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Campus offering

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SPHY102 Anatomy and Physiology for Speech Pathology

Teaching organisation

150 hours of focused learning.

Unit rationale, description and aim

Practitioners of Speech Pathology require a sound understanding of the relevant structures and functions of the central and peripheral nervous system to be able to understand communication and swallowing processes and how disease or dysfunction affects them. In this unit students are introduced to normal structures, functions and development of the nervous system as well as neural plasticity, medical imaging and major change across the lifespan. This includes the somatosensory systems, motor systems, and the role of the brainstem, cranial nerves, and executive systems in controlling speech, language and swallowing processes. Common congenital, degenerative and acquired neurological disorders will also be examined. This aim of this unit is to enable students to develop a solid foundation in neuroscience knowledge for application to future theoretical and clinical learning related to speech pathology management.

Learning outcomes

To successfully complete this unit you will be able to demonstrate you have achieved the learning outcomes (LO) detailed in the below table.

Each outcome is informed by a number of graduate capabilities (GC) to ensure your work in this, and every unit, is part of a larger goal of graduating from ACU with the attributes of insight, empathy, imagination and impact.

Explore the graduate capabilities.

On successful completion of this unit, students should be able to:

LO1 - Explain in detail the normal structure and function of the central and peripheral nervous systems relevant to speech pathology practice using correct terminology (GA5, GA8)

LO2 - Apply knowledge of the normal structure and function of the central nervous system to determine or predict the consequences of damage or diseases affecting these structures; (GA4, GA8)

LO3 - Interpret the results of basic testing of the cranial nerves, sensori-motor and cognitive functions relevant to speech pathology practice (GA4, GA5)

LO4 - Relate principles of neuroplasticity to the assessment, treatment and management of neurological conditions relevant to speech pathology (GA5, GA8)

Graduate attributes

GA4 - think critically and reflectively 

GA5 - demonstrate values, knowledge, skills and attitudes appropriate to the discipline and/or profession 

GA8 - locate, organise, analyse, synthesise and evaluate information 


Topics will include:


  • Importance of neuroscience to the practice of speech pathology – the nervous system and communication
  • Structure and function of nervous system 

Neurological development, neural plasticity and major changes across the lifespan 

  • Embryonic development and impact on speech/ language/ swallowing function
  • Principles of neuroplasticity and implications for communication and swallowing

The central nervous system related to normal movement, sensory, speech and swallowing functions 

  • Brain
  • Cerebrum – structure and function 
  • Cerebral connections
  • Areas of cortex and their function
  • Basal nuclei, – structure and function
  • Diencephalon – structure and function
  • Cerebellum – structure and function
  • Brainstem – structure and function
  • Protection and blood supply to the brain

The peripheral nervous system related to normal speech and swallowing functions

  • Relevant cranial nerves 
  • Relevant spinal nerves

Neural pathways

  • Sensory tracts
  • Motor tracts
  • Lower versus upper motor neurons

Neurological organization

  • Language 
  • Speech motor control
  • Swallowing

Functional impact of damage or disorder to CNS, PNS and neural pathways: Common congenital, degenerative, and acquired neurological disorders, such as:

  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Cerebral Palsy 
  • Motor Neurone Diseases 
  • Traumatic brain injury 
  • Stroke
  • Dementia

Learning and teaching strategy and rationale

This unit involves 150 hours of learning with a combination of face-to-face lectures and interactive face-to-face tutorials, as well as self-led learning. Lectures provide an opportunity to present key concepts and relationships in a structured framework, and to demonstrate with practical examples. 

Tutorials incorporate small group activities, use of anatomical brain models, video simulations, web-based learning, computer software simulations (utilizing 3D imaging software) and problem solving activities, these are coupled with case-based learning and whole group theoretical discussions of the unit content around each of the main themes studied.  The tutorial sessions therefore provide experiential learning with concrete activities related to neuroscience and collaborative learning to provide the opportunity to explore key concepts and apply information to complex scenarios, case studies and speech pathology application. Students are expected to take responsibility for their learning and to participate actively within group activities, demonstrating respect for the individual as an independent learner. 

