What Does a Speech-Language Pathologist Do?

What Does a Speech-Language Pathologist Do?

Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) work in a range of environments — from schools to hospitals to residential care facilities — to help diagnose and treat communication and swallowing disorders in children and adults. For those wondering, “What do speech-language pathologists do?,” SLPs evaluate patients for speech, language, and swallowing problems and create treatment plans to address specific problems such as voice disorders and swallowing difficulties. Most states require SLPs to hold a master’s degree in communication sciences and disorders or related fields to become licensed. 

What Speech-Language Pathologists Can Help With

What is speech-language pathology? Understanding the unique duties and capabilities of a speech-language pathologist can help answer this question. Speech-language pathologists can help adults and children with a variety of speech, language, and swallowing challenges. They may work with patients experiencing speech delays, language disorders, and communication challenges that stem from other medical issues.  

Speech Delays and Disorders

Speech disorders occur when patients have difficulty saying sounds or words correctly or have voice problems. There are a variety of speech delays and disorders and other medical conditions that SLPs help treat in adults as well as speech and language disorders in children

  • Apraxia (of speech): motor speech disorder caused by brain damage that makes it difficult to form correct words and sounds. SLPs can help those with apraxia of speech train their speech muscles to move correctly or learn alternative methods of communication such as gesturing or using a computer.
  • Dysarthria: muscle weakness caused by brain damage that makes it difficult to speak. SLPs can help patients with dysarthria slow their speech, speak louder, strengthen mouth muscles, make clearer sounds, and use augmentative and alternative communication (AAC).
  • Stuttering: type of fluency disorder in which patients get stuck on words or sounds, stretch out a part of a word for a long time, or struggle to get a word out when speaking. SLPs can help involve parents and teachers in treatment plans for children who stutter. For older children and adults, SLPs can help them manage their stuttering by finding strategies to relieve tension when speaking and facing situations that make them anxious when speaking.
  • Voice disorders: disorders that affect the voice including chronic cough, paradoxical vocal fold movement (PVFM), spasmodic dysphonia, vocal cord nodules, and vocal fold paralysis. Treatments vary based on the cause and severity of a patient’s vocal disorders, but SLPs can help treat voice disorders using methods that include helping patients manage chronic coughs, treating conditions that cause PVFM and training a patient to keep their vocal cords open, conducting voice therapy, teaching patients about vocal hygiene, and referring patients to other providers for medical treatment of underlying conditions.

Language Delays and Disorders

SLPs can help patients who struggle to understand what others are saying or communicate their own thoughts and feelings. Patients with expressive language disorders struggle to convey ideas, thoughts, and feelings. Children or adults with receptive language disorders have trouble understanding spoken or written words. Language disorders are often diagnosed in early childhood, and SLPs can work with children and use play to help them communicate despite language disorders.

Other Issues

SLPs can also help with other issues, including the following:

  • Cognitive-communicative disorders: conditions that cause cognitive impairment and typically occur after strokes or as a result of a brain injury or degenerative disease. SLPs may help these patients restore their previous level of cognitive function, find strategies to compensate for memory loss and loss of cognitive function, and work with family members to improve communication outcomes. 
  • Dysphasia: swallowing disorders that make it difficult for patients to move food or liquid from the mouth to the stomach. SLPs can refer patients to providers for medical and pharmaceutical treatment, conduct feeding therapy, help patients try new foods or ways of eating, strengthen mouth and tongue muscles, and help with sensory issues.
  • Pre-literacy and literacy skills: includes the building blocks of literacy that may help predict reading outcomes, such as oral language, vocabulary, alphabetic knowledge, and knowledge of print. SLPs can work with parents to help them encourage pre-literacy skills and literacy skills in children.
  • Social communication: trouble using language, changing language in different situations, or following the unwritten rules of conversation. SLPs can work with these patients to help them adjust their communication based on the situation. 

Careers in Speech-Language Pathology

Speech-language pathology can make a solid career choice for individuals with strong communication skills, empathy, willingness to collaborate, and analytical skills. SLPs can work in a range of environments and may specialize in care for specific patient populations. To become an SLP, an individual must first earn a master’s degree, complete a fellowship, pass the Praxis exam, and apply for certification and licensure. Preparing to apply to speech-language pathology school is an important part of the process, too. Read on to learn more about careers in speech-language pathology.

Types of Speech-Language Pathologists

Speech-language pathologists work with children and adults to diagnose and treat speech and language delays and disorders. In some cases, SLPs may specialize in working with patients with specific communication or swallowing difficulties, such as those that stem from strokes or cleft palates. 

They may also work as part of a team to create treatment and care plans for patients. For example, SLPs in hospitals may work with surgeons, physicians, and other health care workers, while those working in schools may partner with teachers, parents, and caregivers.

Where Speech-Language Pathologists Work

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), more than one-third of speech-language pathologists work in educational settings, including public and private schools, and some SLPs who work in school systems travel between worksites. Others work in therapists’ offices, hospitals, or nursing or residential care facilities. Self-employment is also an option for SLPs. 

Common Job Requirements in Speech-Language Pathology

Most states require SLPs to hold a master’s degree and professional licensure to practice. Most states issue a license, while others require registration. To secure a license, SLPs usually have to hold a master’s degree from an accredited program, complete supervised clinical experience, and pass an exam. SLPs may also hold accreditations/certification from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) or specialty certifications for child language, swallowing, or fluency. 


Speech-language pathologists earned a median annual salary of $79,060 as of May 2021, according to the BLS, and their pay varied based on their work environment. For instance, SLPs who worked in educational services were paid a median salary of $75,270 per year, while those who were employed by nursing and residential care facilities made $99,340 annually. Those who worked in hospitals earned a median annual salary of $95,620, and SLPs who worked in physical, occupational, and speech therapists’ or audiologists offices made about $93,510. 

In May 2021, the top-paying state for SLPs to work was California, where the mean SLP salary was $102,605 per year. Other states where SLPs received above-average mean pay included Hawaii ($100,120), New York ($98,850), and New Jersey ($98,270). The mean annual wage for Texas SLPs was $82,940 in 2021.

Summary: Is Speech-Language Pathology Right For You?

Baylor’s Master of Science in Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD) program online is designed to prepare students to become compassionate and knowledgeable SLPs who serve children and adults with speech, language, and hearing disorders. The 45-credit program is accredited by the Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association and is designed for service-oriented professionals who want to enhance life for future patients. 

Citation for this content: The online speech pathology program from Baylor University’s Robbins College of Health and Human Sciences