There is a common misconception that speech-language pathology is limited in its scope to helping non-verbal children but the profession encompasses a broad array of both neurological and physiological difficulties that may hamper an individual from communicating effectively, the president of the Association of Speech-Language Pathologists (ASLP), Norma Camilleri told Times of Malta.

While the profession may be relatively young in Malta, she said, it is comparatively one of the best-regulated in Europe and deals with the full spectrum of issues that may impact a person’s ability to communicate effectively, including swallowing disorders.

“A lot of people do associate our work with non-verbal children or, perhaps, children who stammer or have articulation difficulties but, in reality, we deal with all aspects of communication,” Camilleri said.

“Communicating is a very quick action, starting from the element of comprehension: when I speak to you, for example, how much do you understand what I have said. Your brain then starts thinking and formulating a response, which is essentially the comprehension element.

“Then, the element of expression comes in, so there is a motor process, you have to articulate what you want to say and find the right words to answer.

“So, we work with clients who have difficulties in either the comprehension or expressive level or both.”

Camilleri said that speech-language pathologists also work with parents and children to tackle a variety of issues in language development, including developmental language difficulties and delays and nipping so-called bad habits in the bud when it comes to children learning how to communicate.

“Sometimes, all some children need is a bit of stimulation and we work with parents who need guidance on how to communicate with them and help their children stimulate language,” she said.

“But there are other difficulties such as with speech articulation that we also help parents overcome. We always advise parents to wait and first focus on the language but if there is a problem with articulation, it’s very important to discover why. Research has shown us that there is a link between phonological difficulties and literacy difficulties, so it’s very important that we do not linger and assume that the child will grow out of it.”

While articulation difficulties may seem harmless, if not even a little endearing, Camilleri stresses that this is not just an aesthetic issue and can be linked to poor performance in schooling in the future. “It can be linked to performance at school and communication,” she said.

“Apart from the anatomical and physiological aspect, there is also the behavioural aspect, which can have an impact on voice disorders. 

The way we communicate has a huge impact on us

“We see a lot of clients who develop voice disorders because of the way they use their voice and not because there is something structurally wrong.

“So, the longer we wait, the more a child will get used to speaking that way and the harder it will be to change the behaviour.”

She added that this can sometimes translate into difficulties in adulthood, with hampered communication having an impact on a person’s quality of life.

“We do see adults with articulation difficulties and it’s not always so straightforward because it becomes challenging to address when a person has spoken in a certain way for the majority of their lives,” Camilleri said.

“Nowadays, there is heightened awareness about this among adults because more people need to give presentations at their place of work, for example, and they are giving the way they communicate more importance.

“The way we communicate, the way we socialise with others has a huge impact on us as human beings.”

In adults, she continued, this extends to people who have suffered a stroke or a neurological disorder or even require surgery that impacts the way they speak.

Since being founded in 1985, Camilleri said, the ASLP has worked to advance the profession, including working on a European level to harmonise regulation and recognition of the profession across the EU.

“I am quite pleased and honoured to say that, on a regulatory level, our profession is quite advanced here in Malta and, in my role as chair of the European Speech and Language Therapy Association (ESLA), we are working a lot to harmonise the profession across Europe, which is no easy feat,” she said.

“Even simply harmonising the standards for initial training is very hard, for the simple reason that there are still some countries, and some of them are rather large countries, where regulation of the profession is practically non-existent.”

While Malta’s regulations for speech-language professionals always have room for improvement, Camilleri said that the association still stresses continuous professional development in order to keep serving clients to the best of their abilities.

The speech language centre within the health ministry received approximately 4,000 new referrals last year, she said, with an estimated 6,000 patients seeking help from professionals.

“We cannot forget that communication is one of our fundamental human rights, so it is our duty to ensure that individuals can communicate in ways that are not only acceptable to them but are also functional,” she said.

Sign up to our free newsletters

Get the best updates straight to your inbox:
Please select at least one mailing list.

You can unsubscribe at any time by clicking the link in the footer of our emails. We use Mailchimp as our marketing platform. By subscribing, you acknowledge that your information will be transferred to Mailchimp for processing.