November – Science, research and innovation

November – Science, research and innovation

In November’s Bulletin Jois Stansfield dipped into the IJLCD: a history of innovation, science and research in the profession.

Speech and language therapy practice has come a long way in the past 75 years, thanks to the work of clinical innovators, researchers and academics. Much of the change can be traced through articles in the International Journal of Language and Communication Disorders (IJLCD) and its predecessors.Diagram of a model speech clinic

With regard to innovation, I found a very early example in the form of a model speech clinic featured in the 1946 issue of the journal, from two final-year students who won a College of Speech Therapists competition (image 1). The following year there were instructions on how to construct a test to assess the mental level of children with delayed speech (image 2), no small feat when the usual speech therapy kit comprised little more than a set of hand mirrors, tongue depressors and some straws.

By 1950, a paper described ‘a new aid to speech therapy’, which was a blowing bottle used to displace water (image 3). In 1965 an article appeared debating the (short-lived) initial teaching alphabet (ITA) (image 4) as a medium for speech therapy, concluding, unsurprisingly that ‘it depends’ but may be of value.

Over the years SLTs showed themselves to be a resourceful lot. One paper, for example, reported getting permission directly from the Bank of England to take an increased dollar allowance to the USA, when there was a £50 cap on what could be taken out of the UK (1964). While there were fewer personal stories in later years, the various editorials continued to demonstrate this resourcefulness across the profession.

Scientific advances were traced in some papers. 1954 saw the journal’s first colour image, demonstrating the use of the electroencephalogram (EEG) with speech disorders (image 5). Some other technology appears very strange looking indeed to the modern eye—an item in the 1959 journal resembles a makeshift bomb, but is in fact an early laryngeal vibrator for laryngectomy patients (image 6).

Between 1945 and 65 there were 11 papers on instrumental technology, with a further 35 between 1966 and 2010. In 1950 the first advertisement for speech recording appeared (image 7). The ability to record is one area where major change has taken place, moving from machines which required almost a whole room to function, through to reel-to-reel recorders, cassette recorders, mini-discs, CDs and present-day miniature digital technology.

Scanned page featuring a black and white photo of an early laryngeal vibrator for laryngectomy patients

Research came to the fore in the journal very gradually, however successive editors have continued to raise the research standing of the journal. Early research papers from medics, psychologists, and audiologists have gradually been superseded by those from SLTs, both from the UK and abroad. Across the years, developmental speech and language disorders, aphasia and dysfluency appeared most often. Increasing rigour in researching and in reviewing has led to both quantitative and qualitative reports which contribute considerably to the knowledge base of the profession.

Early advert for speech recording showing a woman holding a microphone to a young boy. Caption reads 'specifically designed for the speech therapist'

Going forward, I hope to see a journal that is inclusive, supporting good quality research across the profession, whether it be basic science, technological developments or clinical practice, so that it continues to reflect the best our profession can achieve.

Jois Stansfield
Emeritus professor, Manchester Metropolitan University

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