements of one or more muscles of the larynx or voice box) can affect anyone. The first signs of this disorder are found most often in individuals between 30 and 50 years of age. More women appear to be affected by spasmodic dysphonia than men.
Experienced speech and language therapists are involved in assessing mental capacity and consent under the Mental Capacity Act (2005).
A high proportion of children and adults presenting to mental health services may have disturbances of speech, language, communication and swallowing difficulties. Approximately 84 per cent of attendees at psychiatric services have language impairment.
Technology is Changing Speech and Language Therapy
A new computerised treatment developed at Sheffield University and now used by healthcare teams in a range of countries helps patients treat themselves at home by following a carefully-staged programme designed to gradually rebuild speech and the layers of connections that lie beneath it.
Technology is beginning to gain more popularity in the education setting, it is rapidly changing and growing, which means staying up-to-date is important to keep engagement and motivation high, furthermore, it is important for graduate student clinicians and practising speech-language therapists to be aware of what technology and resources are currently available.