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What is a Language Therapist?


A language therapist is what most people commonly call a speech-language pathologist (SLP) or speech-language therapist. As someone who specializes in human communication, a language therapist is an expert in language development as well as in the treatment of language and speech disorders.

A language therapist’s primary function is to prevent, assess, diagnose, and treat speech, language, cognitive-communication, social communication, voice, and swallowing disorders. 


What is Language?


Language is the primary way with which humans connect, express, learn, and exchange ideas with each other. It is a structured system of communication that involves the use of speech, writing, and gestures. There are five domains of language. These are:

  • Phonology – The ability to recognize and work with sounds in spoken language, e.g. rhyming or playing around with sounds. 
  • Syntax – Refers to the proper use of grammar.
  • Morphology – A specific type of grammar dealing with units of words called morphemes. 
  • Semantics – Vocabulary
  • Pragmatics – Using appropriate language (including nonverbal communication) in social situations and daily interactions.


 What is Cognition?


Thinking, judging, problem-solving, memory—these are all parts of the cognitive process. Cognition refers to the mental or brain processes necessary for an individual to learn, gain knowledge, and comprehend. It is one of the brain’s higher functions, and plays a crucial role in language development, executive functioning, imagination, perception, and planning. 


What are Developmental Disabilities?


Developmental disabilities are types of disorders that individuals are typically born with. These conditions commonly affect a  child’s physical, intellectual, language, and emotional development. 

Some of the most common developmental disabilities are:

  • Specific language impairment (SLI) – Also known as developmental language disorder, SLI refers to language difficulties that occur without any sensory, intellectual, acute or gross neurological, or emotional factors that could negatively affect language development. Read more details about specific language impairment.
  • Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) – A neurodevelopmental disorder that affects social communication and interaction and involves restricted and repetitive behaviors. People with autism will often have trouble with joint attention, responding to social situations, and using verbal and nonverbal communication.
  • Attention-deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) – A developmental disorder characterized by lack of attention, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness, ADHD is diagnosed in childhood but also occurs in adults. ADHD interferes with an individual’s ability to learn and apply specific skills to support personal, social, academic, and occupational growth.


What Are Language Disorders?


A language disorder refers to difficulties or problems in understanding what one hears or is being told as well as trouble with putting words together to communicate ideas.

Language disorders are classified as:


  • Expressive language disorder – Refers to difficulties with finding the words and grammar to express themselves as well as peers. 
  • Mixed expressive-receptive disorder –  This is a combination of an expressive language disorder in combination of difficulties listening to language compared to peers, e.g. following directions, listening to stories, understanding sequential information. 
  • Cognitive communication disorders refer to communication skills that involve attention, memory, perception, regulation, organization, and problem-solving.


What is a language therapist?


Who Provides Language Therapy?


Each state determines who can provide language therapy. All 50 states recognize the field of speech-language pathology. A licensed speech-language therapist/pathologist who is trained and experienced in language therapy is the best professional to provide language therapy. If an individual needs oral/expressive or oral/expressive and receptive language help due to a delay, disability, or an acute injury, this individual should work with a state-licensed speech-language pathologist/therapist. 


 SLPs have:


An ASHA-certified SLP must: 

  • Pass a national exam
  • Complete an ASHA-accredited supervised clinical fellowship


Read more about the Qualifications for Speech Language Therapists Pathologists.


 How Does Language Therapy Work?


A language therapist provides different types of treatments or therapies to address specific disorders or disabilities. However, it’s important for patients to remember that most speech and language disorders have no lifelong cure, and therapy can’t make them go away completely. Instead, an SLP designs a therapy plan that will help individuals manage and overcome the challenges and difficulties of their condition.



Therapy begins with an evaluation of the patient’s difficulties and how it affects his or her speech language development as well as daily life. During the assessment, the language therapist will:

  • Administer criterion-referenced and standardized tools to compare children, individuals, and students with their peers.
  • Review medical records to determine relevant medical, health, and pharmacological information.
  • Interview parents and family members to obtain case history to determine specific concerns.
  • Utilize culturally and linguistically appropriate assessment protocols.
  • Engage in behavioral observation to differentiate the individual’s skills in a natural setting/context.



  • Design, implement, and document delivery of service using the best available practice based on assessment.
  • Provide linguistically and culturally appropriate services.
  • Assimilate the highest quality available research evidence with individual preferences, practitioner expertise, and values in setting up treatment aims and goals.
  • Utilize treatment data to determine the effectiveness of services and guide decisions.
  • Integrate academic materials and goals into treatment.
  • Deliver the appropriate intensity and frequency of treatment utilizing the best practice available.
  • Engage in treatment sessions and activities that are within the scope of the professional’s competence.
  • Collaborate and cooperate with other professionals in the delivery of services.



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Craig Selinger

Author Craig Selinger

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