My friend Claire lent me The Woman Who Changed Her Brain, by Barbara Arrowsmith-Young. She was born with several severe specific learning disabilities, and later in life, as new research began to emerge on the concept of brain plasticity, she managed to develop her own exercises to address those weaknesses. She did this at the level of the difficulty by repeatedly doing exercises that used the weak areas of her brain (and increased the difficulty as she mastered each level), in order to strengthen them, rather than strengthening the strong areas so as to compensate and work around the weaknesses. It’s working on the cause rather than the symptoms.
It’s so fascinating to read about. She shares her own personal struggles and insecurities of growing up with learning difficulties and not knowing what was wrong, and the excitement she felt as she discovered that she could actually change her brain. As she saw her difficulties reduce and other skills develop as well, she began to teach others. She started a school and developed a whole program (called the Arrowsmith Program, using her middle name, which was her grandmother’s maiden name). There is some controversy around this program, though (see this article in The Age) because of the lack of external control studies, but reading about all the people who have benefited from it, and the length of time that the changes hold, I find it difficult to deny that it works. I even started looking into training in the program (at the moment, training happens in Canada).
As she takes you through different specific learning difficulties chapter by chapter, it’s pretty easy to self-diagnose. I really want to do the program to strengthen my own brain – apparently you can actually fix clumsiness, forgetfulness, and so many other things that we find frustrating day to day. I did a bit of reading online, as well, and unfortunately it’s quite expensive to do the program. Some schools in Australia are starting to introduce it. It will be so exciting to see kids (and adults – the cases she describes in her books are from all ages, 3-90ish) grow more confident in their own abilities.
As I was reading, I was also thinking of my clients. I’m not sure that it would work for them; many of the people I work with have global delay with severe to profound intellectual disabilities. The program seems to require quite a lot of work and perseverance; parents comment that it’s “short term pain for long term gain”. I would love to look into this more (again making me think of doing psychology) to work out how these principles would work with people who don’t really even understand their own disabilities. Hopefully the science behind it will keep gaining credibility. It’s just so exciting!