Who’s Who in the Therapy Zoo?

Posted by

Shaun Ziegenfusz | Manager, Research & Advocacy


Finding out that your child with Developmental Language Disorder (formerly Specific Language Impairment) or other developmental conditions needs specialist health and medical treatment can be a confronting experience for many families. Fortunately, we live in a community that offers excellent medical and allied health professional services, but the range of different services available can be overwhelming.

Children with Developmental Language Disorder benefit from a multidisciplinary approach, as they often need support in areas other than speech and language. We recommend working with any existing members of your support team to determine your child’s strengths and areas of need to guide you. Each child requires a different mix of support, which can make choosing the right health professionals for your child difficult. Here we aim to help you understand the role of different allied health professionals who can be part of your journey.

Speech Pathologist

Speech pathologists work with children and young people with speech, language and communication needs, as well as those with swallowing, drinking and eating problems. Speech pathologists aim to help children with these conditions speak, communicate and eat/drink more effectively in the home, school and social contexts.

As well as having knowledge of the physical mechanics of mouth movement and sound production, speech pathologists focus on the understanding and use of spoken and written language. This includes an emphasis on language rules (grammar), the content of language (meanings of words and sentences) and language pragmatics (where and when to use certain language and social competence). Speech pathologists can help children to develop these skills and also use strategies and equipment to improve speech and language function. Spoken language underpins language required for success in the classroom.

Occupational Therapist

Occupational therapists work with children and young people to help them function more independently and safely in a wide range of daily activities in the home, at school and in social contexts. Occupational therapists help to develop children’s sensory, motor, cognitive and social-emotional skills. They can support families to implement strategies and make use of specific aids and equipment to improve independence and function.

Key areas therapy often focuses on include:

  • Visual processing skills
  • Fine and gross motor skills
  • Handwriting and pre-writing skills
  • Play skills
  • Social skills
  • Organisational skills
  • Attention to task and emotional regulation
  • Sensory processing (and associate motor, modulation and discrimination difficulties)

When working with children and young people, the role of the physiotherapist is to facilitate development and improve movement skills and function. A physiotherapist working with children focuses on gross motor developmental milestones and aims to maximise the child’s participation in their everyday activities such as playing games and sports and participating at school.

Physiotherapists focus on physical improvements such as:

  • Gross motor skills (e.g. running, jumping)
  • Movement, balance and posture
  • Strength, coordination and fitness

Young people are provided treatment through a range of play activities and exercise and are given advice on relevant equipment and aids, particularly seating and mobility devices.


Psychologists are concerned with issues relating to mental health and social-emotional wellbeing. When working with children and young people, psychologists explore the psychological aspects of illness, injury and disability and promote behaviours for optimal social and emotional wellbeing. Psychologists work with children in schools or any paediatric health setting (hospitals, clinics, etc.) with any form of physical, social, cognitive, emotional or behavioural difficulty.

Therapy is often focused on:

  • Social skills, confidence, resilience and self-esteem
  • Behaviour, self-regulation, attention and organisational skills
  • Relationships and family dynamics
  • Executive functioning and cognitive skills

We have only touched on a few of the professionals who may be in involved in supporting you and your child.  Others can include:  general practitioners, paediatricians, audiologists, optometrists and dietitians. To learn more about the multidisciplinary needs of children with Developmental Language Disorder, please contact Speech and Language Development Australia (SALDA). SALDA provides holistic, innovative and effective therapy, education and support services and has a multidisciplinary team of educators, speech pathologists, occupational therapists, physiotherapists and psychologists. We are here to help identify the supports needed to help your child find their voice.

Contact us on 1300 881 763 or hello@salda.org.au.


NB – this blog was adapted from SALDA handouts funded by the Queensland Department of Education’s Non-State Special Needs Organisation Program.

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