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I’m always looking for new therapies, ideas, technologies, etc., to help improve the functions of my kids’ brains. So when I stumbled on “The Woman Who Changed Her Brain: And Other Inspiring Stories of Pioneering Brain Transformation,” I was excited. Barbara Arrowsmith Young is a woman who suffered from learning disabilities all her young life, somehow making it through high school and college, and even more advanced education, but with a great deal of struggle and pain. Along the way, she came across the writings of Aleksandr Romanovich Luria, a psychologist who wrote a number of books after researching how to help brain-damaged Russian soldiers (post-WWII) with their dysfunction. His writings inspired her to find solutions for Young’s own neurological problems, and her success was so great, that she began to work with other people to help them.
This all works because of a concept called “neuroplasticity.” Once upon a time, it was thought that once brain cells were dead, that was that. What actually happens is that neurons that don’t work well in an area (that is, a learning disability), are weakened and atrophy. The brain works like a vinyl record player – the grooves get deeper every time you play a musical record, enriching the song. Neurons, too, get stronger when used over and over (and this may be the basis of strengths-based education). The trick, Young discovered, is to create exercises at exactly the right level – neither too hard nor too easy – that work these underused areas. Over time, these exercises need to be increased in difficulty as each in turn are mastered.
Young discovered that these exercises not only worked on others, but that the abilities discovered and retained lasted a life time. That is, people with learning disabilities permanently erased them! That was true even when older adults entered her programs. This really excited me.
The problem is, the rest of the book is the story of people overcoming all kinds of disabilities with little to no details on how or what exactly was done to help them. I saw struggles not only that my children deal with, but issues I have as well.
I wasn’t surprised that the book was a kind of pitch for the school she developed and its curriculum. There are some problems, though. First of all, there aren’t that many Arrowsmith Schools in North America to begin with. Secondly, there is no alternate program to employ this on your own after school or in a home school. You literally need to have your school converted into an Arrowsmith school, complete with teacher training and buying their curriculum, and so forth. Not only that, but in the book, a number of adults are trained – yet I don’t see any mention at all of adult training. I can understand the careful approach Young is taking, but this is impractical – not only for those of us with kids with these disabilities, but for Arrowsmith as a whole. I’m not exactly sure how she expects the school to flourish after she’s gone if its methods are not made more available.
It’s possible that they are developing curriculum or exercises, but for me, this is just another disappointment of a technique that sounds wonderful, but the powers that be make it too difficult to apply. That said, I learned a lot about neuroplasticity and think it can be useful for anyone. I’m going to endeavor to find more research and exercises to help my family.
Neuron image courtesy of rajcreationzs / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
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