How can Speech Pathologists help adults?

Speech Pathologists are health professionals, trained to assess, diagnose, and treat swallowing and communication disorders. These disorders can begin in childhood, such as language impairment associated with autism spectrum disorder, or begin later in life due to conditions such as a stroke or Parkinson’s disease. Speech pathologists can work with NDIS participants across the life span, including adults.


Adults have different communication needs from children. They may want to gain meaningful employment, become more independent, or form romantic relationships. Adults can have difficulty communicating due to a variety of conditions, including autism spectrum disorder, strokes, early onset dementia, and multiple sclerosis. Speech pathologists are trained to assess and provide support to adults with communication difficulties in order to help them to achieve their goals.

Communication covers all aspects of how we get our message across to others. It includes the sounds we use to talk, how we use different types of words and sentences, understanding what other people say, understanding non-literal language (such as jokes and slang), using appropriate and respectful language in social situations, and even non-verbal parts of communication, such as body language and facial expressions.

Speech Pathologists can assess a person’s communication and provide therapy supports for participants to improve their communication to maintain relationships and participate in their activities.

When someone has trouble communicating, they might:

  • Have trouble finding the words they want to say.
  • Need longer time to process information.
  • Have difficulty using appropriate language in social situations (such as discussing inappropriate topics, or not picking up on signs that others are feeling uncomfortable)
  • Experience changes to their voice qualities (such as speaking softer than they used to)
  • Need more support reading and writing.
  • Make mistakes with the sounds of speech (e.g., saying “tall” instead of “ball”)
  • Show increased behaviors due to frustration that they are not being understood.

Additionally, Speech Pathologists can support participants with limited verbal communication, by introducing augmentative and alternative communication (AAC). AAC refers to any form of communication that supports or replaces verbal speech and includes everything from gestures and sign language to core boards and specialized text-to-speech devices and iPad apps. Speech Pathology can assist participants and those around them to trial AAC options and select the most appropriate support for each individual participant.

Speech Pathology can also assist participants who have difficulty communicating in social settings, by teaching skills to support conversations, small talk, and turn taking. These skills allow participants to become more confident in social situations, to boost their participation in social activities, and improve their quality of life.


Swallowing difficulties can impact adults and children and can have a variety of causes. Swallowing difficulties can start after a stroke or brain injury, or due to progressive conditions such as Multiple Sclerosis or Dementia.

Difficulties with eating, drinking, and swallowing can have a huge impact on people’s lives. They might no longer eat their favorite foods, join in at family meals, struggle to meet their nutritional needs. They may be at increased risk of choking or aspiration pneumonia (a chest infection caused y food, drinks, medicine travelling into their lungs)> People with swallowing difficulties can become embarrassed and withdraw socially, as they do not want others to see them eating or drinking.

Speech Pathologists can provide and assist with the implementation of strategies to allow participants to join food-based activities (such as family meals), and reduce embarrassment to support eating outside the home, reducing social isolation.

My doctor said I have dysphagia, what does that mean?

Dysphagia (pronounced dis-fay-juh) means difficulty with chewing and swallowing. It is important to work with professionals that can support you to continue to enjoy eating and drinking, and to reduce the risk of complications.

Some signs of trouble swallowing include:

  • Taking longer to eat meals
  • Needing to chew for longer before swallowing
  • Avoiding foods that you or your loved one enjoy but can no longer manage
  • Food or drinks spilling out of the mouth
  • Coughing, gagging or choking during meals
  • Food or drinks “go down the wrong way”
  • Swallowing food, drinks or medicine takes more effort than it used to
  • Voice sounding “wet” or “gurgley”

Speech Pathologists can assess a person’s swallowing and create a mealtime management plan so you or your loved one can enjoy their meals safely. With the right supports, mealtimes can be safe, social, and enjoyable.

Kern has a range of specialists, including speech pathologists, occupational therapists and physiotherapists to support adult participants. To learn more, call us on 1300 122 155 or complete our online form via to access support.

Written by Emily Meagher (Kern Speech Pathologist)