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THE WOMAN WHO CHANGED HER BRAIN by Barbara Arrowsmith-Young


Stories of Transformation from the Frontier of Brain Science

by Barbara Arrowsmith-Young

Pub Date: May 1st, 2012
ISBN: 978-1-4516-0793-2
Publisher: Free Press

A pioneer in the treatment of learning disabilities describes how she diagnosed her own mental disability and created unique exercises to retrain her brain.

Arrowsmith-Young’s goal is to train educators—her method is now taught at more than 30 schools in the United States and Canada—and create tailor-made cognitive exercises for students at her Toronto school. The author chronicles how she overcame her inability to conceptualize causality despite having excellent audio and visual memory. She could “make no sense of the relationship between the big and little hands of an analogue clock.” Even simple arithmetic was beyond her capability, and her reading comprehension was poor. She had difficulty following conversations, catching only fragments at a time and then replaying them in her head later. By dint of her “singular work ethic and gritty determination to succeed,” she stumbled through school by relying on her phenomenal memory to compensate for her disabilities. While studying child behavior in graduate school in the late 1970s, Arrowsmith-Young discovered a book by Soviet neuropsychologist Aleksandr Luria, in which the author described his work with brain-injured World War II veterans. She was amazed to find that many of their symptoms paralleled her own, and she also learned about rats whose brains showed physical change as a result of being placed in stimulating environments. Consequently, the author devised a series of increasingly complex exercises, drilling herself with flash cards showing the hands of a clock in different positions. Her success in increasing her mental function laid the basis for her teaching method, which challenges students to directly address their handicaps. Arrowsmith-Young provides helpful anecdotes that indicate impressive improvements achieved by her students by following the mental exercises that she has developed.

An inspiring, instructive life story.