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Aerodigestive Disorders

Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) play a central role in the screening, assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of feeding, swallowing, voice, and laryngeal airway problems related to aerodigestive disorders. The professional roles and activities in speech-language pathology include clinical/educational services (diagnosis, assessment, planning, and treatment); prevention and advocacy; and education, administration, and research. See ASHA’s Scope of Practice in Speech-Language Pathology (ASHA, 2016b).

Appropriate roles for SLPs include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Screening of individuals who present with signs and symptoms (e.g., feeding, swallowing, voice, and laryngeal airway function) that are consistent with aerodigestive disorders and determining the need for further assessment and/or referral to other services.
  • Conducting a comprehensive assessment of feeding, swallowing, voice, and respiration patterns associated with aerodigestive disorders, both clinically and instrumentally.
  • Ensuring the cultural and linguistic appropriateness of diagnostic and treatment procedures (see ASHA’s Practice Portal pages on Cultural Competence, Bilingual Service Delivery, and Collaborating With Interpreters, Transliterators, and Translators).
  • Diagnosing impairments in feeding, swallowing, voice, and laryngeal airway functions that are associated with aerodigestive disorders.
  • As an essential member of a multidisciplinary team, contributing to the diagnosis of paradoxical vocal fold movement (PVFM) and helping to differentiate PVFM from other conditions and disorders.
  • Serving as an integral member of a team of physicians and other professionals working with individuals with aerodigestive disorders and their families/caregivers (see ASHA’s resource on collaboration and teaming).
  • Making evidence-based recommendations about the management of feeding, swallowing, voice, and laryngeal airway problems related to aerodigestive disorders in collaboration with the patient, family, and interprofessional treatment team. (see ASHA’s resources on interprofessional education/interprofessional practice [IPE/IPP] and  person- and family-centered care).
  • Recommending referrals outside of the aerodigestive team for further diagnosis or treatment based on patient needs.
  • Developing person-centered treatment plans that account for patient/family values and expectations as well as adapting treatment plans to accommodate patient preferences (see ASHA’s resource on person- and family-centered care).
  • Educating and counseling persons with aerodigestive disorders and their families regarding feeding, swallowing, voice, and breathing-related issues, as well as facilitating participation in family, vocational, and community contexts.
  • Consulting and collaborating with other professionals to facilitate program development and to provide evaluation and/or expert testimony, as appropriate.
  • Providing prevention information to individuals and groups known to be at risk for feeding, swallowing, voice, and/or laryngeal airway problems related to aerodigestive disorders.
  • Advocating for individuals with feeding, swallowing, voice, and laryngeal airway problems related to aerodigestive disorders at the local, state, and national levels.
  • Educating other professionals on the needs of persons with aerodigestive disorders and the role of SLPs in diagnosing and managing feeding, swallowing, voice, and laryngeal airway problems associated with aerodigestive disorders.
  • Remaining informed of research and new developments in the area of aerodigestive disorders and helping advance the knowledge base related to the nature and treatment of feeding, swallowing, voice, and laryngeal airway problems associated with these disorders.

As indicated in the ASHA Code of Ethics (ASHA, 2016a), SLPs who serve this population should be specifically educated and appropriately trained to do so. This includes maintaining and documenting the highest level of competence in the areas of practice and ensuring referral of patients to the most qualified practitioner in each area of practice in which the SLP is not highly qualified.

Content Disclaimer: The Practice Portal, ASHA policy documents, and guidelines contain information for use in all settings; however, members must consider all applicable local, state and federal requirements when applying the information in their specific work setting.