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HealthInfo West Coast-Te Tai Poutini

Speech language therapists

Speech language therapists (SLTs) can help you with communication and swallowing difficulties. They can also help your baby or child if they are having difficulty with feeding or developing normal eating skills.

Communication or swallowing difficulties can impact all aspects of your life and increase the risk of social isolation. This is why it's a good idea to see experts who can help you make conversations easier and continue to be part of your school, workplace, or community.

Seek support from a speech language therapist if you have swallowing difficulties after an event such as a stroke, brain injury, or surgery after cancer. Taking significantly longer to chew or get through a meal, or experiencing coughing or choking when you eat or drink can lead to complications such as chest infections or poor nutrition.

How do I find a speech language therapist?

Speech language therapists work in hospitals, schools, and aged care facilities, as well as speech language clinics. Sometimes they offer the option to visit you at home or visit your child in school if you can't make it to a clinic. There are also a number of speech language therapists who work with community groups.

The New Zealand Speech-language Therapists' Association (NZSTA) has an online database of members available in the area.

What qualifications do speech language therapists have?

Speech language therapists must have an undergraduate or postgraduate degree in speech language therapy.

The NZSTA has a self-regulatory process. To meet the criteria for membership, registered members of the NZSTA must have the necessary qualifications, meet professional development requirements, sign annual ethical declarations and sign annual declarations that they have worked as an SLT for the required hours in recent years.

What do speech language therapists do?

Speech language therapists work with people of all ages who have difficulties with:

  • language – skills with listening, speaking, reading, and writing
  • cognitive language – attention, memory, processing, and problem solving skills for language
  • articulation – speech sound production
  • fluency – stuttering and stammering
  • voice
  • pragmatics (social language interaction)
  • swallowing
  • feeding development.


Speech language therapists can work with you individually or in a group. Sometimes they may also provide support, training, or education to your friends and family.

After they assess you, they may suggest therapy exercises or specific strategies, or using equipment, to support your ability to communicate or do your job effectively. If you have swallowing difficulties, the speech language therapist will ensure you eat and drink safely. They'll do this by either giving you specific exercises to complete, suggesting strategies that will make swallowing safer for you, or advising you on the safest texture of foods and drinks to consume.

If your baby or child is having difficulties, the speech language therapist will provide strategies and advice. They may also provide specialist equipment if needed.

When should I see a speech language therapist?

If you have any concerns with sudden or gradual changes in your communication or swallowing it may be helpful to see a speech language therapist.

For example:

  • food or drink frequently goes down the wrong way
  • people are asking you to repeat what you've said – either because your voice hasn't been loud enough or your speech is not so clear
  • you're having difficulty putting your thoughts into speech (this may be as mild as forgetting the odd word)
  • you're having difficulty making sense of books or magazines you previously enjoyed reading
  • signing your name, or writing things like cheques, shopping lists, or emails is really challenging now
  • people say your voice sounds different
  • you're regularly repeating sounds at the beginning of words or sentences, or you struggle to get sounds out and they are produced explosively.


Also, consider seeking out a speech language therapist if you're concerned about a family member or friend.

For example:

  • you're seeing a gradual deterioration in the success of conversations (such as when talking to a family member with dementia)
  • you're concerned your child is not using words or has only a few words compared to other children the same age
  • people say they have difficulty understanding what your child is saying
  • your baby takes a long time to feed and there are concerns about their weight
  • your child regularly gags and chokes on foods which other children the same age manage easily.


If you are unsure if you or a family member could benefit from speech language therapy, talk it through with your doctor.

Is treatment funded or do I have to pay?

Your doctor may refer you to see a speech language therapist if you meet the criteria. In this case, there is no cost to see the therapist. However, if you don't meet the criteria, or you want to be seen more quickly, you can pay to see a private speech language therapist.

If speech language therapy is needed because of an injury, you may be able to gain funding from ACC.

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed March 2017. Last updated February 2019.

Page reference: 298375

Review key: HISCD-79694