Ever notice an individual stammering or stuttering his or her words? Has it been something that has been apparent since childhood or arising from a recent injury or medical condition? Do you find that same individual having difficulties swallowing or coughing more frequently during meals? Speech therapy could just be what they need and more.
What is Speech Therapy?
Speech therapy helps individuals with speech, swallowing, language and cognitive function across the age spectrum, from children to seniors. Speech therapy is also known as speech and language pathology.
Speech therapy is not as widely known in Malaysia compared to countries like Singapore, Australia or the UK where there is widespread research and technological advancements such as the use of computerised treatments and robots to help enrich therapy sessions.
The Malaysian Association of Speech-Language and Hearing was first established in 1995 and almost 20 years later, there were approximately 300 speech-language therapists or pathologists reported to be working in Malaysia in 2016. Speech therapists typically work in government and/or public hospitals, specialised centres, non-government organisations, private agencies or independently.
What are the telltale signs to get speech therapy?
- Problems with pronunciation
- Lack of resonance
- Voice problems
- Delays in speech
- Difficulties in sentence structuring
- Struggling with conversational speech
- Trouble following instructions
- Struggling to swallow food or drink
- Coughing up food or drink during meals
- Spending more time during meals
- Lodged food pieces in the throat
Does my loved one need speech therapy?
Speech therapy can be beneficial for individuals, whether young or old. Problems that arise due to speech, language, swallowing and communication can happen at any stage of life. Children with Down Syndrome, cleft lip, Cerebral Palsy or Autism Spectrum Disorder would require therapy. For some others, individuals may find themselves needing therapy after recovering from medical conditions such as stroke or brain injury.
Here are some insights into individuals with disorders or medical conditions who need or may benefit from speech therapy.
- Apraxia – this happens when a message does not go through properly due to brain damage. This can be caused by dementia, stroke, brain tumors and traumatic brain injury. A person with apraxia may not have the ability to move their lips or tongue the right way to make sounds.
- Dysarthria – a motor speech disorder resulting in slow rate of speech or muffled/slurred sounds. This is when muscles in the mouth are weak due to brain damage caused by a variety of conditions that can happen at birth or old age such as Parkinson’s and muscular dystrophy.
- Aphasia – Difficulty in understanding what others are saying or finding it hard to tell others what they would like to convey. Can be caused by conditions such as stroke or brain tumours, injury or disorder.
- Dementia – A degenerative disorder that causes memory loss and thinking problems.
- Laryngeal Cancer – A cancer affecting the voice box, treatment for laryngeal cancer can cause changes to the sound of a person’s voice.
- Oral Cancer – May occur on the lips, jaw, tongue, gums, cheek or throat which can cause speech problems if the movement parts of the mouth. Chewing and swallowing may also be affected.
- Right Hemisphere Brain Injury – Damage on the right side of the brain can cause problems with memory, attention, problem solving and more.
- Traumatic Brain Injury – Brain damage can result in problems with speech, language, thinking and swallowing.
What are some commonly used terms in speech therapy?
You may have just started out taking speech therapy for your loved one and the jargon and words may be hard to understand at times. Here are some commonly used A-Z words your therapist could be using.
|Ankyloglossia||Also known as tongue-tie, the individual has limited movement of the tongue due to abnormal shortness of the lingual frenum;a membrane connecting the underside of the tongue to the floor of the mouth.|
|Audition||The sense or act of hearing.|
|Auditory processing disorder (APD)||This is when an individual’s ears and brains don’t fully coordinate, resulting in hearing problems|
|Barium swallow study||A type of test used to look into the esophagus to look into a person’s digestive system. Barium is a chemical that can be detected by x-rays.|
|Tonic||A forceful or tense biting pattern that interferes with all aspects of feeding.|
|Deglutition||The act of swallowing.|
|Diadochokinesis||In speech, the ability to execute rapid repetitive movements of the articulators.|
|Diadochokinetic rate||The speed with which one can perform contrasting (or repetitive) movements, as in saying the following syllables: puh-tuh-kuh.|
|Epenthesis||The insertion of an additional phoneme in a word or in a group of sound, e.g. tree becomes taree.|
|Lisp||A speech limitation in which s is pronounced like th in thick and z is pronounced like th in this.|
|Prosody||The melody of speech determined primarily by modifications of pitch, quality, strength and duration; perceived primarily as stress and intonational patterns.|
|Syntax||The way in which words are put together in a sentence to convey meaning.|
|Velum||The soft palate, comprising the uvula and palatoglossal and palatopharyngeal arches.|
What does a speech therapist do during therapy?
Speech therapists will first assess the condition of the individual before implementing strategies for therapy sessions. Strategies might include exercises to strengthen mouth muscles, demonstrating alternatives to move the tongue for articulation, and visual speech perception with repetitive language drills for memory strengthening, especially for persons with dementia or for individuals recovering from stroke.
Some other methods are melodic intonation therapy where individuals can opt to sing instead of speaking the words.
What are the benefits of speech therapy?
The goal of speech therapy is to increase functional communication, cognitive skills and teach safe swallowing by introducing modifications in diet and alternative feeding techniques.
Effective communication is important for individuals, but even more so for seniors. If a senior is not able to describe their needs, where they may be hurting, or what is wrong — it could turn into an emergency situation.
Actions speak louder than words
A speech therapist’s role is only the first facet of the journey to an individual’s progress. The role families play is the other facet that plays importance in enriching an individual’s therapy experience by displaying empathy, building trust and extending understanding for more holistic rehabilitation.
- Speech Language Therapist. http://www.myhealth.gov.my/en/speech-language-therapist/
- Working as an SLP in Malaysia. https://internationalcommunicationproject.com/profile/working-as-an-slp-in-malaysia/
- Adult Speech and Language. https://www.asha.org/public/speech/disorders/AdultSandL/
- Adapted from Terminology of Communication Disorders, 4th Edition by Lucille Nicolosi, Elizabeth Harryman and Janet Kresheck
- The Importance of Speech Therapy for Seniors. (2014) https://www.asccare.com/importance-speech-therapy-seniors/