Comments by Students – Secondary / Post Secondary
Poem about Arrowsmith experience- An Inspirational Gift
As I started out at Arrowsmith I had no clue what to expect.
It was nerve wracking just thinking about it, yet exciting.
I came and boy was I ever surprised. I could not believe what I saw right in front of my eyes!
A warm and positive environment was what I saw and this made me feel in awe.
The people there all were so welcoming I could not believe what was happening!
I was in such shock that it was so hard to talk.
But, when I saw the students come into the classroom one by one I knew my journey had just begun.
Happy thoughts started circling my mind and I didn’t feel like I would be left behind.
And once the teachers had gone through the tasks at hand it made me realize that I was in command.
I would no longer suffer, suffer those weaknesses. They would be changed, like the weather.
Then, as the months came I felt his pain, this ache in my brain.
The feeling was emotional and frustrating, but slowly it passed away.
It certainly felt like I was walking on a tight rope, carefully try not to tumble down to the ground.
Although there were days of rage and fear, I had to remind myself I was here for a reason and had to go along just like the seasons.
Everyday I worked so much harder than I had ever done.
It was not fun at first and sometimes I felt like my brain would burst.
But, I just kept telling myself that I have the determination and I must get to my destination.
And so I did knowing I would no longer be that kid with no confidence and confusion.
Arrowsmith has given me a makeover, a shiny new brain to take over.
The tool that will be used efficiently and will push me to strive in school successfully.
I am a bird that can fly and I do not have to sigh.
I can do so many things beyond belief, I feel unstoppable like a marathon runner.
This school is the greatest gift that can change your life forever and make it even better!
I’m finally free. I’m free of everything now. I’m free from all my problems and worries. I’m free from everything now.
There are not enough words to describe how wonderful I feel after a year here at Arrowsmith. I feel like a whole burden was lifted from my shoulders. I don’t feel like I have to hold up the sky by myself anymore. I feel like I have passed it onto another person and that I am free from the burden. I feel like I am an independent person and that I can do things for myself now.
Now I understand what freedom is for me, now I understand that freedom isn’t free time or doing the things you like doing the best. Freedom is doing the hard work and putting in the time and effort into changing your life around, so that you can be independent for yourself, so that you can have free time and do what you like doing the best. That’s what freedom is.
All these years, I’ve always tried for and hoped for my definition of freedom and now when I’m 17, I finally understand what it means to me and for me. It’s like a light bulb has just hit me and I get it. That’s what everything in my life seems like now. I can just understand everything that I come across in life now. It is beyond description about how much that gives me joy and happiness in my life now. All I’ve dreamed of for my whole life is to just be able to understand stuff and comprehend what’s going on. Now, I can do that. I can actually understand.
When I come back to Sydney people will notice a new me, a different me. A completely different person than to the one that everybody use to know me as. They’ll see a different Robert and I am glad and pleased, actually pleased to say that they will.
Over the last 5 months here, I have been working so hard to change my life around and I have in so many ways, it’s indescribable.
I have also noticed so many different changes, bigger and better than the last time I was here, such as researching and doing more stuff for myself and not having to rely on anyone else. Adding up quicker with my maths and counting and also with my commerce. One brilliant example would be when I was reading the Hobbit in bed one night, and being able to understand all the words on the pages without even having to think about the words or what just happened. I was so excited. I told Mum immediately and when I was telling her, tears started to swell up in my eyes because for the first time in my life ever, I could actually understand what I was reading, because even though I’ve read this book 2 times before I couldn’t really understand or comprehend what was going on. I could only get glimpses and bits of the story, but now I can understand my 2nd favorite book. I cannot describe what a feeling that is for me.
I cannot express how happy and proud I am that I can actually start to understand everything going on around me in life. It’s like before the program everything was black and white in my eyes but now when I open up my eyes, I see the world full of colour and they are brilliant colours as well, not dark black and gray but beautiful bright colours. It’s like before everything was ash and now I can see fireworks high in the sky, and I hope that I can bring down those colours of brightness high up in the sky, and bring them down to my level and you know what, they’re coming down every day, closer and closer to my face and once that comet of colours touches the ground, I can’t be stopped from reaching my full potential in life. When I first came here they were still high up in the sky, but now they’re down to about my shoulders. That comet is going to hit and soon, and when it does I can look up to the sky with nothing in it to stop me from doing well in life. I can look up to the sky and close my eyes with a smile and sigh, and the person who is currently holding up the sky, I can help just like wonderful teachers of Arrowsmith have done for me.
I will help anyone I can with my advice, and my physical help and my mental help to anyone who is holding up the sky, to pass it onto the next person and to the next and so on and so forth.
I think it’s fair to say that, I’m now ready for life. I am now free.
This poem is a winner from a city-wide poetry competition, written about how this student was helped by Arrowsmith:
A Hope For A Better Tomorrow
A hope for a better tomorrow is real
Because there is always a chance to heal
Fingers of sadness clenching your heart
The feeling that makes you want to dart
A lump in your throat too big to bear
Makes you wonder if they really care
But even in the darkest night
There’s always someone who shines their light
That person is someone who does care
Who smiles and lifts you from despair
Their hug is like a ray of light
It gives sorrow something to fight
A hope for a better tomorrow is real
Because there are always people who want you to heal
At the age of 34, I began to research treatment options for my non-verbal learning disability and I want to talk about why I began this process as an adult, and what I’ve discovered.
