I get lost a lot. My sense of direction is so abysmal that I find myself constantly retracing my steps. Previously, this seemed a quirk to me – something I didn’t like about myself but couldn’t help. Then, teacher and author Barbara Arrowsmith-Young blew it all wide open. Could my sense of spatial intelligence be compromised?
In The Woman Who Changed Her Brain, Arrowsmith-Young explains to the reader that she was born with several learning deficiencies, and one, in particular, that is crucial in relating to other humans called “symbolic recognition.” She says she felt like she was in a fog until she was about 25 years old when she discovered the writings of Dr. Alexander Luria (1902-1977) Soviet neuropsychologist.
Barbara discerned that the temporal lobe of her brain was responsible for symbolic recognition and devised a series of exercises. In this case, she used flashcards that would help her tell time, another temporal function she struggled with. She theorized that working indirectly on her own deficiency would “wake up” that part of her brain. And it worked.
Arrowsmith-Young launched her own research into the concept of neuroplasticity, the idea that the brain is fluid and changeable rather than static, and eventually founded the Arrowsmith School in Toronto. Now, her goal is to isolate learning deficiencies in students of all ages, and use the curriculum she designed to improve their functioning. It’s unusual. It’s direct. And it’s changing the lives of students and their families everywhere.
The Woman Who Changed her Brain got my wheels turning. Arrowsmith-Young’s extraordinary dedication to education and heart for students on the spectrum is absolutely moving. She tells her story in the first person, starting with her early struggles to function in an academic setting, and going on to describe interactions with her own students and their incredible results. It is quite absorbing, though at times the reading is a bit dry simply because of the volume of case studies included. I found myself considering it a novella-length advertisement for the Arrowsmith School, and other readers’ comments indicate a similar feeling.
Since the 1950s, educators have told students and their families with learning deficiencies that their differences cannot be helped and need to be worked around. Arrowsmith-Young has pioneered a new path in this realm, and students that were totally isolated before have been offered a chance to join the conversation. Though her program has been criticized by her peers as pseudoscience, she also has fans in the medical community. She was credited in psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Dr. Norman Doidge’s book, The Brain That Changes Itself, with spearheading an “important discovery.”
I have some experience with functional health in general. Experimental treatments and research can make anyone skeptical. But I’ve never quite been able to discount anything that brings hope. Arrowsmith-Young is committed to enriching the lives of a much-misunderstood group of people and is offering hope to students and their families. This writer is cheering her on!