Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) or speech-language therapists (SLTs) do much more than help people with speech problems such as stuttering or mispronouncing words. For children and adults with neuromuscular disorders like spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), muscular dystrophy (MD) and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), SLPs can provide a vital service helping patients with speech, chewing and swallowing, and using technology and other equipment to improve quality of life.
In an interview with the Muscular Dystrophy Association, SLP Cathy Lazarus talks about her role in the lives of people who have neuromuscular disorders. Specializing in swallowing difficulties, Lazarus explains that the same muscles in the mouth and throat are used for both speech and swallowing.
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To determine the nature of a person’s swallowing difficulties, X-rays are taken while patients eat and drink liquids mixed with barium, which shows up on the X-rays. This helps SLPs determine how the patient is swallowing, which muscles are not working as they should be, and what exercises they can do to help improve the situation. If swallowing becomes impossible, they will help patients and caregivers adjust to life with feeding tubes.
When it comes to speech difficulties, SLPs devise ways in which people can be better understood as their speech deteriorates. This could be teaching them simple ways to speak clearer and slower or making similar sounds in different ways to bypass problem areas. When speech becomes too difficult, SLPs will help patients learn how to use assistive technology to communicate.
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