How to Become a Speech Pathology Assistant

For those interested in the speech-language pathology discipline, training as a speech therapist assistant may lead to a career that aligns with personal goals and offers opportunities for both impact and learning. Supporting speech language pathologists (SLPs), they carry out critical work, from conducting language screenings to helping as interpreters.

Read on for more information on some common steps for how to become a speech therapy assistant, and what it can mean for your professional development.

A majority of this information included in this guide was soured from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). To learn more about this national organization or speech-language pathology practice, visit their website.

Sponsored Online Speech Pathology Programs

Sponsored Program

Earn your Online Master’s in Speech Pathology from Emerson College

  • Complete degree in as few as 20 months
  • No GRE Required for all 2021 Cohorts
  • 5-term and 9-term study options
  • Now accepting applications

NYU Campus

Sponsored Program

Earn Your Master’s in Communicative Sciences and Disorders Online at NYU Steinhardt

  • Live, online classes of no more than 15 students
  • Prepare for SLP licensure from anywhere in the country using a state-of-the-art online platform
  • Now accepting applications

Sponsored Program

Earn your Master of Science in Communication Sciences and Disorders Online from Baylor University

  • Complete degree in as few as 20 months
  • Full-time and part-time options available
  • Same standards as the on-campus program, which has 50+ years educating SLPs
  • Now accepting applications

What is a Speech Language Pathology Assistant (SLPA)?

If you’re new to the field of speech pathology, you might be wondering: what does a speech pathologist assistant do? The answer to that question covers a few different job functions and roles: delivering care, offering administrative support, and advocating for patients. 

Care delivery in itself involves a range of responsibilities, from assisting SLPs during the assessment of students and patients to providing services for patients who don’t speak English. 

Speech-language pathology assistants (SLPAs) often serve as an intermediary between SLPs and patients and their families, explaining complex concepts and treatment procedures like feeding strategies, or teaching them how to use alternative communication devices. SLPAs also help with administrative duties—checking equipment and scheduling activities—as well as advocating for patients and their conditions in the wider community.

Speech Pathology Assistant Work Environments

SLPA work settings cover a wide range of environments across the public and private sectors. That includes schools, hospitals, care homes, and university clinics. At the same time, some SLPAs work in corporate and industrial settings, while others make their careers in research facilities. 

However, it is important to note that SLPAs cannot work everywhere. Certain states forbid SLPs from using speech pathology assistants. More broadly, SLPAs are expected to always work in close proximity with SLPs. According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), the professional association of speech pathologists in the United States, SLPAs should seek employment only in settings where they can get “direct and indirect supervision” from licensed SLPs. 

They are also required to only perform “those tasks prescribed” by their supervising SLP. In other words, though SLPAs can work in a number of settings, they generally can’t do so independently. 

What is the Difference Between a Speech Pathology Assistant and Speech Pathologist?

With so many acronyms floating about, it may sometimes be hard to understand the distinction between different types of professionals in the field of speech pathology—especially because their responsibilities often overlap.

So, what exactly is an SLPA vs SLP? First, let’s look at the similarities. For one thing, both groups help patients and clients with care and treatment. They may work together to perform speech, language, and hearing screenings. SLPAs and SLPs also liaise closely to share information with patients, families, and staff regarding feeding strategies.

However, there are important differences between SLPAs and SLPs that you should be aware of too. Because they’re not trained for independent practice, speech pathology assistants cannot administer care without oversight from SLPs. 

They are also unable to perform procedures that require a high level of clinical acumen and technical skill, including vocal tract prosthesis shaping and vocal tract imaging, or develop treatment plans in any way.

Can You Prepare for a Speech Pathology Assistant Career with a Bachelor’s in Speech Pathology?

In a word: yes. A Bachelor of Speech Pathology may help to prepare you for a career as a speech pathology assistant. As ASHA notes, “a bachelor’s degree in a speech-language pathology or communication disorders program” is one of the acceptable academic courses that SLPAs can complete.

However, it’s important to note that while a bachelor’s degree in speech language pathology may help you on your journey to become a speech-language pathology assistant, there are other pathways you may take. According to ASHA, options include completing an SLPA associate degree program, which are generally shorter than full undergraduate courses. 

Some SLPAs also come to the profession from outside speech pathology altogether. For instance, as long as you complete a bachelor’s or associate degree, even in an unrelated subject, you may still be able to become a certified SLPA—you’ll just need to complete ASHA’s Online Assistant Education Modules.

More broadly, students normally have to also complete a period of fieldwork before becoming fully qualified—as well as continue on-the-job training once they’ve found a role. 

In short: everyone’s path is different. Though a Bachelor of Speech Pathology degree can be a valid first step toward becoming an SLPA, there are plenty of other options too. 

What Are the Steps to Becoming a Speech Language Pathology Assistant?

The process of becoming a speech therapy assistant will be different for everyone. With a range of courses to choose from, and different regulations across different states, that’s not surprising. Below, we highlight one possible path to become a speech therapist assistant.

