Back in the sixties, no one really knew about learning disabilities. Barbara spent plenty of time in the school toilets, hoping to escape unfathomable lessons in basic reading and maths. School reports from fourth grade mention “trying hard to overcome counting” and 39 days of “illness”. Clawing her way through high school and university meant continuous late night study and averaging four hours of sleep a night.
There are plenty who still stuggle like this. They are often average or above average in intelligence but have unexpected difficulties in areas like reading, maths, understanding directions, communication, movement, or planning. They are told compensation strategies, adaptive technology or extra tuition are options, but there is no cure.
Arrowsmith-Young, however, believes that the brain can change itself. Combining research about the plasticity of the brain, experiments in improving her own cognitive abilities, and decade’s worth of experience helping the learning disabled, she has formulated series of cognitive exercises that isolate and strengthen areas of the brain. She claims that, as specific areas of the brain are ‘worked-out’, the associated area of learning becomes easier. This change in functioning then gives the person a chance to learn the content that they have previously been unable to grasp.
The Woman Who Changed Her Brain includes many stories of children and adults who have successfully remediated their disabilities after doing the Arrowsmith Program. Unfortunately, scientific research to back up the impressive claims is currently not available.
Does it really work? Neuroscientists and educationalists haven’t traditionally communicated well together and there is widespread scepticism about quick fixes and misapplication of isolated research findings. What is agreed upon is the need for quality independent assessments and interventions which are targeted and intensive enough in repetition, frequency and difficulty. The Arrowsmith Program does show promise in these areas but, until it is rigorously evaluated, parents are still taking a leap of faith.
This book contains lots of accessible information on brain functioning and the potential for improvement and is recommended reading for parents, teachers, and all those adults who struggled through school and wish they could do the things others find so easy!
Reviewed by Spot
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The Woman Who Changed Her Brain
The Arrowsmith Program is not currently available in New Zealand. Read about the controversy its arrival in Australia had: Sydney Morning Herald, Nov 2012
Watch this video by educational psychologist Howard Eaton (45 mins)