Last October, my new position as a pathology resident was unexpectedly difficult for me. The job required surgical skill, rapid visual perception, and quick judgments. One day, I was determining whether surgeons had completely removed a breast tumor. In order to mark the anatomic orientation of the tumor resection I used different colored inks on the borders of the specimen. This delicate work took great effort and all my concentration because I have never been quick or accurate with my hands, and I frequently become confused when performing a sequence of movements, unless I really take my time.
I was proud of my careful work and I understood that the patient’s life might depend on me doing my job right. When the supervising physician stopped by to check my work, I briefly and accurately summarized the patient’s clinical history. She seemed pleased until she looked at the specimen. “Don’t you see that you’ve mislabeled the anterior margin as superior? The anterior margin is folded over the superior margin!”, she said. Instantly, I saw what she meant. There was a fold of skin as big as a silver dollar hanging over the superior edge of the resection, which seemed to materialize out of nowhere. In half an hour of carefully examining the tissue I had not seen this, yet after it was pointed out I could see it quite clearly. I wondered what was wrong with my vision. After a long diagnostic process, I found that I have had a life long non-verbal learning disability with weakness in visual and auditory perception, eye-hand co-ordination, and processing speed.
But how had this happened? How had I come to be in a position of responsibility where my weakness could have harmed a patient without the fortunate intervention of another doctor? The answer is that when I was growing up, and even throughout my college and medical school education, my parents, and my teachers and professors, did not know how to recognize or help people with my type of non-verbal learning disabilities.
We all have strengths and weaknesses. This is part of being human. People with learning disabilities are unusual in that we have severe, specific, specific weaknesses, while being generally average or above average in other activities. Ever since I was in grade school, I have performed well at most academic tasks. However, as a child, I had unexpected areas of very low function: I could not color in the lines; when I first learned to read, I cried from the effort of tracking a line of text; my handwriting was atrocious; I never learned to write cursive, and my desk and room were a terrible mess.
Despite all this, my parents were told that there was no need for intervention because I was generally doing well and there was little that could be done to help me. The school officials advised my parents that learning disabilities were life-long and unchangeable and that I would be all right because I was intelligent and able to compensate. It was decided that I would have to live with these severe weaknesses and accept them. Nothing could be done. I am here to say, that today we understand that my well-intentioned teachers and parents were wrong. The Arrowsmith program has, I believe, lessened the severe weaknesses that placed a patient’s health in danger.
In these last six months as a student in the Arrowsmith Program, it has helped me to remediate my disabilities. I have noticed more rapid integrations of memory for visual information, better eye-hand coordination, and improved ability to think and communicate quickly through speaking and writing. The benefits of these changes have extended much more broadly than I could possibly have imagined. Let me give a few examples:
My visual perception and memory have improved dramatically. This means, for example, that I can now read maps and understand the relationship of between the map’s representation of space, and the streets and highways I am actually driving on. Previously, maps frustrated me and my wife had to navigate everywhere. I can also make a “mental map” of familiar spaces and remember where things are in the grocery store. Previously, I was completely overwhelmed by tasks like this.
In terms of eye-hand coordination and motor sequencing, tasks that required these abilities used to demand enormous attention, and time. While previously I rarely cooked or washed dishes, I now regularly cook and clean up and these tasks take me approximately V* of the time they used to require.
I have noticed an increased ability to keep up with conversation while noticing people’s facial expression. Previously I could only follow their language. I can also pay attention to my own emotions and thoughts while talking. Prior to this, I would alternate my attention among critical factors: my thoughts and their expression, the other persons words, the other person’s body language and emotion, and my own body language and emotions. I had a very difficult time tracking two or three of these aspects simultaneously. Now I am more comfortable paying attention to facial expression, emotion, and dialogue simultaneously.
In conclusion, I want to say that the cumulative effect of these changes has me feeling like a new person. I am much less anxious, much more social and much happier. The weaknesses which prevented me from being a physician and that I was told would be life long and unchangeable have changed. My 34 years of frustration, confusion, and inexplicable failures were the result of a treatable problem.
I learned of the Arrowsmith Program from Norman Doidge’s book, “The Brain That Changes Itself.” I was immediately intrigued for two reasons. One, I saw a lot of myself in the descriptions of the manifestations of brain area deficits or dysfunctions. Two, I found within that framework, that way of looking at and thinking about the brain, an explanation better than I had ever seen for what made me different.
I went through school in a perpetual state of unhappy boredom. When a child psychologist assessed me in the fifth grade, I was found to be exceptionally intellectually gifted. In high school, things did not get better. I was enroled at an International Baccalaureate school and was still very bored. I didn’t take notes (I couldn’t write fast enough or neat enough) but I didn’t need to. If I listened in class I usually understood without effort.
