Barbara Arrowsmith-Young, Canadian author of bestseller The Woman Who Changed Her Brain, had a miserable childhood.
Born with severe learning difficulties, she read and wrote everything backwards, and was uncoordinated. But Barbara was also possessed with a remarkable memory and had other capabilities.
In her 20s, she was a post-graduate student, grappling to cope with her studies because due to her disabilities, so much was still not making sense. Then a fellow student suggested she read an obscure book by a Russian academic. It changed her life.
Barbara learned how to build herself a better brain, realizing she could devise mental exercises targeting her weak areas and help “fix” her own brain. The exercises worked.
Barbara now has two schools in Canada implementing her methods. She’s currently in Australia, where students here will soon benefit from her techniques. She chats to The Starfish:
Did you expect your book, The Woman Who Changed Her Brain, to do so well?
I’d hoped it would. I wasn’t sure.
Who should read it? Parents with children with learning difficulties?
Everyone really. We all have a brain! This magnificent organ we’re carrying around in our head, impacting our perceptions on how we view ourselves, the world, and our place in the world. Obviously the book brings hope to people struggling with learning problems. But everyone can come away with more insight and understanding. And we can all improve our brain in some way.
Who now practises your methods?
I have two schools in Toronto. My methods are now being used about 35 schools in North America. And they’re about to be implemented in a course run by the Catholic Education office in North Sydney, for a group of twenty 13 to 15-year-old students, struggling academically. (The students have conditions such as dyslexia, and writing, motor skills, language and other communication difficulties.) It’s very exciting.
What do you do that other schools don’t?
Traditionally special education is compensatory. In other words if you can’t write, you get given voice-recognition software. But I use techniques in which you stimulate the weak area and enhance or improve its function. We do an assessment of students, using teachers trained in that assessment, looking at 19 different cognitive functions. Students then each work on their own unique, tailor-made programme based on their cognitive profile.
If you hadn’t undergone your own terrible problems as a young woman, you’d never have devised these techniques would you?
No. I think I wouldn’t even be here. I was going through a very dark period of despair. With my learning difficulties, I’d realized I wasn’t going to be able to complete my masters degree. Even though I was working 20 hours a day. I could see no future. I was going to my professors saying “I’m in trouble, I’m struggling.” But they couldn’t understand how someone who had some ability could also be struggling. Thankfully I confided in a fellow student who knew about this book, by Aleksandr Luria (a Russian neuropsychologist who studied traumatic brain injury and brain damage.)
I guess you don’t have to be a teenager with learning difficulties to benefit from your techniques?
No, we can all improve our brain! My first target is school age children as this will turn their lives around. Juvenile offenders can also benefit from my programmes, and so can older people.
Barbara Arrowsmith-Young, who has been touring Australia delivering sell-out lectures, will be in Perth on November 22 for two lectures: at 11am at Edith Cowan University and at 7pm at UWA’s Social Sciences Lecture Theatre. For details go to arrowsmithschool.org