Our abilities to speak, swallow, pronounce, and articulate words ease communication and make our everyday lives more straightforward. However, for a wide array of reasons — ranging from a cleft palate at birth to brain injury or stroke — communication disorders affect approximately 40 million Americans, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. In addition, 1 in 5 Americans have hearing loss in at least one ear, which can also impair the ability to speak.
How do healthcare professionals prevent, assess, diagnose, and treat the speech-language and hearing impairments affecting such a large part of the population? The solution begins with a bachelor’s degree in communication sciences and disorders.
Defining Communication Science
Communication science is the study of the reason behind communication disorders. Work in the field involves the use of various techniques, methods, and treatments to assist individuals with communication impairments, allowing them to communicate at a functional level in day-to-day life.
Communication science also investigates the normal development of speech, language, and hearing, as well as how an impairment can affect a person’s well-being and lifespan. Students who study communication science learn about specific disorders and the accepted interventions and strategies particular to each one, such as how to treat stuttering or help someone with a mouth abnormality pronounce certain sounds.
Additionally, communication science analyzes the underlying causes of many disorders that interfere with normal human speech-language functionality.
Why Is a Communication Science Degree Beneficial?
A typical bachelor’s degree in communication sciences and disorders (CSD) gives students a foundation to prepare them to gain firsthand experience working in a clinic as a speech-language pathology assistant or audiology assistant. Additionally, students often emerge from the degree program prepared to pursue graduate studies, as a master’s degree or even a doctoral degree is a requirement for those who choose to become licensed speech-language pathologists (SLPs) and audiologists.
While many communication science majors aspire to eventually become licensed SLPs, it is worth noting that the demand for SLP assistants is growing, preparing students with a bachelor’s degree in CSD for the possibility of finding a rewarding career helping others without pursuing an advanced degree. Some students with this undergraduate background may also choose to pursue advanced studies in order to become audiologists, that is, an ear specialist who helps patients who have problems with hearing, which often leads to speech-related issues.
What Do Speech-Language Pathologists Do?
SLPs play an important role in the lives of people who experience speech-language disorders. They assess clients’ conditions, relying on their knowledge of what communication science is, and then use that knowledge to improve a patient’s quality of life. They evaluate the level of care needed, as well as proposing treatment plans, introducing clients to current technologies, and teaching different methods for overcoming speech-language-hearing impairments. SLPs often collaborate with a team of medical, social, and educational experts.
The scope of communication science is quite broad, and SLPs work with a diverse number of individuals, from children to adults. Many SLPs work in schools, and others help clients with attention disorders, literacy issues, social communication skills, and memory problems. SLPs tailor treatments to each client’s unique concerns and challenges.
Current Technologies Used in the Field
Recent advancements made in the world of speech-language assistance technology are impressive and impactful. Today, individuals with speech conditions enjoy a wide assortment of apps, devices, and software to mitigate communication challenges. Assistive technology has changed the way SLPs provide treatment for a wide variety of communication science disorders, such as gaze-directed communication devices for those with complex communicative issues.
SLPs modify common tools for ease of use, such as increasing a web browser’s default font size for those who struggle with literacy, or enabling many of Google Chrome’s add-ons for users with particular disabilities. Other innovations include apps that allow patients who cannot talk to communicate their basic needs by using icons, symbols, and audio files.
Assistive technology is changing the treatment landscape for SLPs, as more families are looking to the communication science field for affordable, simple solutions to complex problems. SLPs recommend solutions and train families on their use, opening up a whole new world for those who struggle with communication and communicative disorders.
Importance of Early Intervention in Infants and Children
Early intervention in communicative disorders is key. SLPs, joining forces with teachers, families, caregivers, and medical partners, take on the important responsibility of ensuring that children get the treatment and services they need. Even from infancy, swallowing and feeding challenges can indicate a potential for speech-language-hearing impairments, further emphasizing the need for early screening, evaluation, and assessment.
According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, roughly 5% of American children have a noticeable speech impairment by first grade. A child with a speech-language-hearing impairment often feels uncomfortable around peers. When a child cannot read, write, gesture, pronounce, or listen, it impacts their social life and academic achievement. Additionally, they may miss or not understand communication cues. These challenges can lead to ongoing difficulties, preventing children from succeeding in school, relationships, and work. When parents wonder what communication science is able to contribute to their child’s life, it’s the freedom and empowerment to create a fulfilling future.
Career Demand and Outlook
With the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association reporting over 1 million children receiving some sort of speech-language therapy in our nation’s schools, along with the increase of services needed for an aging baby boomer population, the opportunities for health professionals to make a difference are numerous and varied. From helping stroke survivors regain the skills needed to speak, to assisting children with autism, to offering tools to English language learners who want to improve their pronunciation, the field of communication science is wide-ranging.
While many SLPs work in schools, others can find employment in pediatric centers and hospitals. Hours, location, and client load have become more flexible as the demand for SLPs increases. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the need for SLPs and other communication science specialists will likely grow by 18% in the next decade, which is much faster than most occupations. The related field of audiology is also growing tremendously, at a rate of about 21 percent between 2016 and 2026. Professionals in both fields often obtain doctorate degrees and move into higher-education institutions as the need for experts in the field continues to increase.
What a Communication Science Degree Can Do for You
Communication science is a field in which healthcare meets the social sciences, preparing graduates to seek possible careers that can allow them to change people’s lives, one patient at a time. Whether students seek jobs as speech-language pathology assistants after completing a bachelor’s program or go on to earn a master’s or doctorate degree and potentially become a licensed speech-language pathologist or audiologist, graduates in the field can have a profound impact on society. Take the first step by learning more about Maryville University’s online Bachelor of Science in Communication Sciences and Disorders program.