June 13, 2012

Barbara Arrowsmith-Young: The Woman Who Changed Her Brain

I've written before about Barbara Arrowsmith-Young. As a child, she suffered from asymmetry in her brain which meant that she had both exceptional abilities (like her auditory and visual memory and a great drive) and signs of retardation and an asymmetric body. At first, she followed a strategy of working around her disabilities. Later, she started to started to a program of exercises for herself which were not aimed at working around her weaknesses (the so-called compensation strategy) but which were directly aimed at strengthening her weaknesses. This strategy worked extremely well. She changed her brain and started to understand things she couldn't understand at first.

Now there is book by her: The Woman Who Changed Her Brain: And Other Inspiring Stories of Pioneering Brain Transformation. Here is the description from amazon.com:
Barbara Arrowsmith-Young was born with severe learning disabilities that caused teachers to label her slow, stubborn—or worse. As a child, she read and wrote everything backward, struggled to process concepts in language, continually got lost, and was physically uncoordinated. She could make no sense of an analogue clock. But by relying on her formidable memory and iron will, she made her way to graduate school, where she chanced upon research that inspired her to invent cognitive exercises to “fix” her own brain. The Woman Who Changed Her Brain interweaves her personal tale with riveting case histories from her more than thirty years of working with both children and adults. 
Recent discoveries in neuroscience have conclusively demonstrated that, by engaging in certain mental tasks or activities, we actually change the structure of our brains—from the cells themselves to the connections between cells. The capability of nerve cells to change is known as neuroplasticity, and Arrowsmith-Young has been putting it into practice for decades. With great inventiveness, after combining two lines of research, Barbara developed unusual cognitive calisthenics that radically increased the functioning of her weakened brain areas to normal and, in some areas, even above-normal levels. She drew on her intellectual strengths to determine what types of drills were required to target the specific nature of her learning problems, and she managed to conquer her cognitive deficits. Starting in the late 1970s, she has continued to expand and refine these exercises, which have benefited thousands of individuals. Barbara founded Arrowsmith School in Toronto in 1980 and then the Arrowsmith Program to train teachers and to implement this highly effective methodology in schools all over North America. Her work is revealed as one of the first examples of neuroplasticity’s extensive and practical application. The idea that self-improvement can happen in the brain has now caught fire. 
The Woman Who Changed Her Brain powerfully and poignantly illustrates how the lives of children and adults struggling with learning disorders can be dramatically transformed. This remarkable book by a brilliant pathbreaker deepens our understanding of how the brain works and of the brain’s profound impact on how we participate in the world. Our brains shape us, but this book offers clear and hopeful evidence of the corollary: we can shape our brains.
Also, here is an article in The Guardian: How Barbara Arrowsmith-Young rebuilt her own brain
She realised that part of her brain was not functioning properly so she devised a series of cognitive exercises to develop it. The results changed her life – and now she has helped thousands of children with learning disabilities. It's the kind of memory that stays with you. When she was in first grade, Barbara Arrowsmith-Young's Ontario primary school teacher told her mother – in her presence – that she had some kind of "mental block", and would never be able to learn. Now that she has helped more than 4,000 learning-disabled children overcome precisely that kind of diagnosis, of course, she can laugh at it. But she didn't at the time.

Arrowsmith-Young, now 61, talks fluently and passionately and with great erudition. She has a masters degree in school psychology. She has just published a groundbreaking, widely praised and enthralling book called The Woman Who Changed Her Brain. But back at school – indeed, up until she was in her mid-20s – she was desperate. Tormented and often depressed. She didn't know what was wrong. Read full article

No comments:

Post a Comment

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner