Neuroplasticity: Fixing My Brain – for Children with Learning Disabilities

Barbara Arrowsmith, author of the book “The Woman Who Changed Her Brain: How I Left My Learning Disability Behind and Other Stories of Cognitive Transformation“, came onto the radar when I read about her her and her program in the book “The Brain That Changes Itself” by Norman Doidge. Although the Arrowsmith program is primarily for children with learning disabilities, I was still intrigued about the significance of her work – that we can change the way our brains operate through neuroplasticity.

 

Fixing My Brain

Fixing My Brain is a documentary created in 2008 featuring Barbara Arrowsmith and her remarkable program for learning disabled children.

In her youth, Barbara Arrowsmith struggled with a severe learning dysfunction—until she designed a self-improvement regimen aimed at strengthening areas of her brain. This film profiles Arrowsmith, takes viewers inside the school she founded, and follows the progress of four cognitively challenged students enrolled there. Psychology and special education experts articulate diverging opinions of Arrowsmith’s methods—including enthusiasm from Dr. Norman Doidge of Columbia University and skepticism from Dr. Linda Siegel of the University of British Columbia. Displaying a wide range of attitudes among students and parents, the film culminates in a graduation ceremony—and measurable cognitive improvements.

The entire documentary can be viewed for free on Films on Demand:

Fixing My Brain: Neuroplasticity and the Arrowsmith Program

Documentary Summary

It is 52 minutes long but if you don’t have the time, these are the essential take home points:

4 boys with learning disabilities who take the Arrowsmith program for a year

  • Raymond has completed Grade 9 but his Math and Reading are at Grade 3
  • Matthew has completed Grade 8 but his handwriting is illegible and his comprehension is at Grade 7
  • Jordan has completed Grade 12 but his comprehension and reading speed are at Grade 8
  • Alfred has completed Grade 11 but his comprehension is at Grade 6 and he has poor problem solving ability

The boys have low reading and math abilities, illegible handwriting, low reading speed and comprehension, and poor problem solving ability.

The Arrowsmith program uses 19 different brain exercises to train 19 different cognitive areas of the brain following the premise that the brain is like a muscle that gets stronger with exercise; it runs for 3 years and costs $20000 a year.

Some of the activities that boys practice involve reading several-handed clocks and tracing symbols with an eye-patch over the right eye.

Critics are skeptical because there is no scientific evidence to prove the success of the Arrowsmith program at the time of the documentary (research provided have not been peer-reviewed).

After 8 months, all 4 boys have demonstrated improvements

  • Matthew’s reading speed has increased from Grade 7 to Grade 9. Comprehension has improved from Grade 7 to Grade 8.
  • Raymond’s math has improved from Grade 2 to Grade 4. His reading speed has improved from Grade 3 to Grade 5. On top of that, his confidence has soared.
  • Alfred’s comprehension has increased from Grade 6 to Grade 11. His word recognition has increased from Grade 7 to Grade 10.
  • Jordan’s reading speed has improved from Grade 8 to Grade 10. His comprehension has improved from Grade 8 to Grade 11. His handwriting has also improved immensely.

Probably the most significant part is that the boys, who thought they had no future because of their learning disabilities, now look forward to achieving more with their lives.

Critics are questioning whether the positive results are due to the Arrowsmith program or whether it is in part because of the high teacher to student ratios, extra attention, and because the tasks the students perform have helped them develop their concentration.

There is mention of research with brain scans at the end of the documentary but I could not find any references. All I have been able to find are more articles reporting the positive results from other students:

Barbara Arrowsmith has also presented her work at a Research Conference on “How the Brain Learns” in August 2013:

Brain Training Programs for Children with Learning Disabilities

Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of Figur8.net (a website on parenting, education, child development) and RightBrainChild.com (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

2 thoughts on “Neuroplasticity: Fixing My Brain – for Children with Learning Disabilities

  1. Good Morning,
    Im Dr Sonia working as GP in UAE. My daughter is 6 years old and she is having learning disability. Can u help me out please. What type of exercises should i use to increase the neuroplasticity? Do you have any center here in uae?

    Thanks n regards

    Like

    1. Hi Dr Sonia,

      This post was for information purposes only. The program mentioned here is from the Arrowsmith school. You could ask them to see if they offer anything in your country. Alternatively, you could look for other programs but you would have to find out which one will be appropriate to your child’s learning disability. While you explore the options, I would highly recommend implementing some sort of physical activity program – cardiovascular training and activities with complex movements. Martial arts, yoga, and dance is good. This is a good place to start. I know it’s not a solution to your question, but I hope that helps a little.

      Like

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