of Stuttering Research and Therapy at The University of Iowa
The beginning of the field of Speech Pathology and Audiology may be difficult to pinpoint. G.T.W. Patrick (BA-UI, 1878) offered a course called Empirical Psychology from the Department of Mental and Moral Science and Didactics in 1887. His “squandering” of all $50 of start-up funds for laboratory equipment was considered the beginning of a culture at The University of Iowa. He named Carl Emil Seashore to be director of the Iowa Psychological Laboratory in 1897. As history has it, Seashore spent his first summer supervising the building of a soundproof room in the department's new headquarters (now Schaeffer Hall). This “giant thermos bottle” was believed to be the first in existence in the world.
By 1900, Seashore had the first prototype audiometer…although it was never patented. At about the same time, the Program in Mental and Moral Science and Didactics was renamed the Department of Philosophy and Psychology with the express goal of training specialists in the areas of “…reading disabilities and speech pathology.” Lee Edward Travis was chosen to be trained as the “psychologist of psychiatry,” and his Plan (roughly the equivalent of a doctoral plan of study today) allowed for a small stipend and access to any classes on campus. Contemporaries included Wendell Johnson, Scott Reger and Don Lewis. When he completed his postdoctoral training in 1927, Travis was hired as an Associate Professor of Psychology and Speech, the psychologist for the Psychopathic Hospital, and Director of the Psychological and Speech Clinic…all in an effort, apparently, to keep him from accepting an offer to teach at Northwestern University.
From 1924 through 1927, Travis designed and constructed the first original laboratory at Iowa focusing on research in communication disorders. Samuel Orton, then the head of the University's Department of Psychiatry supplied Travis with his first working hypothesis to test in the new lab. Together, Travis and Orton developed the “Theory of Cerebral Dominance” or the “handedness theory”, in which they postulated that stuttering is the result of a conflict between the right and left cerebral hemisphere for control of the structures used for speaking; in other words, people who stutter lacked “cerebral dominance”, and the result was stuttered disruptions while speaking. This hypothesis spawned several years of research that saw a refinement in methods and instrumentation to evaluate brain activity and handedness. In general, the results of several years of intense research were equivocal; it appeared that people who stuttered were not significantly different from nonstuttering individuals in terms of cerebral function.
The new program in speech, and the research in cerebral dominance and stuttering drew many budding scientists interested in stuttering to The University of Iowa. The students who came to Iowa to devote their early years to investigating the problem of stuttering include Wendell Johnson, Charles Van Riper, John Knott, George Wischner, Oliver Bloodstein, Spencer Brown, Clark Hull and Dean Williams to name just a few. Following the early studies in cerebral dominance, these researchers and many others continued to expand the research frontier in stuttering, turning to investigations of that included:
The interrelationship between stuttering and personality
The onset and development of early stuttering
Therapy for stuttering and its effect
Conditions associated with variations in the amount and distribution of stuttering
Stuttering and learning
Listener perceptions of stuttering
Neurophysiology of stuttering and fluency in people who stutter
Parent-child interaction in stuttering
Subtypes and risk factors in the onset and development of stuttering
Interactions between motor and language processes in children who stutter
Factors influencing treatment outcomes in stuttering
From 1924 to the present day, the University of Iowa has continuously maintained an active research, teaching and clinical program in stuttering. There are many opportunities for students interested in developing their clinical or research skills in the area of stuttering, or who would like to engage in both.
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