Speech Therapy

Speech therapy helps children and adults improve their communication and language skills. No matter what’s affecting your ability to speak or communicate effectively, speech therapy can improve your quality of life. Talk to a healthcare provider about a speech therapy evaluation if you or your child has trouble talking, hearing or using language.


What is speech therapy?

Speech therapy is treatment that improves your ability to talk and use other language skills. It helps you express your thoughts and understand what other people are saying to you. It can also improve skills like your memory and ability to solve problems.

You’ll work with a speech-language pathologist (SLP, or speech therapist) to find exercises and treatments that address your specific needs. Some people need help talking and communicating. Others need speech therapy to process and understand language better.

Speech therapy can help you improve your:

  • Early language skills (especially children learning to talk and communicate).
  • Ability to use your voice.
  • Language comprehension (how well you understand words and language).
  • Fluency (how well and how comfortably you can use language).
  • Clarity and expression (how easily you can communicate what you want to).

How do I know if I need speech therapy?

If your healthcare provider suspects that you or your child has a speech disorder, they’ll recommend some initial screenings. These tests will help determine the underlying cause of any communication issues.

For example, if your child has trouble communicating, your healthcare provider may refer your child to an audiologist for a hearing test. If your child passes the hearing test, they might need to work with a speech-language pathologist.


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Procedure Details

What does speech therapy do?

Speech therapy will help you improve your ability to speak and communicate with language. What kind of speech therapy you need depends on several factors, including your age and which health condition or speech challenges you might have.

Your speech-language pathologist will recommend appropriate treatment based on your specific situation. There are many different approaches and categories of speech therapy, and your speech therapist will find one that works best for you.

Which conditions are treated with speech therapy?

Speech therapy can benefit anyone with a communication disorder. A healthcare provider might also suggest speech therapy if you have a hearing impairment or health condition that makes swallowing difficult. Your healthcare provider may recommend speech therapy to help with:

  • Aphasia: People with aphasia can have difficulty reading, writing, speaking and understanding language. It often develops after a stroke or injury damages the area of the brain that processes language.
  • Apraxia: People with apraxia know what they want to say, but have trouble forming the words. They may have trouble with reading, writing, swallowing and other motor skills.
  • Articulation disorder: People with articulation disorders are unable to produce certain word sounds. For example, they may substitute one sound for another — like saying “wed” instead of “red” or “thith” instead of “this.”
  • Cognitive-communication disorders: You might have difficulty communicating if the area of your brain that controls your thinking ability is damaged. People with cognitive-communication disorders may have issues with listening, speaking, memory and problem-solving.
  • Dysarthria: People with dysarthria may have slow or slurred speech. It happens when the muscles that control your speech become weak. Common causes include stroke, multiple sclerosis (MS), amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or other nervous system disorders.
  • Expressive disorders: People with expressive disorders may have difficulty getting words out or conveying their thoughts. Expressive disorders are linked to stroke or other neurological events, developmental delays and hearing loss.
  • Fluency disorders: Fluency disorders disrupt the speed, flow and rhythm of your speech. Stuttering (speech that’s interrupted or blocked) is a fluency disorder. So is cluttering (speech that’s merged together and fast).
  • Receptive disorders: People with receptive disorders have difficulty comprehending or processing what others are saying. They may have a limited vocabulary, trouble following directions or seem uninterested in conversations.
  • Resonance disorders: Resonance disorders are health conditions that affect your oral or nasal cavities. They can block airflow and alter the vibrations that help you hear sounds. Cleft palate, swollen tonsils and other conditions that affect the structure of your mouth and nose can cause resonance disorders.

What age is best for speech therapy?

Anyone who needs help with speech or language skills can benefit from speech therapy. There’s no age that’s best or more correct to get help. Both pediatric speech therapy and speech therapy for adults can help anyone with a communication disorder.

Studies have found that children who need speech therapy have the most success when they start it early and practice at home with a loved one.

What activities are done in speech therapy?

For children, speech therapy usually involves play, like sequencing activities or language-based board games.

For adults, speech therapy is usually focused on improving or rebuilding particular skill sets like strengthening coordination between your brain and mouth.

Some examples of speech therapy activities include:

  • Tongue and mouth exercises: Your speech therapist will show you exercises and motions that will strengthen your mouth and tongue. These exercises help train your tongue to move in coordinated patterns.
  • Facial movements: Controlling the expression on your face can help improve your motor skills. Your therapist might have you smile or pucker your lips, then relax your face.
  • Reading out loud: If your speech disorder prevents you from moving your mouth and tongue properly, reading out loud can strengthen the connection between your brain and mouth.
  • Playing word games: Studies have shown that memory games, word searches and crossword puzzles can maintain cognitive function and improve thinking skills.

Risks / Benefits

Does speech therapy actually work?

Yes, speech therapy is a proven, effective treatment that’s helped millions of people improve their langue and communication skills.

There’s not one definition of success for speech therapy. Talk your healthcare provider or speech therapist about setting and achieving goals that fit your unique needs.


What are the advantages of speech therapy?

Speech therapy offers a number of benefits, including:

  • Improved self-esteem.
  • Increased independence.
  • Improved ability to comprehend and express ideas, thoughts and feelings.
  • School readiness for young children.
  • Enhanced vocal quality.
  • Early language skills.
  • Better swallowing function.
  • Improved quality of life.

Recovery and Outlook

How long do you need speech therapy?

Everyone’s needs are unique. Some speech disorders improve with age — others require years of speech therapy. If a health condition caused your speech disorder, your speech and language skills may improve as you recover from the underlying issue.

How long you need speech therapy depends on:

  • Your age.
  • The type of speech disorder.
  • How severely the speech disorder affects your communication abilities.
  • If you need to recover from an underlying health condition.
  • How often you attend speech therapy.


When To Call the Doctor

When should I see my healthcare provider?

Visit a healthcare provider as soon as you feel like something is affecting your ability to speak, hear or communicate with others. Visit a provider if you think your child might have difficulties with language or comprehension. Common warning signs a child might have a communication disorder include:

  • Talking infrequently or less than usual.
  • Difficulty using language or words.
  • Trouble understanding simple sentences.
  • Getting frustrated easily when reading, listening or talking.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Ask your healthcare provider about scheduling an evaluation with a speech-language pathologist if you or your child has trouble communicating. Speech therapy can give you more independence, confidence and a better quality of life.

Speech therapy takes time, effort and practice. Be patient and give yourself credit for all the progress you’re making. Celebrate your successes and talk to your speech therapist if you feel like you’re struggling.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 05/03/2023.

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