Speech and language therapy

What is speech and language therapy?

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

What do speech and language therapists do?

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

Adults with a learning disability:

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

Considering a career in speech and language therapy? Take a look at our information on becoming a speech and language therapist or download our careers guide (PDF). We also have information about degree-level courses.

You can also contact our enquiries team for more information.

Giving Voice factsheets

Our factsheets with case studies show 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
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 (ASLTIP) 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 or in private practice

Speech and language therapy factsheets

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

Alternative provision (PDF)
Speech and language therapists support pupils in alternative provision.

Behaviour and communication (PDF)
There are important links between speech, language and communication needs and behaviour.

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

Children and young people’s mental health services (PDF)
Speech and language therapists have an important role to play at every level of children and young people’s mental health services.

Cleft lip and palate and related disorders (PDF)
Speech and language therapists play an important role supporting people with cleft lip and palate and related disorders.

Communication needs (PDF)
What are speech, language and communication needs.

Craniosynostosis
Speech and language therapy supports people with craniosynostosis and their families.

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

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

Developmental language disorder (PDF)
Giving voice to people with developmental language disorder (DLD).

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

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

Infant dysphagia (PDF)
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 (PDF)
Speech and language therapy supports people with learning disabilities to communicate, and eat and drink safely.

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

Looked-after children and the Five Good Communication Standards (PDF)
The Five Good Communication Standards can be used to support looked after children and the professionals working with them.

Mental capacity (PDF)
Speech and language therapists have a key role to play in helping to determine mental capacity.

Mental health (PDF)
Mental health and the link to communication and swallowing needs.

Nine quality standards (PDF)
The Five Good Communication Standards can be used to support children’s homes to demonstrate how they are implementing the Nine Quality Standards.

Parkinson’s (PDF)
SLTs support people affected by Parkinson’s.

Public health (PDF)
Speech and language therapy plays a crucial role in promoting public health.

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

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

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

Social, emotional and mental health and wellbeing and the Five Good Communication Standards (PDF)
The Five Good Communication Standards can be used to support children and young people with social, emotional and mental health needs and the professionals working with them.

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

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

Supporting adults with mental health conditions (PDF)

Speech and language therapists play an important role supporting adults with mental health conditions.

Supporting people living with motor neurone disease (PDF)
Speech and language therapists support people living with motor neurone disease.

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

Supporting people with swallowing difficulties due to head and neck cancer (PDF)
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 (PDF)
Speech and language therapy plays an important role in the rehabilitation and reablement of stroke survivors.

Supporting virtual school heads (PDF)
Speech and language therapists can play a crucial role supporting virtual school heads to promote the educational achievement of looked after children.

Tips on wearing face coverings (PDF) 
Here are some tips on how to communicate when wearing face coverings.

Upper airway disorder (PDF)
Speech and language therapists support people with upper disorders.

Video conferencing voice tips (PDF)
Here are some handy tips from speech and language therapists on voice care when video conferencing.

Voice banking and message banking (PDF)
Speech and language therapists can support people with voice banking and message banking.

Voice care (PDF)
Speech and language therapists help people protect their voice.

What is speech and language therapy? (PDF)

For more information, see our clinical guidance pages.

Welsh language factsheets/Taflenni ffeithiol Cymraeg

View the Welsh language version of this page.

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