Education Requirements for Speech Pathology Assistants

When considering a career as a speech pathology assistant, it’s important to understand that there’s more than one path to getting there and achieving your goals. 

Now, let’s tackle SLPAs’ education requirements. Though the specifics vary by state, speech pathology assistants generally complete a course of academic study—with some going for a bachelor’s in speech pathology. 

However, there are other paths you may want to explore, with ASHA suggesting that shorter SLPA programs are acceptable too (namely an associate degree). Taking around two years, associate degree programs can be completed in a number of ways: at community colleges, via technical training programs, or via a certificate program.

As we’ve explained before, candidates can also come to speech pathology after studying something else first. If you have a bachelor’s degree in communication sciences and disorders, for example, you can take ASHA’s certification exam by completing ASHA’s Online SLPA Assistant Education Modules. 

Training Requirements for Speech Pathology Assistants

Whatever degree you choose, you’ll want to ensure that you have the relevant training to become a speech pathology assistant. The requirements vary by state, but to complete ASHA’s recommended track, you’re required to complete a minimum of 100 hours of supervised fieldwork experience, or its clinical experience equivalent.

That includes 80 hours of direct patient or client services, and 20 hours of indirect service, all under the supervision of an ASHA-certified speech-language pathologist.

Once you actually start working, you may be expected to complete specific on-the-job training to help prepare you for certain roles in professional settings, including hospitals and schools.

Keep in mind that what you can do with your training may depend on an SLP, who must only give you tasks that match training and experience. Having said that, SLPs are expected to offer SLPAs continued training opportunities that fit with their competency, and the needs of their patients.

Certification Requirements for Speech Pathology Assistants

Before starting work as a SLPA, you may have to become a certified speech pathology assistant. Eligibility requirements vary by state, so be sure to check before committing. For example, state licensure boards have training requirements that range from a high school diploma to a baccalaureate degree. 

At the same time, some state education agencies may credential SLPAs to work exclusively in schools to support the work of qualified SLPs. 

After completing the prerequisite education and training requirements, you can take obtain the ASHA SLPA Certification (C-SLPA). Though it’s a voluntary credential, this speech pathology assistant certification provides assurance to patients, clients, health care professionals, and state licensure boards that you’re keeping up with changes in the profession’s scope of practice.

Common Skills Used by Speech Pathology Assistants

As with every profession, speech therapy assistant skills cover a range of areas. Here are a few of the commonly used skills speech pathology assistants use—though it’s important to note that they don’t guarantee you’ll become an SLPA and hold that position.

  • Critical Thinking. By recognizing a wide variety of speech and communication disorders, you can practice and work on building robust problem-solving and analytical skills. Critical thinking skills may also help you apply the scientific method to patients and clients.
  • Communication and Patience. Apart from identifying communication abnormalities, SLPAs are often comfortable communicating their findings to patients and clients, in conjunction with SLPs. This may empower you to build strong relationships with them, and help to improve their care.

Is a Speech Pathology Assistant Career Right for You?

Ultimately, only you can decide if a career as a speech pathology assistant is right for you. Fortunately, if you’re interested in the field but aren’t sure that being an SLPA is the right focus for you, there are several alternative speech pathology careers to consider too. Here are some of them:

  • Speech Language Pathologist. Though the two professions overlap, full SLPs have more responsibilities than SLPAs. For example, they’re able to develop treatment plans and perform technical clinical procedures. In other words, if you’re looking for a more hands-on career, becoming an SLP might be a fit for you. The path of becoming a speech pathologist would require a master’s in speech pathology degree.
  • Audiologist. While SLPs and SLPAs assist patients who have difficulty communicating, audiologists support those who have hearing loss. Because balance is impacted by the health of the inner ear, audiologists may also treat patients with vertigo.
  • Teacher or Professor. If you’re interested in speech pathology but don’t want to help patients and clients directly, there are opportunities across schools, colleges, and universities to teach the new generation of SLPs. 
  • Researcher. If you pursue a Ph.D., you could be employed at hospitals or clinics where clinical research is a part of the institution’s mission, or in an industry-related organization for product research (for example, in developing hearing aids).

To learn more about speech pathology careers and areas of specialization, check out our 2020 Speech Pathology Career Guide

Information last updated October 2020

Sponsored Online Speech Pathology Programs

Sponsored Program

Earn your Online Master’s in Speech Pathology from Emerson College

  • Complete degree in as few as 20 months
  • No GRE Required for all 2021 Cohorts
  • 5-term and 9-term study options
  • Now accepting applications

NYU Campus

Sponsored Program

Earn Your Master’s in Communicative Sciences and Disorders Online at NYU Steinhardt

  • Live, online classes of no more than 15 students
  • Prepare for SLP licensure from anywhere in the country using a state-of-the-art online platform
  • Now accepting applications

Sponsored Program

Earn your Master of Science in Communication Sciences and Disorders Online from Baylor University

  • Complete degree in as few as 20 months
  • Full-time and part-time options available
  • Same standards as the on-campus program, which has 50+ years educating SLPs
  • Now accepting applications