What is a speech pathologist and what they do?

What is a speech pathologist?

Speech pathologists are university trained allied health professionals who support people with communication and swallowing needs. 

The Communication Hub website has a range of resources for people with communication support needs. 

What speech pathologists do

Speech pathologists support people to communicate, or when a person has trouble swallowing which can make eating and drinking difficult.

Speech pathologists work with people of all ages. 

This includes supporting individuals with listening, understanding language, speaking, reading, writing, social skills, stuttering and using voice. 

Speech pathologists also support other ways to communicate including gesture, sign language or using communication aids like technology. 

Where speech pathologists work

Speech pathologists work in many settings, including:

  • kindergartens, primary, and secondary schools
  • early childhood education and care
  • local councils
  • aged care facilities
  • hospitals (public and private)
  • universities and university clinics
  • disability service providers
  • rehabilitation services
  • mental health services trauma services e.g., child protection
  • community health centres
  • the justice system
  • private practices/clinics
  • people's homes
  • services for people with complex communication needs due to conditions such as autism, cerebral palsy, and intellectual disability
  • Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Health

Speech pathologists also deliver services via telepractice.  Find out more

Who can see a speech pathologist

Anyone can see a speech pathologist for an assessment. The speech pathologist will work with you to find the services that are right for you.

You don’t need a referral to see a speech pathologist. However, you might need one to access Medicare funding.

Types of people who might see a speech pathologist

People who might see a speech pathologist include:

  • babies born with a cleft lip and/or palate
  • preschoolers who are having trouble communicating, or have speech that is difficult to understand
  • people who have a developmental language disorder that affects their ability to talk and understand others
  • people who have difficulties with their speech, including childhood apraxia of speech (CAS)
  • neurodiverse people, such as those who are autistic
  • people who are finding it hard to learn to read and spell
  • people with hearing loss, and those who communicate with them
  • people who stutter
  • people who use their voice professionally, such as teachers, singers or call centre workers
  • people with an acquired brain injury, for example due to a car accident or stroke
  • people at risk of choking or who have difficulty eating or drinking safely
  • people with physical, cognitive, and/or sensory disabilities
  • people who find it hard, or are unable, to communicate through speech and use alternative or augmentative communication (AAC) methods instead (for example, an electronic communication device, communication board)
  • people with neurological conditions that increase over time, such as motor neurone disease, Parkinson’s or dementia
  • people who need surgery to remove cancer of the tongue or voice box/larynx
  • people with communication or swallowing difficulties related to a mental illness (or related to the medication taken to treat a mental illness)
  • young people and adults in contact with the justice system who find it difficult to communicate effectively
  • children and young people with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties who have underlying communication needs that may be masked by concerning behaviours.



To find out more about communication and how speech pathologists can help, check out the Communication Hub!