Pediatric speech pathologist working with young patient and father

Your Complete Guide to Becoming a Pediatric Speech Pathologist

Many children struggle with communication disorders. Having a speech impediment such as stuttering, lisping, muteness, or a delay is not uncommon as children develop. Disorders involving cognitive-communication abilities, swallowing, and voice also affect children. Pediatric speech-language pathologists, or SLPs, are trained and practiced in solving exactly these kinds of speech and communication problems in children.

What is a pediatric speech pathologist?

A pediatric speech pathologist works with children to improve their communication skills, both verbal and non-verbal. Clinicians in pediatric speech pathology work to prevent, evaluate, diagnose, and treat these communication-related disorders affecting children.

So then, what is pediatric speech pathology? Pediatric speech pathology is the field of expertise that includes the study and treatment of communication disorders, voice disorders, and swallowing disorders in children. Not every issue involves speech. Some patients need help with social communication difficulties, literacy impairments, or cognitive impairments, among others.

Pediatric SLPs help young patients overcome and manage these disorders, contributing to a higher quality of life for these children. A pediatric SLP will also play an integral role in diagnosing and treating autism spectrum disorders.

What’s it like being a speech pathologist? Pursuing a child speech pathologist career is perfect for someone who wants to make positive and lasting impacts on children’s lives while enjoying rewarding, flexible, high-growth, and well-paying profession. Pediatric speech language pathologists will often work in schools, hospitals, clinics, or private practices and address a variety of language and speech disorders that may be caused by things like neurodevelopmental conditions, developmental delays, muscular disorders, or brain damage.

What Does a Child Speech Pathologist Do?

It’s clear that a pediatric speech pathologist’s goal is to improve communication abilities in children, but exactly what do pediatric speech pathologists do? First, they perform an initial screening and assessment, then they diagnose the disorder and begin the management, intervention, and treatment of the disorder based on the diagnosis.

So, the three primary tasks they perform daily are:

Initial screening and assessment

To begin with a new patient, pediatric SLPs perform an initial screening for communication and swallowing disorders, gathering information about the patient’s problem to see what kind of issue the child is dealing with. After the initial screening, they will assess and diagnose the disorder.

Diagnosis

The SLP will run diagnostic tests after assessing the problem to accurately diagnose the child’s disorder. Some common diagnoses that SLPs run across are:

  • Apraxia of speech, in which a person knows what they want to say but can’t quite manage to say it
  • Dysarthria, a motor speech disorder that shows as slurred speech
  • Spasmodic dysphonia, which involves a spasming of the vocal cords

Pediatric SLPs often work with children who are mute, are experiencing a speech delay, or are struggling with communication issues related to autism. Before a pediatric speech pathologist can begin their treatment, they must determine a diagnosis.

Treatment

Along with providing the child and family with advice on how to manage and prevent the disorder, a pediatric SLP will also provide services to treat disorders, which can include therapies in cognition, comprehension, and expression.

5 Steps to Become a Pediatric Speech Pathologist

1. Earn a Bachelor’s Degree in SLP or a Related Field

The first step to becoming a pediatric SLP is to pursue a pediatric speech pathologist education. While someone interested in becoming a speech pathologist could earn a bachelor’s degree in speech pathology or communication sciences, other acceptable majors in the sciences include anatomy, biology, linguistics, neurology, primary education, or psychology.

2. Earn a Master’s Degree in Speech Pathology or Communication Sciences and Disorders

After receiving a bachelor’s degree, an aspiring pediatric SLP must apply to graduate programs in speech pathology. A child speech therapist degree will be a master’s level professional degree in communications disorders or speech language pathology from a program accredited by the American Speech-Language­-Hearing Association (ASHA). This could be a master of science, master of arts, or master of education.

3. Complete Clinical Hours and Pass Certification Exams

Speech-language pathologists are required to complete 400 clinical hours, some of which begin in their undergraduate degree programs. In addition to these hours, SLP students must pass Knowledge and Skills Acquisition (KASA) exams.

4. Earning Your CCC and State License

After meeting all of the educational requirements, pediatric speech pathologists must become licensed in their state and nationally certified. This includes passing the National Speech-Language Pathology Board exam (Praxis), completing a clinical fellowship year, and receiving SLP certification with the ASHA Certificate of Clinical Competence (CCC).

5. Maintain Licensure Through Continuing Education

After becoming a practicing pediatric speech pathologist, SLPs need to continue their education and training to maintain licensure. This includes mentoring future SLPs, managing speech-language pathology assistants, and providing in-service training to families.

6. Consider Earning a Doctorate in Communication Sciences and Disorders

This step is optional. A master’s degree is one of the pediatric speech therapy education requirements, although many pediatric SLPs choose to go on to earn a clinical doctorate in speech-language pathology (a CScD or SLPD), or a doctoral degree with a focus on research or professional development, such as a PhD or EdD.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Pediatric SLP?

Young girl working with female pediatric slpClearly, becoming a pediatric speech pathologist requires commitment and hard work, but it’s all worth it when you help children communicate better day after day. So, how long does it take to become a pediatric speech pathologist? With 4 years of an undergraduate education, 2 more for a master’s degree, and a year in a fellowship, the road to becoming a pediatric SLP could take about 7 years.

The Child Speech Therapy Skills Needed to Succeed in Your Career

Aside from the determination and work ethic needed to become a pediatric speech pathologist, a pediatric SLP needs to focus on maintaining and building strong skills that are necessary for successful clinical work.

Communication Skills

This should come as no surprise. An effective pediatric speech pathologist needs to be able to communicate well, but most importantly to listen well. Children with language and speech disorders need a clinician who can give them their full attention and be committed to figuring out how to help them. The parents of these children also need someone who can compassionately communicate and understand their potential worries and frustrations. After listening well, an SLP will need to be persuasive and clear when presenting treatment plans.

Critical Thinking Skills

A pediatric SLP needs to utilize good critical thinking and analytical skills when presented with a new patient. Every child is different, and an SLP needs to analyze and pinpoint their specific challenges.

Problem-Solving Skills

Problem-solving skills go hand in hand with critical thinking skills. A pediatric speech pathologist’s job, when it comes down to it, is to solve a child’s problem. Even if the SLP has seen a diagnosis hundreds of times, every child is unique and requires a solution fine-tuned to their own situation. A pediatric SLP needs to determine how to best prevent and treat the communication and speech disorders they’re faced with.

How much does a speech pathologist make?

The field of speech pathology is broad, with specialists working with a wide range of patient populations and a variety of disorders. Some SLPs work in skilled nursing homes while others are pediatric speech pathologists in schools, some have private practices and others work for public hospitals. Just as with the wide range of the field, there’s also a wide range of salaries. The national median salary comes in at $80,480 a year, with the top ten percent make more than $122,790. Cost of living in different cities also factors into the kind of salaries speech pathologists earn, as is usually the case with any profession. An SLP in New York City may makes an average of $107,080, while in Dallas it’s just over $69,000. Either way, a career in speech pathology is a rewarding one, both financially and personally.

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