What does a speech and language therapist do?

Speech and language therapists are trained to assess, diagnose and treat speech, language and communication impairments in children of all ages and adults. Speech and language therapists also assess difficulties with eating and drinking.

All speech and language therapists qualify by studying an accredited course at a university or other higher education institution, and must be registered with the Health and Care Professions Council.

Most speech and language therapists are also registered with the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists, their professional body.

Getting speech and language therapy

Accessing speech and language therapy for your child – a guide to the law is available from our Resources section.

If a speech and language therapist works independently (that is, not for the NHS), he/she will also be registered with the Association of Speech and language Therapists in Independent Practice (ASLTIP).

What to expect from speech and language therapy

Following referral
Once your child has been referred to NHS speech and language therapy, and that referral has been accepted, your child’s name will be placed on a waiting list. The length of waiting times will vary according to where you live.

When it is your child’s turn, you will receive an appointment for an assessment session, usually at a health clinic or a hospital, which is where your child’s understanding and talking skills will be assessed by a speech and language therapist.

Do speak to the person who referred your child or phone up your local speech and language therapy department, if you have any concerns about the time it is taking to receive an initial appointment. You can find information about local services from your Health Visitor, GP surgery or by looking at Afasic’s local services list.

Your first speech and language therapy appointment will involve assessment. An assessment may involve looking at picture books, playing with toys or talking to the therapist, depending on the child’s age. The SLT will also talk to you about your concerns and ask you questions about your child’s development. Be prepared to describe your child’s communication with examples of the impact that this makes to everyday life.  Read more about your first steps to getting help.

The SLT will try to work out if and where your child may be struggling with talking and understanding, based on the assessments carried out. The impact of any difficulties with listening, understanding, talking and interacting on a child’s ability to learn will also be explored in liaison with you and other professionals. Further assessments or referral to other agencies may be recommended if more information is needed.

Following diagnosis, recommendations will be made about what support your child may need. This may include direct support from a SLT, individual or group support, and/or a programme of activities for you and others to carry out. Support may be clinic and/or school based. It may involve support from others like a specialist teacher.

The type and extent of support will depend on for example: your child’s age, and the type and severity of the difficulties they have.

SLTs usually work closely with parents and nurseries/schools to support children through joint working, training those around the child and direct work with the child.

The length of time that your child will be supported will depend on the type of needs they have, how severe those needs are and what services are available locally.

You can expect the SLT to give you clear information about how often they plan to see your child and where (home, clinic or school), giving you clear feedback during or after each session wherever that may be.

How can I see a local NHS speech and language therapist?

There are a number of routes to access NHS speech and language therapy for your child.

Children can be referred by:

  • Their parents or legal guardian
  • Their health visitor or GP
  • Their school

Professionals should seek the permission of the child’s parents before making a referral.

Getting extra help
Qualified speech and language therapists work in independent practice and charge for their services.

The Association of Speech and Language Therapists in Independent Practice holds a register of its members and provides information through a searchable database about independent speech and language therapists throughout the UK, to help you find a therapist near you.

All ASLTIP members are certified members of the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists and are registered with the Health and Care Professions Council.