Communicating our needs, ideas and feelings is the most complex of human behaviors, a process that can be affected by genetic syndromes, disease or injuries that affect the brain or structures involved in communication. At the University of Michigan, Speech-Language Pathology staff assess and treat individuals with communication impairment. They also assess and treat individuals who are experiencing difficulty swallowing (dysphagia), as some of the structures that enable us to swallow are also involved in speech. Each member of this department is certified by the American Speech Language Hearing Association (ASHA), maintaining the ASHA Certificate of Clinical Competence.
Our Speech-Language Pathologists collaborate with many patient care teams throughout the Health System. Areas of specialty include:
- Neurogenic Communication Disorders: apraxia (difficulty with the motor-planning required for speech); aphasia (impaired language, affecting understanding of spoken and written language and the ability to use language in speech and writing); dysarthria (impaired intelligibility of speech, caused by weakness, paralysis or incoordination of speech musculature).
- Cognitive-communication assessment and rehabilitation- assessing and designing treatment plans to improve the processes that support communication: attention, thinking and memory skills.
- Augmentative/Alternative communication – assessing a patient’s ability to use assistive (augmentative) communication devices, including computer-based devices, when speech is unintelligible. Speech-Language Pathologists also assist patients with tracheostomy and ventilator use in establishing audible speech.
- Dysphagia: swallowing impairment
- Intraoperative language mapping – assessing patients during awake craniotomy to identify areas of the brain essential for speech and language functions, prior to surgery to remove a seizure focus or brain tumor
- Laryngectomy rehabilitation – regaining communication skills after surgical removal of the larynx (voice box), which may include insertion of and instruction in use of tracheo-esophageal prosthetics for voice restoration
- Voice Therapy: designed to rehabilitate voice and prevent further injury to the vocal cords. A Speech-Language Pathologist trained in singing also participates in the interdisciplinary Vocal Health Program
- Foreign accent reduction: assessment and treatment of individuals who wish to improve English language sound intelligibility
Depending on your particular concern, an evaluation may include assessment of:
- Speech: including the muscles used for speaking, speech sound production, voice, resonance (the amount of nasality in speech) and speech melody (prosody)
- Language: the ability to understand spoken language; to understand the written word; the ability to express thoughts in words and sentences, answer questions and participate in conversation; the ability to express oneself in writing
- Cognitive-Communication: The ability to attend to information, recall information and to initiate and use language effectively, including understanding the impact of your words on others
- Dysphagia (swallowing): assessment of the structures and movements involved in swallowing. This assessment may include a videofluoroscopic evaluation, completed with a Radiologist – an x-ray is used to observe the safety and accuracy of swallowing. At times, the SLP may complete a fiberoptic endoscopic evaluation of swallowing (FEES): in which an endoscope is inserted to observe the swallowing process.
Results of the communication or swallowing evaluation are used to formulate an individualized treatment program. As changes in speech, language or swallowing abilities may signal a disease process, results of the assessment are communicated to your physician to assist in medical evaluation and patient education.
For the past 30 years, our Speech-Language Pathology department has been a leader in advancing diagnostic and treatment protocols for people experiencing communication and/or swallowing difficulties. Whether participating in NIH research grants, teaching courses at local universities and national conferences or evaluating a new treatment method, our certified speech-language pathologists have one central goal: to work closely with patients and families to improve quality of life through enhanced communication and swallowing skills.