Mildred A. McGinnis: A Pioneer in the Treatment of Aphasia

Frank B. WithrowBy Frank B. Withrow

Mildred A. McGinnis* was a pioneer in the rehabilitation of children and adults with aphasia. She was a teacher of deaf children at Central Institute for the Deaf (CID) a part of the Washington University in St. Louis Medical School. After World War One, she worked with veterans that had aphasia and observed that some children had many of the same characteristics as the adults with head injuries and strokes. She became the director of the speech department at CID that served both children and adults.

“Ginty” developed the association method to work with both children and adults. She also trained teachers in applying this method. The association method was a very prescriptive system that relied upon the Caroline Yale phonetic charts and associating sounds and language in very precise ways. She believed in cursive script as opposed to print. She felt the writing of cursive letters reinforced the association with the phonemic sounds. She associated sound, sight and kinesthetic movement with speech and language development.

Language was built up first in a very descriptive manner. For example, for children it might start with animal stories. “This is a dog. A dog has a head. A dog has four feet. A dog has a tail. A dog has a nose. A dog has sharp teeth. A dog can run. A dog has no wings. A dog cannot fly.” After several animal stories, the child should be given a new animal and be able to describe that animal. The child also learns to ask questions related to the animal story. If we are working with a wounded aphasic army soldier, such stories may develop around a Jeep. That is, “This is a jeep. A jeep has four wheels, etc.” Once patients learn to describe the here and now, we work with them to predict things.

While the association method might appear as a very prescribed drill and practice learning system, it was ultimately designed so that patients were given a foundation that allowed them to expand and generalize their knowledge. She believed that if a student learned the phonetic elements of fifty words, they would understand the phonetic system and be able to decode any written word. If students learned to describe things, they would also be able to use language to predict. Miss McGinnis trained people from all parts of the world, and her association method has been used worldwide.

She was a visionary in speech pathology and language development work with people of all ages who have aphasia. Even today her students practice versions of the association method of speech and language development. She believed she was creating in the adult or child the ability to generalize and expand on the knowledge they acquired.

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* Frank Withrow studied under Mildred A. McGinnis, the developer of the Association Method designed to provide rehabilitation for aphasic adults and children.

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