Reading Reflections~Post 2

A few more gleanings from Stuttering: The Search for a Cause and Cure, by Oliver Bloodstein…

~Additional Research in the 1930s~

In addition to the Orton-Travis Theory, researchers also began studying respiration, heart rate, blood pressure, brain waves, reflexes, basal metabolic rate, and chemical composition of the blood as possible links to stuttering. One interesting man during this time that I read about was Robert West, who suggested that stuttering is caused by chemical imbalances or even mini seizures.

The theory he is most remembered for proposed that stuttering is inherited as a predisposition, not necessarily as a physical trait. He said that this predisposition produces an underlying deficiency in the body. Stuttering then, he suggested, is just an outward symptom of this deeper problem, a condition he called dysphemia. Since West’s theory was never proven, however, it eventually lost influence.

~Iowa Therapy~ (1930s)

One of my favorite parts of the book is the chapter on Iowa Therapy, because this is the method of therapy that I have personally experienced. Iowa Therapy, largely developed by Charles Van Riper, had its beginnings at the University of Iowa. I read that the two primary objectives of this kind of speech therapy are (1) reducing shame and (2) changing the way we stutter, not the way we talk. Fluency is not the goal; learning how to stutter more easily and how to stutter without fear is the goal. Some of the strategies Van Riper suggested to achieve this included voluntary stuttering, pull-outs, and cancellations.

Wendell Johnson, a second advocate of Iowa Therapy, encouraged his students to talk openly about stuttering and to stop trying to avoid it. He firmly believed, as did many others during this time, that people stuttered in an effort to avoid stuttering. I think this is a very profound theory. However. . .What is causing us to avoid stuttering in the first place?  There still must be an underlying problem that gives us that avoidance reaction.

Johnson also taught his students to develop a heightened awareness as to precisely what was keeping them from saying a word. Were their muscles tense? Was their tongue jammed against the roof of their mouth? Were they breathing properly?

All of these techniques share a common characteristic. They did not teach stutterers how to talk fluently by speaking in a new or unnatural way. They taught stutterers how to stutter differently. From the 1930s-mid 1960s, teaching novel ways of speaking was rejected as an effective strategy.

~The Diagnosogenic Theory~

A second theory proposed by Wendell Johnson was the Diagnosogenic Theory.  According to Johnson,“Stuttering begins, not in the child’s mouth, but in the parent’s ear.” Johnson believed that stuttering begins entirely with the parents’ perspective on their child’s speech. He thought that parents mistook the normal disfluencies that most small children have when they are learning how to speak for stuttering. This overreaction to their child’s speech, Johnson said, then convinces the child that he stutters. Additionally, he tried to connect parenting style, home life, social status, and culture to stuttering. In other words, this theory made society and parents solely responsible for stuttering and reduced stuttering to a purely psychological disorder. The basic definition of this theory was “Stuttering caused by its diagnosis.” 

Although the Diagnosogenic Theory had gained popularity by the 1950s, it was never scientifically verified.  By the 1970s, the theory had declined considerably, when many people were beginning to believe that stuttering was linked to biological heredity.

It has been so interesting to read about the different phases of stuttering research throughout history. Stuttering has been approached from nearly every perspective-mental, psychological, emotional, and neurological. Heredity and genetics have also been studied extensively. Today, however, there is abundant evidence to believe that stuttering is primarily neurological. I am excited to see how research keeps progressing. Maybe, someday…there will be a cure.

Well, that’s all for today. Thank you for following along with me as I journey through this book!

Much love, Makenzie






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