Student self-directed learning activities are used to support students to construct their own understanding of concepts that are further consolidated in tutorials, the use of this strategy is consistent with active learning.

The teaching and learning strategies underpin the emerging development of the graduate and professional attributes.

Assessment strategy and rationale

This unit aims to develop student’s foundational knowledge around the functions and processes of the nervous system relevant to speech pathology. A range of assessment procedures will be used to meet the unit learning outcomes and develop graduate attributes consistent with university assessment requirements.  Such procedures include, quizzes, written tests and examinations. Quizzes will be used throughout the semester as a baseline assessment that allows students to demonstrate the acquisition of knowledge and understanding of key concepts and regularly identify gaps in their current knowledge. The quizzes focus on student’s acquisition of knowledge and understanding of foundational information and key concepts related to learning around LO1 and LO2. 

The mid semester test is a written examination which requires student to apply their understanding of key concepts to a number of straightforward case scenarios. These build on the understanding tested in the short quizzes and assesses both LO1 and LO2. The mid-semester test also functions as preparation for the final exam by providing formative feedback on their ability to apply knowledge and understanding to straightforward cases. The final examination will assess student’s knowledge of neuroscience and their capacity to apply this knowledge to case scenarios. This format allows students to demonstrate their understanding by explaining, predicting, describing and interpreting information using clinical and applied scenarios and assesses LO3 and LO4 as well as LO1 and LO2.  

Overview of assessments

Brief Description of Kind and Purpose of Assessment TasksWeightingLearning OutcomesGraduate Attributes

Quizzes: Enables students to demonstrate their ability to identify and understand key terms, structures and their related functional processes.


LO1, LO2

CBOS Alignment: Occupational 1.1,1.2

GA4, GA5, GA8

Mid-semester test: Enables students to communicate in written format their understanding of structures and key concepts, as well as apply their understanding to straightforward applied scenarios.


LO1, LO2

CBOS Alignment:

Occupational 1.1, 1.2

GA4, GA5, GA8

Written examination: Enables students to understand, recall and retrieve key concepts around both normal and abnormal states. Enables students to demonstrate understanding by explaining, predicting, describing and interpreting information and applied case scenarios.


LO1, LO2, LO3, LO4

CBOS Alignment:

Occupational 1.1,1.2

GA4, GA5, GA8

Representative texts and references

Bhatnagar, S. (2012). Neurosciences for the study of communication disorders (4th ed). Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins.

Diamond,M., &  Scheibel, A. (1985). The human brain coloring book (paperback). HarperCollins Publishers.

Haines, D.E. (2008). Neuroanatomy: An atlas of structures, sections and symptoms (7th ed.). Philadelphia: Lippincott, Wilkins & Williams.

Kiernan, J.A. (2009). Barr’s the human nervous system: An anatomical viewpoint (9th ed.).: Lippincott – Raven. 

Love, R., & Webb, W. (2007). Neurology for the speech language pathologist (5th ed.). London: Mosby. 

Lundy-Ekman, L. (2012). Neuroscience: Fundamentals for rehabilitation (4th ed.). St. Louis: Elsevier.

Nolte, J. (2009). The human brain: An introduction to its functional anatomy (6th ed.). St Louis: Mosby.

Porth, C.M. (2009). Pathophysiology: Concepts of altered health states (8th ed.). Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins.

Robbins, S.L. (2010). Robbins and Cotran pathological basis of disease (8th ed.). Elsevier Saunders.

Schmidt, R.A., & Wrisberg, C. (2008). Motor learning and performance: A situation based learning approach (4th ed.) Human Kinetics Books.

Williams, D. (2009). Developmental language disorders: Learning, language and the brain. Plural Publishing. 

Young, P.A., Young, P.H., & Tolbert, D. (2008). Basic clinical neuroscience (2nd ed.). Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins.

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