How Speech-Language Therapy Helps Individuals with Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities (IDD)

“Speech-Language Therapy is crucial to caring for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities for many reasons, but especially because it helps give individuals a possible way to express themselves to let their needs be known – no matter how minimal the expression may be.” — Raymond Anderson, RN, ILA Nursing Coordinator

May is Better Hearing & Speech Month, which makes it the perfect time to discuss the importance of speech-language and how it intersects with disability.

Better Hearing & Speech Month, or BHSM, is an annual event meant to highlight and raise awareness about communication disorders. This year, the theme is “Building Connections,” and there truly is no better time than the present to have this conversation. BHSM centers around the services and outreach of ASHA, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, which plays a significant role in facilitating and delivering life-changing treatments.  

ASHA’s members are affiliates and industry specialists such as audiologists, speech-language pathologists, scientists and researchers, support personnel, and students. In turn, these affiliates and specialists play an essential role in the lives of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). While these professionals aren’t responsible for diagnosing an individual with an intellectual and/or developmental condition, they can make a big difference in their communication styles and quality of life.

Speech-language pathologists, or SLPs, are often tasked with assessing the communication skills of individuals with IDD. They may also aid the individual and their support system in enhancing adaptive communication functioning, which largely draws on the individual’s communication abilities.

The Importance of Communication

So why exactly are SLPs and the services they provide so important in the lives of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities?

Communication is a fundamental part of the human experience. We communicate in a multitude of different ways, from speech to body gestures to facial expressions. If a person cannot communicate or understand communication, it can negatively impact their overall quality of life.

For instance, in adults with IDD, speech communication may be impacted by disordered speech production and/or impaired hearing, resulting in frequent miscommunications and difficulty interacting with others. Ultimately, this may lead to isolation, behavioral issues, and a general feeling of frustration and anxiety, which is entirely understandable. After all, how would you feel if you couldn’t understand or make yourself understood? 

The Role of Speech-Language Pathologists

Fortunately, it is possible for SLPs to assist individuals with IDD and to help them lead happier, more fulfilling lives. Different roles for SLPs can include clinical and educational services such as assessment, treatment planning, and execution of treatment, prevention, advocacy work, outreach, and clerical and administrative duties.

SLPs can provide a range of services which help to enhance the following:

  • Conceptual skills comprised of receptive and expressive language, reading, and writing
  • Social skills such as interpersonal skills, problem-solving, and following direction
  • Practical skills like building routines, operating the phone and computer, and using social media platforms

A big part of this field is about educating those affected by IDD, their families, friends, and caretakers about the benefits and possibilities of speech-language therapy. Another is running culturally, linguistically, and age-appropriate assessments and screenings to identify any issues with hearing speech, language, communication, and/or swallowing to see how they can be helped. They can also determine whether individuals will need referrals or further testing. 

At ILA, speech therapists play an important role in enhancing the safety of our Individuals. ILA Nursing Coordinator, Raymond Anderson, RN, explains:

“Our speech therapists are invaluable when it comes to the safety of our Individuals. The ability to chew and swallow is something few people think about, but in our business, what seems like a simple task could be devastating for our Individuals because choking is one of the major causes of death in the IDD population. Our speech therapists are integral in determining who is at risk and what has to be done to reduce that risk through their evaluations and recommendations.” 

This Better Hearing & Speech Month, take some time to learn more about the importance of communication and how speech-language therapy can help your loved ones. Together, let’s build connections.

Reach out today to learn more about what we do at  the Independent Living Association and how we can help.