A burning desire to overcome learning problems mixed with a conviction that you could shape your brain, lead Barbara Arrowsmith-Young to design exercises to help her heal herself. Great discoveries are always fascinating to read about and you can learn about ways to get new ideas. But great discoveries are rarely made by a person with the medical condition. Barbara is Arrowsmith-Young is one of these remarkable exceptions.
“Slow and stubborn” were words that were used to describe Barbara Arrowsmith-Young when she was a child. Norman Doidge describes her brain as asymmetric with brilliant auditory and visual memory and severe learning disabilities. Today, someone like Barbara would be described as a child with multiple learning disabilities. Throughout her childhood, Barbara struggled with reading, writing, and the analogue clock. A part of her brain was not working properly and all languages was like a foreign language. She had to find the translator herself and luckily, she had an excellent memory. Her memory skills combined with a fighting spirit lead her to invent cognitive exercises to shape her brain. She designed drills that targeted her learning problems. Today many of her ideas are used in schools all over North America. In 1980, she founded Arrowsmith School in Toronto.
Inspired by research about the brain, Barbara Arrowsmith-Young began as a young graduate student the journey to show that you are not your brain; rather you can shape your brain. The book The Woman Who Changed Her Brain interweaves her personal tale with her work to help children and adults with learning disabilities.
Barbara Arrowsmith-Young’s ideas were a practical application of what we now call neuroplasticity. Today, many of her ideas have been demonstrated by neuroscience. Our brain is not fixed and wired rather it has a lifelong ability to reorganise neural pathways. New experiences mean that the brain is constantly changing with learning. Our brain is plastic and different types of plasticity dominate during certain periods of our life.