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Editor's note: The UI department of speech pathology and audiology will host a reception in honor of the 91st anniversary of Wendell Johnson's birth at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, April 16, in the main lobby of the Wendell Johnson Speech and Hearing Center.

For more information on the life and work of Wendell Johnson, access the World Wide Web site created by his son, Nicholas Johnson, a UI law professor. The Web address is

Wendall Johnson's legacy is reflected in work of UI department

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Wendell Johnson's pioneering influence and commitment to better understanding speech and hearing processes is reflected today in the work of University of Iowa speech pathologists and audiologists, says one UI professor who studies factors related to stuttering.

Johnson, who helped create the department of speech pathology and audiology at the UI and who played a key role in establishing the UI as a leader in the discipline, would have been 91 years old on April 16. He died in 1965.

"His prolific research and writing career influenced numerous contemporary approaches to the treatment of stuttering," says Patricia Zebrowski, UI associate professor of speech pathology and audiology. "In particular, Johnson's work emphasized the importance of looking at the problem of stuttering within the context of communicative interaction. That is, he saw the problem of stuttering as a complex interaction between what a person does -- stuttering, for example -- how listeners react to the individual's stuttering, and what the speaker does in response to these listener reactions."

Johnson asserted that a key feature of treating stutterers was a close analysis of this process, Zebrowski notes. Johnson believed that changes in a stuttering person's beliefs and attitudes about speaking in general, and stuttering in particular -- as well as the listener's reactions to their speech -- are fundamental to changes in fluency.

Dean Williams, Johnson's successor at the UI, elaborated on this idea to include the entire speaking process, rather than behavior associated only with the moment or instance of stuttering. He retained Johnson's view that people who stutter can be taught to speak more fluently if they direct their focus away from what they perceive is happening to them and toward the things they are doing that interfere with talking.

Zebrowski's primary research interest is in factors related to the development of stuttering in children and its treatment. She teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in the nature and clinical management of stuttering in children and adults, as well as supervises graduate students in their clinical training with people who stutter.

She also directs the stuttering diagnostic clinic at the Wendell Johnson Speech and Hearing Center. Zebrowski says she relies upon many of her predecessors' concepts in her own approaches to therapy, with the inclusion of more behavioral strategies.

"I have been involved in a number of research projects over the years which have focused on the analysis of various behaviors produced by very young children who stutter and their parents," she says. Currently, Zebrowski and Amy Weiss, UI associate professor of speech pathology and audiology, are involved in a study that will examine the effects different conversational partners have on the speech fluency of children who do and do not stutter.

Zebrowski is also participating in an educational video project, funded through the Stuttering Foundation of America. The finished product will be a training video for speech-language pathologists who work with school-age children who stutter.

Advanced technology provides Zebrowski with the research tools to study various speech and nonspeech behaviors. She and her colleagues use split-screen video images of young children talking with their mothers. One of the video images provides a frontal view of both participants on one screen, enabling researchers to analyze subtle differences or similarities in the way parents and their children talk. "The development of advanced and very user-friendly computer software for analyzing speech signals also has made it easy to conduct fine-grain analyses of speech production," she says.

When speech, audiology and related areas of study were developing at the UI in the 1930s and 40s, a primary research focus was the problem of stuttering. Johnson, who directed the program during the late 1940s and early 1950s, became known for his research and writings on stuttering, which helped put the UI at the center of study on this disorder. The value of this discipline was recognized in 1956 when the program became an independent department in the UI College of Liberal Arts.

The department has continued its progression and growth over the past four decades. The Wendell Johnson Speech and Hearing Center was completed in 1967. Wider research and clinical services developed in the hearing sciences, language disorders, mechanisms of voice production, cleft palate, neurological communication disorders and other areas.

An interdisciplinary approach to research and its faculty has always been a strength of the department, says Richard Hurtig, UI chair of speech pathology and audiology. "We have faculty from fields such as neurophysiology, bioengineering, clinical and experimental psychology, physics, linguistics and otolaryngology," he says. "Many of the faculty hold joint appointments in other departments. It reinforces the idea that scientific cooperation and exploration is key to the future progress of identifying, assessing and treating speech, language and hearing problems."