Communication is the exchange of information between individuals. Meaningful communication keeps people connected and allows for mutual understanding and human connection. The field of communication sciences and disorders is made up of professionals who share the common goal of improving an individual’s quality of life through better hearing, speech, and language.
What is the difference between a speech pathologist and an audiologist?
The professionals who help people communicate are known as Speech-language pathologists and Audiologists. Both groups of professionals have a background in communication sciences and disorders. The focus of a Speech-language pathologist is communication through speech and language (both expressive and receptive); whereas the focus of an Audiologist is communication through hearing and listening.
What do speech pathologists and audiologists do?
Speech-language pathologists identify and treat patients with speech production, receptive language, or expressive language disorders, whether spoken, written, or manual modes of communication are used. Speech production or articulation disorders relate to the formation of speech sounds and how these sounds are combined to make words. Language disorders relate to the comprehension and expression of thoughts and ideas. Speech-language pathologists also address issues with pragmatics or social communication norms like turn taking and body language. They address issues with the fluency of speech production (known as stuttering), as well as voice quality concerns like hoarseness or nasality. They can work with patients experiencing cognitive issues like memory and problem solving concerns. Additionally, speech-language pathologists may work with individuals with feeding or swallowing disorders.
Audiologists diagnose and treat hearing loss, tinnitus, and balance disorders. They perform comprehensive assessments to assess outer, middle and inner ear status. Audiologists recommend, fit, and provide follow-up services for hearing aids. They perform real ear measurements to verify that a hearing aid is programmed appropriately. Audiologists also recommend additional assistive listening devices to enable connection with televisions, phones, and alerting devices. Prevention of hearing loss is another focus of Audiologists. They identify environments with potentially hazardous noise levels and recommend and fit appropriate hearing protection. Audiologists may also diagnose and treat balance disorders and auditory processing disorders.
Both professions work with individuals across their lifespan from infancy to elderly adults. Both professionals may work in a variety of settings which may include private practice, educational settings (schools and universities), hospitals, nursing care facilities, research settings, and home-based programs.
How do speech pathologists and audiologists work together?
Speech-language pathologists and audiologists often work together on a multidisciplinary team with the goal of promoting communication. This collaboration can occur at any point during the lifespan from infancy to elderly. During infancy, a hearing loss may be identified following a failed newborn hearing screening. An audiologist will perform additional tests to diagnose the infant’s hearing loss and fit the child with appropriate amplification. The child and caregivers will also work with a speech-language pathologist to promote development of age-appropriate communication skills such as babbling, gesturing, and spoken words. The treatment approach may need to be modified if milestones are not being met as expected. Both professionals are responsible for counseling parents and caregivers with respect to realistic expectations.
In an academic setting, a school-age child may encounter both an audiologist and speech-language pathologist as members of their multidisciplinary educational team. This may occur in general education or special education environments. A child may have an Individual Family Service Plan (IFSP) or Individualized Education Plan (IEP) to promote academic success. This plan may specify use of hearing aids or FM systems in the classroom as well as individual speech-language therapy sessions. Also, before a student begins receiving speech-language services, they will have a hearing screening to rule out hearing loss as a contributing factor to their speech-language delays.
Later in life, the prevalence of hearing loss increases due to the aging process and other factors such as comorbid health conditions and exposure to loud noises. It is very likely that an older adult receiving speech-language services may also have hearing loss. In this population, a receptive language issue may include difficulty comprehending speech in the presence of background noise. An expressive language issue may be vocal weakness, word finding problems, or other language impairments related to the onset of Alzhiemer’s or dementia.
Speech Pathology and Audiology Have Different Educational Requirements
Both Speech-language pathologists and Audiologists may have a B.S. or B.A. degree in communication disorders. An undergraduate program may include coursework related to speech and hearing sciences, anatomy and physiology of the auditory and vocal mechanisms, neuroanatomy, american sign language, aural rehabilitation, and language development and disorders. Clinical observations and/or a clinical internship are also common. Graduate programs differ between these professions. A speech-language pathologist has a minimum educational requirement of a Masters degree, either an M.A. or M.S. This typically takes 2 years of full time study to complete. An audiologist has a minimum educational requirement of a Doctoral degree, either an audiology doctorate (Au.D.), doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.), or even a doctor of education (Ed.D). A doctoral degree typically takes 4 years of full time study to complete. Both graduate-level programs will require supervised clinical experience. Both professionals will obtain a state licensure to practice and may choose to obtain additional professional certifications such as a Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech-Language Pathology (CCC-SLP) or a Certificate of Clinical Competence in Audiology (CCC-A) through a credentialing organization such as the American Speech-Language and Hearing Association. Both professionals will be required to complete continuing education requirements to maintain their professional licenses.
Why do speech-language pathologists need to know about audiology?
Hearing ability and speech production are closely related. A person learns to speak by listening and repeating what they hear. A deficit within the auditory system often translates to an issue with speech production. It is important to understand the relationship between hearing and speech in order to provide appropriate treatment for these individuals. Additionally, a speech-language pathologist may need to perform a basic hearing screening. Results of the screening may warrant a referral to an audiologist.
Why is the study of audiology important to the study of speech-language pathology?
Professionals in the field of communication sciences and disorders need to have a foundation of knowledge surrounding the specialty areas of both speech-language pathology and audiology. There is a clear connection between the auditory pathway and production of speech. In other words, what we hear influences what speech we produce. Many patients may have a co-occuring speech-language issue and hearing loss. To treat these patients effectively, professionals need to understand the relationship between these conditions.
Although audiologists and speech-language pathologists are unique professionals with their own individual skill sets, collaboration leads to optimal patient outcomes.