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Speech pathologist

0-18 years

Your child might see a speech pathologist if she needs help with speech and/or language difficulties, or she has problems swallowing food or drink.

About speech pathologists

A speech pathologist is a university-trained health professional who works with anyone who has trouble communicating. This could be trouble with:

  • speech
  • language, including reading and writing
  • fluency – for example, stuttering
  • voice.  

Speech pathologists help people find the best way to communicate to meet their needs. This could include signs, symbols, gestures and other forms of assisted communication.

Speech pathologists also help people who have trouble swallowing food and drink.

Speech pathologists work in kindergartens and schools, hospitals, early intervention programs, community health centres, mental health services and private practice. 

Speech pathologists often have special interests in areas of complex need like hearing impairment, autism, cerebral palsy or intellectual disability. They might work in specialist intervention services for children with these disabilities.

Speech pathologists often work one on one with children but might also work with groups – for example, in the classroom. They are often part of an early intervention team of different specialists who work with children – for example, occupational therapists, psychologists and dietitians.

Why your child might see a speech pathologist

Your child might see a speech pathologist if he has speech and language problems including:

  • problems being understood by other people
  • problems understanding what people say
  • frustration because he can’t say what he wants to say or can’t be understood by others
  • a husky voice that’s hard to hear
  • stuttering.

If your child has a speech or language problem, a speech pathologist will assess your child’s level of ability and design a program to help your child develop the skills and abilities she needs.

During the assessment, the speech pathologist will talk with you about what your child has trouble with. The speech pathologist will also ask you about your child’s development, including medical history, and whether anyone else in your family has speech or language problems.

The speech pathologist might look at how well your child understands instructions and questions. The speech pathologist might also listen to your child talking to get a good idea of the words and sounds your child uses.

Other issues that speech pathologists can help with
Your child might also see a speech pathologist if he:

  • needs help with feeding – for example, if your baby has a cleft palate 
  • has problems swallowing
  • has intellectual disability and needs help finding alternative ways to communicate
  • has a history of ear infections and you’re worried about his communication
  • needs help learning to read.
You don’t need a GP referral to see a speech pathologist, but talking to your GP or child and family health nurse could be a good place to start if you’re worried about your child’s health or development.

Before going to a speech pathologist

There are a few things to think about before you visit a speech pathologist:

  • Why you’re going to the speech pathologist: it’s important to know why your child needs to see a speech pathologist. You might like to write down any concerns or questions you have about your child’s speech or language, so you’re ready for your visit.
  • Waiting lists: waiting times can vary a lot. The speech pathologist might be able to give you some information about what you can do while you’re waiting to get an appointment.
  • Costs: how much will the appointment cost? The speech pathologist will be able to tell you whether you can get money back from Medicare or private health insurance or whether you can get some other kind of financial help.
  • Location: find out where you have to go to see the speech pathologist – for example, a public or private hospital, community health centre or consulting rooms. You might have to travel further than you expect, depending on your child’s needs.
  • Qualifications: is the speech pathologist a member of Speech Pathology Australia (SPA)? Registration isn’t compulsory for speech pathologists in Australia, but speech pathologists who are SPA members are qualified and up to date with professional development and practice.
You might want to talk about these things and any other questions you have with your GP or child and family health nurse before you go to the speech pathologist. You could also ask the speech pathologist’s clinic when you make the appointment.

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Last updated or reviewed
15-02-2016

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Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

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