Professional Functions for Speech-Language Pathologists Professional Functions for Speech-Language Pathologists



(Adopted Fall, 2011)


The ENMU CDIS Program is committed to providing open access and equitable opportunities for all individuals. As such, our Program strives to ensure unbiased treatment for faculty, staff, students, and clients alike. This means that we have the responsibility to safeguard the welfare of all our patrons, providing not only the highest quality care for our clients, but also to provide the highest quality education for our students. In doing so, we must consider that the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association has established a Scope of Practice in Speech-Language Pathology which encompasses a wide range of communicative functions (ASHA Scope of Practice in Speech-Language Pathology). Competence across this scope of practice requires that each student acquire an equally wide range of knowledge and skills and be able to function with minimal assist in a broad variety of clinical situations. Meeting these standards requires that we define our client needs in terms of our expectations for our students to provide them. To ensure this, the Program has identified several "Professional Functions" for speech-language pathologists to assist our students in identifying some of the necessary skills required to competently provide services (in accordance with recommendations from the Council of Academic Programs in Communication Sciences and Disorders, Schwarz et al. 2007). This list is not a standard by which students will be judged, but is rather a set of guidelines by which prospective and current students may identify appropriate actions that will maximize their potential for success in their graduate program and as a speech-language pathologist.

The Professional Functions checklist is used in several ways at ENMU. Reviewing the skills below will help students considering application to our Program in clarifying our expectations and in understanding the roles and responsibilities of professional practice as an SLP. We hope these standards will assist our current students in self-evaluation and should encourage those with identified disabilities to become proactive in identifying necessary accommodations for academic and clinical success in the Program. We further believe it will help all students to identify their own challenges and develop strategies for successful achievement of essential functions.

The Professional Functions checklist below is NOT intended to discourage or exclude any student from applying to our Program nor from becoming a speech-language pathologist. This list is formulated solely for informational purposes so that prospective and current students will be aware of probable requirements during their course of study at ENMU and when they are ultimately employed as an SLP. Professional functions will naturally vary across employment sites and what is required in one setting may not be "essential" at another. A speech pathologist's daily tasks will vary depending on the needs of the clients they serve and the nature of their clinical facility.

The list below is intended to assist students in identifying possible areas of challenge ahead of time so that strategies for addressing these challenges may be formulated and implemented to avoid student failure and ensure competent therapy for clients.

Many functions on the list may be accomplished with reasonable accommodations. It is expected that the development of professional functions and practice behaviors will occur during the student's matriculation with the support of faculty and clinical supervisors through modeling, direct instruction, and constructive performance feedback. If any prospective or current student feels that they cannot perform the tasks listed below, their needs should be brought to the attention of the faculty/clinical supervisor after admission but PRIOR to task failure. Procedures for notifying faculty/clinical supervisors will be explained during Graduate Student Orientation and are briefly outlined at the bottom of the Professional Functions checklist.

Essential functions can be described in relation to six areas:

  • Physical health
  • Motor
  • Sensory/observational
  • Intellectual/cognitive
  • Communicative
  • Behavioral/social/emotional



  • The student must possess adequate physical health to complete academic and clinical requirements. This includes having the stamina to continuously sit, stand, and focus on academic and clinical tasks for several hours. A student's physical health should not endanger the welfare of their classmates, the faculty, or their clients/patients.



A student must possess adequate motor skills to:

  • Provide for one's own personal hygiene.
  • Access transportation to clinical and academic placements.
  • Respond quickly to provide a safe environment for clients in emergency situations (e.g., fire, choking, seizures). A student should be able to implement universal precautions quickly and competently with minimal assist.
  • Sustain the necessary physical activity level to complete classroom and clinical activities. These needs may differ across courses and clients, but generally require that a student be able to participate in therapeutic activities for up to 4 hours at a time with 1-2 fifteen minute breaks.
  • Capture information during class and client interviews, produce papers and clinic reports using word processing, participate in classroom discussions and client counseling sessions, give verbal/visual presentations, provide models for speech/language production, present appropriate stimulus materials, etc.
  • Access technology for clinical management (e.g., billing, charting, use of therapy programs). Some sites may require data retrieval/input using a computer keyboard or alternate electronic device.
  • Efficiently manipulate testing and treatment environments and materials (e.g., turn pages, present stimulus items).
  • Manipulate equipment (e.g., nasoendoscopy, videostroboscopy, FEES, MBSS, AAC devices, hearing aids, tape recorders, etc.) in a safe and efficient manner. Though not all patients and settings will require this, some therapeutic environments will regard this as an essential skill.
  • Execute movements to complete therapy activities with all ages and all disability conditions



A student must possess adequate sensory skills of vision, hearing, tactile, and smell to:

  • Identify normal and disordered communication patterns in:
    • Speech: articulation, fluency, voice, resonance, swallowing, respiration
    • Language: oral and written language in the areas of semantics, pragmatics, syntax, morphology and phonology (including paralinguistics and nonverbal language patterns such as proxemics, kinesics, haptics, gestural communications systems, etc.)
  • Visualize and discriminate anatomical/craniofacial/oral-motor structures and functions in "live" and recorded formats. Some sites require the SLP to interpret imaging "on the spot" during activities such as swallow studies, scoping, etc.
  • Access text, numbers, tables, and graphs associated with diagnostic instruments and tests well enough to complete diagnostic and therapeutic activities appropriate to the client. Most sites require that the student have sufficient sensory capabilities to perform required evaluations and treatment protocols using instruments and tools necessary for accurate, efficient, and timely diagnosis and treatment of the client.
  • Process and act upon information presented in lectures, recorded audio, and verbal conversations. Some therapeutic activities will require discriminating individual phonemes and attending to auditory stimuli that presented below normal conversational speech levels or presented in high signal to noise ratios.
  • Process and act upon information presented in written formats (e.g., notes, texts, manuals, case histories), projected video segments, and demonstrations in clinical training. Most sites will require that the therapist be able to observe the client sufficiently well enough to identify and correct disordered communication patterns.



