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Speech-Language Pathologists (SLP) are professionals who assess and diagnose individuals with speech and language disorders. They participate in the team evaluation of cognitive disorders. SLPs are informally referred to as speech therapists.

Speech is the spoken production of language and the process through which sounds are produced. Several parts of the body work together to produce sound waves, and this motor production of speech is called articulation. The parts of the vocal tract involved with speech include the lips, tongue, teeth, throat, vocal folds, and lungs. Speech disorders affect the physical mechanisms of communication and cause problems with articulation or phonology. Examples of speech disorders include stuttering, lisping, and voice disorders.

Language is a system used to represent thoughts and ideas. Language is made up of several rules that explain what words mean, how to make new words, and how to put words together to form sentences. A community must share the same language in order to attach meaning to utterances. The method of delivery of language may be visual (e.g., American Sign Language), auditory (e.g., English), and/or written. Humans are the only creatures innately capable of using language to discuss an endless number of topics. Language disorders can be developmental or acquired (e.g., specific language impairment and aphasia, respectively).

Communication is the exchange of information and ideas through the use of speech and language. The transfer of information is often spoken, but may also be implied through body language or contextual cues such as intonation or hesitation. Usually, communication is a four-step process:
  1. Encoding: the speaker creates the message in his mind
  2. Transmittal: the speaker sends the message
  3. Reception: the listener receives the message
  4. Decoding: the listener breaks down the message in his mind

If a problem occurs at any step of the process, the message might not be communicated. Without the ability to communicate through speech and language, we would not be able to tell a doctor that we have a stomach ache, choose food from a menu, or say “I love you” to our children. Communication is a most basic component of human nature and it develops before we are even conscious of it.

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