UNM Professor Dr. Emeritus Bruce Porch is 95 years young.
With decades of experience as a speech-language pathologist under his belt, Porch’s extensive array of research, publications, founding new speech pathology programs and patient care continues to grow. It’s enough to make his own scrapbook the size of an encyclopedia.
The accomplishments of this Speech & Hearing Sciences icon span decades back, starting in the west. While initiating and supervising a Speech Language Pathology department for Alameda County Hospitals, Porch completed his doctoral studies at Stanford Medical School.
With many job opportunities open to him, Dr. Porch was invited to come to New Mexico to begin a Speech Pathology and Audiology Department at the Albuquerque Veterans Administration Medical Center as well as to teach at UNM. Eventually, he held appointments in the UNM Departments of Speech & Hearing Science, Neurology, Psychiatry, and Psychology.
Dr. Porch is renowned for his contributions dealing with aphasia, dyslexia and other brain disorders.
He also published the Porch Index of Communicative Ability (PICA), a test used internationally for the study of aphasia by most clinicians. The PICA was the first reliable, clinical test for aphasia in a time when there were no brain scans, and only plus-minus scoring tests. The PICA has since been translated into French, Spanish and Japanese.
“That’s why I spent so much time developing diagnostic methods that were reliable. With my test we could gather and pool data, and it made it possible for us to really do large number cooperative research studies on aphasia for the first time. It was a big step,” Porch said.
During his years at Stanford and UNM, Porch has served on the editorial boards of several journals. He was also honored to be a consultant for the World Health Organization and National Institute of Health.
Along the way, he drew the distinction between neurological aphasiology and clinical aphasiology. The neurological facet was generally being practiced because of the non-existence of brain scans, but Porch was able to bolster clinical aphasiology, specializing on treatment and prognosis. He was especially proud to expound upon it, by founding the Clinical Aphasiology Conference in 1971. It continues as a major meeting today.
“It’s a great conference. People are talking to each other and improving their methods, and deciding on the next problem to solve regarding aphasia,” he said.
Throughout his aphasia research years, from the time Porch studied at Stanford, he has treated stuttering clients. Now at long last, his research focus has finally shifted from aphasia to stuttering. There was a simple reason to switch.
Stuttering is a problem that affects over 70 million people worldwide. Even closer to home, an estimated 20,000 New Mexicans, and 250 UNM students struggle with it.
“That’s a lot of people. You have to work with them to understand what it is like to be a stutterer,” he said. “They wake up in the morning and start rehearsing what they’ll say."
Still, an important component in understanding stuttering, Porch says, is that people who stutter can talk normally under certain conditions.
“They can talk to animals, they can talk to infants. They can talk when they are alone, or when there’s a lot of noise masking their speech. In other words, when there is no evaluative listener,” he said.
Porch has hypothesized that the fear associated listener reinforces the stuttering behavior. Porch’s cybernetic model of stuttering is two-fold, containing a normal speech system, and a stuttering system. In a normal system, the speaker is able to convey information to the listener uninterrupted.
All stutterers can also use this normal system when there is no listener around. When there is a potentially evaluative listener, that’s when the stuttering system comes into play.
“If I take you, blindfold you, and take you up to the top of the building, and place you so that your toes are hanging off, and I take the blindfold off, what happens? It takes your breath away. That's what's happening when the stutterer sees the listener,” Porch said.
In therapy sessions with stutterers, Porch has tested his model and tried his treatment approach with many patients. He’s found group therapy with other individuals who stutter is very useful, as it provides the listeners a consistent audience the stutterer can become desensitized to.
“You have to desensitize the stutterer to the listener,” he said. “I have got to convince the stutterer I want to listen, and to not be afraid. Teach them to use the normal system again.”
Porch also still runs his own small publishing company that debuts works about brain function. Recently, at age 93, Porch wrote a book describing this hypothesis about stuttering: A Systems Analysis Approach to the Treatment of Stuttering.
His expertise has taken him all over the world. Although he has lectured in almost every state in the union, and in England, Canada, Mexico, and Australia, today, Porch stays closer to home, which he says is the oldest house on the hill in Nob Hill, built in 1926.
“It’s an old place that needs tender, loving care,” he said. “It’s a great home to do quiet thinking and support my family.”
Taking on stuttering is a big solo undertaking at 95. Still, Porch is not only confident in completing research on his treatment approach to stuttering, but that he will have time to spare after.
What will come next? Porch says that although he does not know what he’ll do after studying stuttering, he is sure he'll figure something out.
“I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time, since 50 years ago. Now with more time on my hands I can return to it. Hopefully, it’s going to raise a lot of questions,” Porch said. “My major contributions have been with brain function,” he said. “It’s been very rewarding being able to do that, and I hope I have the same success with stuttering.”
Dr. Porch says he enjoys discussing stuttering and would be happy to chat about it at email@example.com.