A student must possess adequate intellectual and cognitive skills to:

  • Maintain attention/ concentration for sufficient time to complete clinical activities. These needs may differ across courses and clients, but generally require that a student be able to focus their efforts for up to 4 hours at a time with 1-2 fifteen minute breaks.
  • Follow directions.
  • Demonstrate active learning of new information:
    • Identify significant findings from literature, history, evaluation, technical reports, diagnostic/treatment plans, professional correspondence, and other relevant data
    • Integrate/synthesize new information with prior learning
    • Evaluate information critically
    • Apply relevant findings to clinical situations.
      • This will include the ability to learn from course and clinical presentations/demonstrations.
      • This will include the ability to independently read and comprehend professional literature and reports as well as interpreting, analyzing, and assimilating relevant information from various sources and disciplines.
    • Infer appropriately.
    • Formulate an accurate diagnosis based on findings
    • Develop a treatment intervention/a plan of care tailored to the patient based grounded in evidence based practices based on data above
  • Retain information across time.
  • Generalize information across courses, settings, and clients.
  • Problem solve, reason, and exhibit evidence based decision making in patient assessment and therapeutic plan execution.
  • Self-reflect, evaluate, identify, and communicate practice errors and/or other professional weaknesses. Develop a personal plan of action to address knowledge and skills limitations.



A student must possess adequate communication skills to:

  • Communicate effectively (both receptively and expressively) using oral /written English and nonverbal responses.
    • Communication should be appropriate to context.
    • Communication should demonstrate cultural competence.
    • Communication should be accurate and relevant.
    • Communication should be professional. An SLP will need to be able to relate information to and converse intelligibly with patients, colleagues, other healthcare professionals, and community or professional groups in a responsive and respectful manner.
    • Communication should be dynamic. An SLP will need to be able to modify their communication style to meet the communication needs of clients, caregivers, and other persons served. This includes essential mastery of pragmatic functions such as communication repair, register variation, etc. Receptive and empathetic listening is an essential skill for SLPs.
  • Listen, comprehend/accurately interpret, and act on information presented in an expedient manner. Many sites require that the SLP immediately assess both verbal and nonverbal communication from their patients and respond appropriately with additional inquiry or stimulus for communication clarification or expansion.
  • Give and receive feedback in an accurate, professional, and non-defensive manner.
  • Effectively complete clinical reports, patient documentation, diagnostic/treatment plans, professional correspondence, and scholarly papers as required by the degree and professional practice.
  • Information must be communicated in a succinct/efficient yet comprehensive manner and in settings in which time available may be limited.



A student must possess adequate behavioral and social attributes to:

  • Display mature empathetic and effective professional relationships by exhibiting compassion, integrity, and concern for others.
  • Recognize and show respect for individuals with disabilities and for individuals of different ages, genders, race, religions, sexual orientation, and cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds.
  • Demonstrate compassion, sensitivity, integrity, interest, and motivation in all professional relationships.
  • Conduct oneself in an ethical and legal manner, upholding the ASHA Code of Ethics and university and federal privacy policies.
  • Maintain general good physical and mental health and self-care in order not to jeopardize the health and safety of self and others in the academic and clinical setting.
  • Adapt to changing and demanding environments with emotional stability and professional flexibility. The SLP is often required to maintain their composure, communication with self-possession, and project a professional demeanor in stressful and demanding situations. These include environments which may change without warning in unpredictable ways
  • Manage the use of time effectively to complete professional assignments in an efficient and prompt manner. All SLPs must schedule and prioritize their activities to be successful practitioners. Punctuality, regular attendance, and reliability are required at all sites.
  • Collaborate productively. The SLP should negotiate effectively to facilitate harmonious relationships with colleagues, supervisors, and clients served.
  • Respect supervisory authority, accept appropriate suggestions, and respond to constructive criticism through behavioral change. The SLP is expected to comply with administrative, legal, and regulatory policies at all sites of employment.
  • Dress appropriately and professionally according to the standards of practice set forth at the site.


Reasonable accommodations will be made to allow students with disabilities equal access to activities in the ENMU CDIS Program whenever possible. Students who believe that they will be unable to meet the functions as listed above should meet with the Program Director and the relevant faculty member/clinical supervisor for guidance and direction as soon as possible, but certainly PRIOR to any clinical assignment and within the first three days classes. Though the determination of "reasonable" or "appropriate" accommodations must specifically consider whether the requested adaptation may negatively impact the client's therapy or the ability of the student to attain the knowledge and skills outcomes required for eventual graduation/certification, it has been our experience that many potential difficulties can be avoided with good advising and proactive planning.

Students with suspected disabilities must have those disabilities certified through appropriate diagnostic procedures. Students with identified disabilities must register with the Disability Services office prior to expecting accommodations (please see (Accommodations for Students with Disabilities and Accessibility Resources and Testing - Disability Services for additional information). Academic accommodations cannot be made without appropriate documentation from Services for Students with Disabilities. Please keep in mind that modifications must be determined for each class and clinical assignment individually and so students must visit with Disability Services and their advisor/supervisor/instructors at the beginning of each semester.


As is often the case, this document was influenced by the hard work of others. The Program would like to acknowledge the following references from which much of the above was adapted:


Schwartz, I., Horner, J., Jackson, R., Johnstone, P., Mulligan, M., & Sohlberg, M. (2007). Defining essential functions for a diverse student population. Proceedings of the Annual Conference of the Council of Academic Programs in Communication Sciences and Disorders, Palm Springs, CA.


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