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What is speech and language therapy?

Speech and language therapy provides treatment, support and care for children and adults who have difficulties with communication, or with eating, drinking and swallowing.

Speech and language therapists (SLTs) are allied health professionals. They work with parents, carers and other professionals, such as teachers, nurses, occupational therapists and doctors.

There are around 17,000 practising SLTs in the UK working in a variety of settings.

Related pages

Bradford Care Trust videos

Speech and language therapists at Bradford Care Trust have made a series of videos, talking about their work and showing what speech and language therapists do:

Adults with a learning disabililty:

Autism:

 

Children's centres:

Cleft palate and resonance disorders:

Complex needs in special schools:

 

Hearing impairment:

Bullmeadow Speech and Language Therapy Centre

Film about communicating with babies:
  
Why do we need the film? - read about this video by those who created it using Big Lottery money and the help of local families.

How to become an SLT

Become a speech and language therapist

Our careers guide

Career in Speech and language therapy

Please do contact our enquiries team for more information, or see our list of universities offering HEI courses.

Giving Voice factsheets

Factsheets with case studies - showing how Speech and language therapy changes lives.

How to find a speech and language therapist

If you think you, or your child or relative needs to see a speech and language therapist ask your GP, district nurse, health visitor, your child's nursery staff or teacher for a referral.

You can also refer yourself to your local speech and language therapy service.

You do not have to wait for someone else to refer you.

Ring your local NHS service and ask for the telephone number of your local NHS speech and language therapy service.

How to contact your local NHS

Online directory
England - please contact your local GP for advice
Wales
Scotland
Northern Ireland
 
You can also find the number of your local NHS service in your phonebook or ask at your GP surgery.

What happens next?

This varies across the UK, because services are organised in different ways. In some places, demand for services is very high.

Some areas run a system where first referrals are sorted before appointments are made.

If you have this system in your area, a speech and language therapist or assistant may telephone you first to find out more about your situation. At this stage ask what will happen next and how long you may have to wait for an appointment.

If you think you have been asked to wait too long for a first appointment or for treatment after the first appointment, contact the speech and language therapy department to ask what has happened.

If you still experience difficulty, contact your local NHS service to discuss the situation.

Independent (private) speech and language therapists

Independent speech and language therapists can usually offer an immediate appointment for assessment followed by therapy to suit the client.
 
Contact the Association of Speech and Language Therapists in Independent Practice to find your local independent therapists.
 
Some independent therapists offer specialisation in specific areas of communication difficulties, including:
  • assessment and diagnosis of complex disorders sometimes in association with other professionals
  • tutorials for specific problems, such as dyslexia
  • second opinions and reports for statements of special educational need and attendance at tribunal assessments, reports and court attendance for medico-legal claims.

Where do speech and language therapists work?

Speech and language therapists work in the following settings:
  • Mainstream and special schools
  • Courtrooms, prisons, young offenders' institutions
  • Health - community health centres, hospital wards, outpatient departments
  • Children's centres
  • Day centres
  • Clients' homes
  • Independently/in private practice

Who do speech and language therapists work with?

Speech and language therapists work with babies, children and adults:

Babies:

  • Feeding and swallowing difficulties

Children:

Adults:

Communication or eating and swallowing problems following neurological impairments and degenerative conditions, including:

Full list of topic pages

Settings:

Why is speech and language therapy important?

See our clinical guidance pages.

Download our factsheets detailing case studies and peoples' stories, showing how speech and language therapy changes lives:

Autism
Speech and language therapists play a crucial role in the assessment, diagnosis and support of autistic people.

Children and young people
Communication difficulties put children at greater risk of poor literacy, mental health issues and poorer employment outcomes in adulthood.

Communication needs
What are speech, language and communication needs.

Cuts to speech and language therapy services
What does this mean for SLTs and the people they work with?

Dementia
Speech and language therapists support people with dementia who have communication and swallowing needs.

Dysphagia
Speech and language therapists support people with swallowing difficulties to eat and drink safely.

Early years
Speech and language therapists play a crucial role supporting children in their early years.

Economic value
The economic value of speech and language therapy.

Infant Dysphagia
Difficulties with swallowing can cause chest infections, pneumonia, choking, dehydration, malnutrition and weight loss, all of which can impact on a child’s health and quality of life.

Learning disabilities
Speech and language therapy supports people with learning disabilities to communicate, and eat and drink safely.

Looked-after children
Speech and language therapy helps identify and support looked after children’s communication and interaction needs.

Mental Health
Mental health and the link to communication and swallowing needs.

Nine Quality Standards
The Five Good Communication Standards can be used to support children’s homes to demonstrate how they are implementing the Nine Quality Standards

Parkinsons
SLTs support people affected by Parkinson’s.

Public Health
Speech and language therapy plays a crucial role in promoting public health.

Reducing pressures on urgent and emergency care
SLTs play an important part in supporting effective and emergency care.

Safeguarding
Speech and language therapy helps safeguard and promote the welfare of children with communication and interaction needs.

SEND
A large proportion of children with special educational needs have speech, language and communication needs.

Social, emotional and mental health and wellbeing
Speech and language therapy promotes social, emotional and mental health and wellbeing.

Social disadvantage
The links between speech, language and communication needs and social disadvantage.

Speech, Language and Communication Capacity: A National Asset
How to grow national assets by breaking the intergenerational cycle of speech, language and communication needs.

Supporting people with head and neck cancer
Speech and language therapy support for people with head and neck cancer.

Supporting people with swallowing difficulties due to head and neck cancer
Speech and language therapy plays an important role in supporting and rehabilitating people who have swallowing difficulties (dysphagia) due to a range of head and neck cancers.

Supporting stroke survivors
Speech and language therapy plays an important role in the rehabilitation and reablement of stroke survivors.

Supporting Virtual School Heads
Speech and language therapists can play a crucial role supporting Virtual School Heads to promote the educational achievement of looked after children.

Voice Care
Speech and language therapists help people protect their voice.

Welsh language factsheets/ Taflenni ffeithiol Cymraeg

See the Welsh language version of this Speech and Language therapy overview page.