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Speech Pathology is a 4 year Bachelor of Science degree that results in the privilege to practice as a Speech Pathologist: assessing, diagnosing and treating a range of communication and swallowing disorders in people of all ages. Academic components of the degree combine professional topics (speech pathology and audiology) with the basic sciences of linguistics, psychology, phonetics and aspects of medical science (anatomy/physiology and neuroanatomy/physiology).
All Speech Pathologists in Australia complete University courses and have 300 hours (minimum) of supervised clinical practice, before they are allowed to graduate the course and practice independently. Even so, new graduates are encouraged to work in supported or mentored positions to ensure best practice and consolidation of their undergraduate skills.
Speech Pathologists are trained to provide or arrange for a range of adjunctive services whenever the need arises, evaluate current research and apply the relevant findings to clinical practice. They must meet the Competency Based Occupational Standards set by the professional association, Speech Pathology Australia.
Active learning and professional development continues throughout a Speech Pathologists career, and is a requirement for them to be eligible for membership to and certification with our peak national body Speech Pathology Australia.
A Speech Pathologist may work as a generalist treating a range of disorders, or develop specialist skills. Speech Pathologists may develop pockets of expertise in particular areas of practice because of opportunities they have had in their training or work place, because they have been inspired by a teacher or mentor, because they have a personal connection (e.g. sibling with autism or a parent who has had a stroke or hearing impairment) or because they have developed a passionate interest in an area like singing for example.
Here are some examples of people who may benefit from a Speech Pathologist’s skills:
the list really does go on and on and on...
Speech Pathology Australia is the National body for Speech Pathologists, that oversees practice standards, maintains eligibility for practice status, Code of Ethics and standards governing practice performance. It is a strong proponent of Evidenced Based Practice.
Speech Pathology Australia, is currently lobbying the Australian Senate's Community Affairs. The key message from the Committee's report into Speech Pathology services in Australia is: “The time for talk is over. The time for action is now”. Deborah Theodoros, President of Speech Pathology Australia, said: "For the first time we have a clear road map for delivery of adequate Speech Pathology services to the Australian community. We have a parliamentary committee that has reported on the issue of Speech Pathology services in Australia. For the first time, we have official confirmation that early and effective intervention in speech and language disorders saves taxpayers' money.” Deborah, who gave evidence to the Senate Committee said, "This Senate Report must be a beginning. We must not allow it to be the final word.”
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The study of Orofacial Myology originated in the early 1900s, from Orthodontists who recognised that the rest position of the tongue could be an obstacle in orthodontic treatment. Currently, there is much interest in this field and a growing body of research to illuminate its role in early growth of the face skull and jaws, its influence on dental growth, and its potential to interfere with orthodontic treatment goals. Untreated orofacial dysfunctions can mean some anomalies with speech production are resistant to treatment.
The principles of evaluation and treatment of Orofacial Myofunctional Disorders are based upon dental science tenets: however, Orofacial Myofunctional therapy is not dental treatment per se and well-managed Orofacial Myology also draws upon behavioural and neuromuscular science, and the psychology of habit change, and a good understanding of the functional science around swallowing chewing and speech. Professionals who train in this specialty area are Speech Pathologists and Dental Hygienists. However, many professionals show an interest in this area and use adjunctively in their patient management, including Dentists, Orthodontists, Osteopaths, Physiotherapists and Chiropractors.
Speech Pathology and Orofacial Myology are like hands to a glove for Speech Pathologists working with Dentists and Orthodontists. Whilst additional training in Orofacial Myology is essential to manage the patient population effectively, Speech Pathologists are well versed in the neurophysiology of swallowing, chewing, speech, behaviour, learning and clinical goal setting. A Speech Pathologist’s background and expertise in clinical science, management of behaviour change, and their established expertise with swallowing and speech disorders, make them ideal practitioners to study Orofacial Myology. Not only is it a useful skill with dental and orthodontic patients, there is growing indication that the effect of correct orofacial function from very early ages (baby toddler preschooler) has a fundamental influence on the growth of the upper jaw which in turn impacts not only speech and eating but also mode of respiration. Small upper jaw, mouth breathing and orofacial myofunctional disorders often coexist. Is it the chicken or the egg that came first? Whichever came first, there are long-term implications for a small maxilla. This is key. Most Speech Pathologists are not taught these skills in the undergraduate programs, and will need to ‘up skill’ in this specialty area. There is a good case to be made that Speech Pathologists, particularly those involved in Paediatric feeding specialisations, are in a position to have a profound influence on a baby’s face and skull growth from the early stages of feeding. Paediatric caseloads are common to many Speech Pathologists through hospitals and health based services. They are uniquely positioned to provide preventive, interceptive and rehabilitative interventions. At minimum, a Speech Pathologist can keep the issue of face, skull and jaw growth on their professional and clinical radar, and make appropriate referrals and assist with parent education. If they are trained in Orofacial Myology they can make a more direct contribution via Orofacial Myology assessment and therapy in the context of their other work.
Fundamental education for parents at this formative stage could be pivotal in the child’s development, particularly when we consider the long-term major health implications of a small maxilla. This illuminates the need for early intervention and establishment of good habits in the early years of a child’s development. At the end of the day, parents effect the changes that are recommended by professionals and they will benefit enormously by understanding why they have been recommended to follow a particular type of intervention.
Due to the complex nature of Orofacial Myofunctional Disorders, a team approach (Dentist, Orthodontist, Pediatrician, Allergist, Osteopath where indicated…) and thorough analysis of the cause of the problem and all contributing elements of the problem is key to successful treatment. The complexity and potential interactions of aetiological factors related to OFMD (e.g., nasal obstruction, flow limitation in breathing, thumb sucking, anterior open bite, tongue tie….) need to be determined and managed in conjunction with treatment. Differential diagnosis is key e.g. does the OFMD reflect learned behaviour or is it contingent upon existing anatomical structures?
Speech Pathology draws on many fields of knowledge
Any person, of any age, experiencing difficulties and frustrations with communication, eating or swallowing can refer themselves for an assessment, or be referred by a medical dental or Allied health professional
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