Overcoming Learning Disabilities with Barbara Arrowsmith-Young

The Women Who Changed Her Brain

Barbara Arrowsmith-Young was born with multiple learning disabilities that made school, work and life incredibly challenging. She read and wrote everything backwards, couldn’t grasp the relationship between the little and the big hand on the clock, had trouble processing concepts in language, continually got lost, and was physically uncoordinated. The challenges she faced, and the methods she learned to succeed, are the basis for her best selling book, “The Woman Who Changed Her Brain” and the innovative Arrowsmith Program which originated in Toronto in 1978 and today is implemented in 38 schools in Canada, the U.S. and Australia.

Today Arrowsmith-Young holds both a B.A.Sc. in Child Studies from the University of Guelph, and a Master’s degree in School Psychology from the University of Toronto. She began the initial research on what would later be the Arrowsmith Program when she was a young graduate student in psychology, frustrated with the amount of energy required to work around her disabilities. She came across the work of Russian neuropsychologist Alexander Luria, who studied soldiers who had suffered head wounds.

“Using Luria’s detailed descriptions of the functions of various brain regions, I identified 19 unique learning dysfunctions,” she writes. “And after reading the research of Mark Rosenzweig who demonstrated that stimulation could improve the brains of rats, I theorized that a person could transform weak areas of the brain through repetitive and targeted cognitive exercises. With much reading and an intuitive understanding of the brain’s functioning, I invented a series of cognitive exercises to “fix” my own brain.”

Her findings led her to create brain exercises designed to improve the learning capacity involved in logical reasoning. After experiencing positive results, Arrowsmith-Young dived deeper, and developed more exercises to strengthen specific learning capacities.  This is the ongoing work of Arrowsmith School which currently identifies and strengthens 19 cognitive areas.

“In the past five years, the idea that self-improvement can happen in the brain has caught hold and inspired new hope,” Arrowsmith-Young wrote. “Assessment measures and brain exercises have been developed to identify and then strengthen weak cognitive capacities that underlie specific learning disabilities. From these developments and with my vision for this program to be widely available to all struggling students, the Arrowsmith Program and School was born.”

Arrowsmith-Young is the director of the Arrowsmith School and Arrowsmith Program. She is continually developing programs, with a vision of one day making the Arrowsmith Program available to all students with a learning disability, so that they may know the ease and joy of learning.

For more information about Barbara Arrowsmith-Young, and to purchase her book, visit: www.barbaraarrowsmithyoung.com

The Arrowsmith Program may soon be available for Winnipeg children. To find out more, contact the Learning Disabilities Association of Manitoba.


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