What is the Difference Between Speech Pathology and Audiology?

M. Haskins

Speech pathology and audiology deal with different disorders and problems, and offer different kinds of diagnosis, assessment and treatment. A speech pathologist, sometimes called a speech language pathologist (SLP) or speech therapist, deals with disorders related to oral communication, affecting speech, language, voice, and swallowing. These disorders can involve problems such as an inability or difficulty to produce certain sounds, problems with understanding language, and voice disorders related to the pitch or harshness of one's voice. An audiologist deals with problems related to the hearing and balance organs located in the middle and inner ear. Audiologists assess, diagnose, and treat disorders related to hearing and balance, providing counseling, education, and rehabilitation services.

An audiologist will handle issues related to a person's hearing loss.
An audiologist will handle issues related to a person's hearing loss.

Professionals in these fields have quite separate areas of expertise. Speech pathology is commonly called speech language pathology, because it deals both with problems specifically related to the production of speech sounds and problems related to the understanding and production of language as a whole. Audiologists mainly specialize in diagnosing problems related to hearing health. Their primary task is usually to assess if a person's hearing is in the normal range, and if not, to determine the extent and details of hearing loss.

The study of audiology and speech pathology focus on two separate anatomical areas.
The study of audiology and speech pathology focus on two separate anatomical areas.

Speech pathology and audiology also deal with different parts of the anatomy. A speech pathologist usually focuses on the organs related to speech, such as the tongue, lips, mouth, and throat, while an audiologist mainly assesses the function of the hearing organs. Another difference between speech pathology and audiology is that the cause of hearing loss is commonly easier to diagnose than the cause of a speech problem. Hearing loss is usually caused by a problem with the hearing organs. However, speech problems do not always have an obvious physical cause, and can result from a wide variety of problems including brain injuries, strokes, a cleft palate, as well as various learning disabilities and developmental disorders.

A speech pathologist may help a patient learn to produce specific sounds.
A speech pathologist may help a patient learn to produce specific sounds.

Both disciplines deal with problems related to communication. Speech and language problems affect how a person is able to be understood by others. Hearing problems affect how a person can understand others. Even though speech pathology and audiology deal with different parts of the body, and treat different kinds of problems, they are often closely linked when it comes to assessment, diagnosis, and treatment. This is because it is quite common that hearing impairment leads to speech problems. For this reason, someone diagnosed with speech problems will commonly be referred for assessments in both speech pathology and audiology.

A speech pathologist may be employed to develop a treatment plan for children with semantic-pragmatic disorder.
A speech pathologist may be employed to develop a treatment plan for children with semantic-pragmatic disorder.
A speech pathologist specializes in helping people speak properly.
A speech pathologist specializes in helping people speak properly.
For most people, speaking and understanding language play important roles in building friendships and strengthening bonds.
For most people, speaking and understanding language play important roles in building friendships and strengthening bonds.
A speech pathologist may work with people who have difficulty with swallowing.
A speech pathologist may work with people who have difficulty with swallowing.
Both speech pathology and audiology deal with problems in communication.
Both speech pathology and audiology deal with problems in communication.

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