Toward the end of the eighteenth century, there was a movement in Europe to create more humane treatments for people with disabilities. In particular, there was a movement called moral treatment, that focused on individual rights and nonabusive or “moral” treatment. Leaders in the movement included Vincenzo Chiarugi (1759-1820) in Italy, Jean Baptiste Pussin (1746-1811) and Philippe Pinel (1745-1826) in France, William Tuke in England, and later, in the US, Benjamin Rush (1745-1813) and, much later in the US, Dorothea Dix (1802-1887).

The main changes instituted by these creators of moral treatment were the cessation the use of chains, physical punishment, and physical confinement. They also added custodial personnel, improved hygienic conditions, and wrote detailed case histories and systemized records on their patients. Their interventions included recreational programming, placing medical approaches such as bloodletting in disfavor.

But, from the vantage point of history, one can see that there are serious problems and abuses associated with moral treatments. This has been cogently pointed out by Michel Foucault (1965), the French historian and critical theorist in his book Madness and civilization. Foucault showed how Pinel and Tuke exerted control over their patients by putting them in psychological conflict about their about their conditions.

More positive eighteenth century attitudes and treatments of people with communication disabilities are revealed in the writings to two famous people who stuttered, Moses Mendelssohn and Erasmus Darwin.

In the following brazen poem written by Moses Mendelssohn (1729-1786), he proudy portrays his stuttering problem as a personal trait, like his physical impairment. His heavy tongue, like that of Demosthenes and of his namesake, the biblical Moses, is a trait that comes with greatness

Great you call Demosthenes,
Stuttering orator of Greece;
Hunchbacked Aesop you deem wise;--
In your circle I surmise
I am doubly wise and great.
What in each was separate
You in me united find--
Hump and heavy tongue combined (Bobrick, 1994, p. 78).

Erasmus Darwin, too, wrote of his own stuttering in positive ways. Responding to this, Bobrick has described Darwin as a “carefree stutterer” (Bobrick, 1995, p. 79). Darwin regarded his stuttering as a gift that trained him to speak concisely and directly to the point. He saw his stuttering and stuttering in others as an approach avoidance conflict involving fear and the need to talk. The conflict, in his theory, arose from breaks in the associations between volition and the the muscular motions of articulation. He saw stuttering blocks as being a stutterer’s attempts to gain voluntary control of these broken associations.

Darwin’s recommended therapy involved practice saying problematic words as well as developing a “carelessness about the opinions of others” (Reiber & Wollock, 1977, p. 11).