Prevalence of different types of speech, language and communication disorders and speech pathology services in Australia

Diseases Disabilities Research Public health Australia


The capacity to communicate verbally is fundamental to a person's development and wellbeing. The ability to learn effectively, to form meaningful and supportive relationships, to influence others, and to obtain and maintain employment can be significantly affected if a person is unable to verbally communicate. Undiagnosed or untreated, a person who suffers from a speech or swallowing disorder is susceptible to poorer educational outcomes, reduced employment prospects and increased likelihood of social, emotional and mental health issues. The personal cost to the individual, and to society at large, can be significant.

The establishment of this inquiry

On 9 December 2013, the Senate referred to the Senate Community Affairs References Committee (committee) an inquiry into the prevalence of different types of speech, language and communication disorders. A parliamentary inquiry along these lines had been advocated by the national peak body, Speech Pathology Australia (SPA), for some time. In June 2011, SPA National President, Ms Christine Stone, wrote to the committee noting that without Australian data on the prevalence of speech, language and communication disorders, 'it is impossible for government and health professionals to adequately plan and provide comprehensive prevention, promotion and therapeutic services to those individuals with communication and swallowing impairments'. Ms Stone suggested that a parliamentary committee would be the right forum to advance these inquiries, and offered SPA's help in refining the scope and terms of reference for the inquiry.

Terms of reference:

  1. the prevalence of different types of speech, language and communication disorders and swallowing difficulties in Australia;
  2. the incidence of these disorders by demographic group (paediatric, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, people with disabilities and people from culturally and linguistically diverse communities);
  3. the availability and adequacy of speech pathology services provided by the Commonwealth, state and local governments across health, aged care, education, disability and correctional services;
  4. the provision and adequacy of private speech pathology services in Australia;
  5. evidence of the social and economic cost of failing to treat communication and swallowing disorders; and
  6. the projected demand for speech pathology services in Australia.
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