Speech and language pathology is a health care specialty that studies human communication disorders, which can include problems with speech, language or cognition. Speech and language pathologists hold a master's or doctoral degree in communication sciences and disorders; they work with patients who have had strokes or brain injuries or who have swallowing disorders. Speech and language pathology assistants, or SPLAs, support speech and language pathologists. SPLAs can't work independently but must be supervised by a speech and language pathologist.

Salary and Qualifications:

SPLAs usually have an associate's degree and must be licensed in all states that allow SPLA practice. SPLAs are authorized to perform speech, language and hearing screenings, assist in patient assessment, document patient performance and treat patients according to the treatment plan developed by the speech and language pathologist. When they work in the same setting and have similar experience, SPLAs earn approximately 60 to 70 percent of what a speech and language pathologist earns, according to the College of DuPage. The average annual salary of a speech and language pathologist in 2012 was $72,730, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Work Settings and Special Qualifications:

The College of DuPage reports that SPLA hourly wage rates range from $22 to $25 per hour in settings such as schools or private practice. In an early intervention setting, however, where the focus is on home visits, a typical hourly wage is $32 to $45 an hour. SPLAs allow the speech and language pathologist to provide services to more people and to focus on tasks that require a higher level of education and experience. Some SPLAs are bilingual and provide interpreter services during therapy sessions, which could result in higher salaries. SPLAs might also assist with clerical duties, check and maintain equipment or perform other tasks such as scheduling.

Regional Variations:

ONETOnline reports the median wage for SPLAs in 2012 was $15.77 hourly, for an annual salary of $32,800. SimplyHired.com reported an average annual salary of $48,000 as of May, 2013. Santa Ana College, in California, reports hourly wages ranging from $17 to $25, but notes wages vary according to position and job site. Health Careers in Alaska reports SPLAs earn $12.60 to $37.38 an hour. Annual salaries as of May, 2013 were higher further east, with SPLAs making on average $57,000 in New York, and $76,000 in Washington, D.C., according to SimplyHired.com.

Job Outlook and Trends:

Shortages in speech and language pathologists are the primary driver of the need for SPLAs, according to Evergreen College, which notes that California is experiencing critical shortages of speech and language pathologists. Since SPLAs cannot practice independently and must be supervised, their employment is dependent on demand for speech and language pathologists. Santa Ana College reports the greatest demand is for bilingual SPLAs. In the 2009 ASHA member survey, 42 percent of speech and language pathologists who responded reported using SPLAs in school settings, while 32 percent used SPLAs in health care settings.

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