Speech therapy is an integral component of special education for PreK-12 students to overcome language impairments like apraxia, oral-motor delay, dysarthria, LPD, stuttering, and prosodic issues. Special education teachers often include speech therapy as a vital resource on children’s IEPs to improve their communication ability. According to ASHA, nearly one in 12 U.S. children between age three and 17 is facing a speech, language, or swallowing disorder. Statistics show that just 60.1 percent of White, 47.3 percent of Hispanic, and 45.8 percent of Black youth receive therapeutic treatment though. Therefore, the need for speech therapists is growing to properly address problems with the vocal production of sound. America’s 135,980 speech therapists are licensed, master’s-trained practitioners who customize plans to enhance students’ expressive or receptive language.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ wages reports from May 2016 indicate that speech therapists in the United States earn an average yearly salary of $78,210, or $37.6 per hour. Elementary and secondary schools employ the most speech therapists for mean income at $69,890. The highest-paid speech therapists work in physician offices for $100,380 on average. The District of Columbia, Connecticut, and California are the top-paying states with averages at $92,190, $92,160, and $88,870 respectively.
Newly licensed speech therapists can expect to land in the bottom quartile of earnings for yearly income from $47,070 to $58,480. ASHA reports that salary potential gradually increases for every three years of experience to $85,000 after 10 years. Highly experienced speech therapists with 20+ years frequently surpass the six-figure mark to $116,810 or higher. Those who reach the title of speech therapy director earn salaries of $111,027 to $147,588 annually.
Speech therapists work with children one-on-one or in small groups to evaluate, diagnose, and treat communicative difficulties from cleft palate to traumatic brain injury. Speech therapists may observe students in classrooms for early intervention when warning signs appear. It’s their duty to design and implement a treatment plan suited to each child’s functional needs. They use techniques like articulation therapy, oral motor therapy, tongue thrust therapy, and LSVT to progress toward students’ goals. Speech therapists retrain children to enunciate, strengthen muscles for swallowing, and help cope with their limitations in the classroom. They nurture the language center of the brain while giving kids comfort and emotional support.
Coaching children to speak confidently as a speech therapist will obviously require having your own communication skills. Interpersonal awareness is important to aptly describe proposed therapy services to parents and guardians. Critical thinking skills are needed for speech therapists to pore over their assessment criteria and pinpoint right diagnoses. Speech therapists of the 21st century need technological skills to use computer programs like TalkTime with Tucker, Clicker 6, Tiger’s Tale, and others. Analytical skills will help speech therapists choose the right diagnostic tools to formulate a developmentally-appropriate plan. Other significant skill sets are record collection, problem-solving, team collaboration, creativity, organizational, and listening.
Degree and Education Requirements
Becoming a speech therapist is typically a six- to seven-year educational commitment from high school graduation through a master’s. Aspiring speech therapists begin with bachelor’s degrees at regionally accredited colleges in any major, though communication sciences and disorders is popular. ASHA suggests taking undergrad courses for biology, communications, psychology, and education very seriously. After passing the GRE or MAT exam, you’ll enter a graduate school that’s certified by the ASHA Council on Academic Accreditation. M.A. and M.S. degrees in speech therapy integrate courses like diagnostic procedures with at least 400 practicum hours. Clinical doctorates in speech-language pathology are voluntary but useful for advancement in academia.
Pros and Cons of the Position
Licensed speech therapists have tremendous flexibility to specialize in treatment of certain age groups and even start private practices. Employers give speech therapists healthy pay rates with insurance benefits and leave of absence days. Speech therapy appeals to extroverts who enjoy working with both children and adults to improve communication disorders. Therapists are able to keep learning about the latest research, which feeds the inquisitive mind. Speech therapists use their innate creativity to pull together therapy and curricular lessons in kid-friendly ways. Most are also empowered by watching children progress toward celebrated goals. However, case loads for therapists in public schools can be 80-100 students. Budget cuts could cause speech therapists to lose essential materials or buy them themselves. Finishing a master’s degree can be exceedingly difficult with college tuition hikes. Speech therapists can also experience burnout from the hectic scheduling of implementing therapy for many diverse pupils.
Education is only one side of a speech therapist’s preparation. Actual practice and licensing exams are the other. Speech therapy students can begin building their résumés by finding internship or volunteer experiences with the disabled. Special needs organizations like Easter Seals, Special Olympics, United Cerebral Palsy, ARC, and Parents Helping Parents always look for extra help. Master’s programs will also include clinical practica that can be specialized in school settings. At graduation, you’ll sit for the Educational Testing Service (ETS) Praxis exam to fulfill state licensing needs. Applicants then complete a Clinical Fellowship Year for nine months to overcome the final hurdle to the Certificate of Clinical Competency in Speech-Language Pathology (CCC-SLP). Doing so currently costs $461 for recent graduates or $286 for NSSLHA members. Certification maintenance requires 30 CEUs every three years.
Speech therapy ranked 13th among the top 20 occupations with a master’s or higher for job growth. The BLS predicts that this healthcare field will blossom from 135,400 to $164,300 U.S. jobs before 2024 for a much faster-than-average increase of 21 percent. These 28,900 new positions are primarily due to the increased recognition of speech and language disorders in youth, including those on the autism spectrum. Medical technology is helping more premature babies survive, yet they’re at higher risk for language delays needing therapy. Strokes, deafness, Alzheimer’s, and other afflictions are drawing demand in gerontological speech therapy too. Speech therapists find ample jobs in PreK-12 schools, childcare centers, physician offices, hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, and social assistance agencies.
Graded “A” for personal satisfaction and benefit to society, speech therapy was recognized as the United States’ 29th best career path by CNN Money. Communication shapes a large part of the human experience, so speech therapists have an important job teaching the adaptive strategies for kids to vocalize their thoughts. Attending speech therapy has been linked to better literacy, higher confidence, improved socialization, and more independence. Consider becoming a speech therapist to give children with disabilities the gift of expressing themselves effectively.