But I was not doing well. Intellectual giftedness is not always such a happy thing if you’re inside it. From the outside, my academic excellence might seem complete but I was deeply confused and totally unmotivated. I found myself climbing a ladder without knowing where it was leading or if I really wanted to go where it was taking me. After a semester of college in Massachusetts I dropped out and came back home. I wasn’t motivated to be there and I could feel that I wasn’t making the most of it.
I had some ideas about going west and becoming a tree planter, arguably the most physically demanding job in the world. I needed to do something I would find as challenging for me as it could be for anybody else. I wanted to prove to myself that I had work ethic. Fortunately, I found out about Arrowsmith first.
Arrowsmith’s perception of the brain made more sense to me than any of the neuroscience-as-it-relates-to-intelligence literature I had come across. I found myself revisiting the high school years and noting those little troubles which are considered trivial if you have upwards of 90% for an over-all average but do significantly impact one’s subjective experience of education.
I did have difficulties culturally unassociated with being “smart”. I had handwriting that could only be generously described as legible. I couldn’t spell in any langue to save my life. I was bound to a calculator for even the most menial equations and my mental math ability was so inaccurate that I would become visibly agitated if forced to give an answer to a quick calculation in class.
The more I thought about it, the more little things, things I had never considered important or even relevant to my intellectual ability, came up. Part of the joke I had with my teachers was that I would never get 100% on a test, ever. I understood everything, they could see that, but I was a great practitioner of “silly mistakes”: A three morphing into a five as my equations progressed; numbers being transferred improperly so that a 47 would be entered into the formula as a 74. It was an embarrassment to me, then a nuisance and then eventually, I stopped caring. What was the difference between 100% and 95% anyway? Nothing right? Besides I knew my stuff, anybody could see that.
There were other “glitches” in my abilities too. I could read at a frightening speed when I wanted to, but I had stopped reading much anymore. I would lose my place often and my mind would drift so that I would end up re-reading passages without the content sticking. I was terrible at managing character names, I would always be flipping back in fiction works to try and remember who such and such was and who they were related to. Russian translations were a nightmare because of the long and always similar names. Foreign language words and scientific terms I would often have to sound-out to try and remember and even after that, I rarely ever felt confident that I had them right. I was embarrassed to mispronounce terms I had read about and would often keep quiet about things I had learned independently because I was unsure of the pronunciation. Could this all be because of brain area deficits? Were some of my brain areas just so overwhelmingly strong that they were masking problems in others?
After reading ”The Brain That Changes Itself” I read all the further reading suggestions voraciously. I read books and articles published by Luria and Rosenzweig who’s work influenced and inspired Barbara Arrowsmith-Young in her development of the program. But I didn’t want to study this. I wanted to try it. I wanted to experience a more cooperative, more complete brain. I was assessed, enroled and started in September 2010.
It is currently February 2011 at this time of writing. I am very near bouncing off walls for my excitement. I have experienced “changes” as we call them at Arrowsmith, which are to my subjective experience, nothing short of spectacular. I’m not being paid or even encouraged to write this. I don’t want to sound over-enthusiastic or give you the impression that I’m exaggerating. I’ll describe what I felt and what I continue to feel now in as calm and objective a manner as I can.
Before I start, let me say: The exercises are really, really hard. Maybe that’s because I’ve been accidentally spoiled by nature and I’m used to finding things easy. I have taken to calling myself and people like me, cognitive anomalies or cognitive accidents. I didn’t earn the strengths of my brain, and I have no business being proud of what I didn’t work for. I worked for the changes I’m about to describe to you and there’s no hyperbole when I say they took Effort with a capital “E”.
Maybe if you have learning disabilities, which I never before understood with anything like respect and I am now completely in awe of, maybe then you’ll find them “challenging”. I sure wouldn’t have used so kind a term in the beginning. “Really hard” and that’s being nice.
Irritatingly mind bending is more descriptive, because you have to concentrate on undoing all those semi-helpful compensations you’ve been using before. Things like muttering under your breath, counting on your fingers, anything that deviates from complete and total focus on the proper method for doing the task, you must unlearn. You have to forget and abandon what you thought were “personality traits” or “quirks”. If you think about it, “really hard” makes sense. It should be hard: it’s supposed to call up those under-developed brain areas that are not used to a good workout. You feel exhausted at the end of the day in a way totally unlike any kind of tree planting let me tell you.
But the changes do come. Slowly, progressively, it starts to get… not easier but do-able. I won’t describe the actual amelioration I saw in the exercises themselves, but I will describe how they manifest in daily life.
Handwriting was the first thing to change. If you were to ask me what it feels like, I’d say it looks like somebody else is writing at first. I could write neatly if I really focused on it before, that’s normal. After some weeks of working on these exercises every day though, my writing started to get neater and more uniform without my needing to slow down or even pay attention to it. It was better than legible, it was “nice”.
My sister, when she saw it, (after she picked up her chin up off the ground) accused me of “girly writing”. Gentlemen, please hear me, your chicken scratch is neither masculine nor impressive. If you can’t hand in a hand-written essay or write up a memo in a meeting without it looking like hieroglyphics, you have more than a “negligible neatness issue”. I couldn’t before, I sure can now. I’m even relearning cursive, it’s been two months. It looks nicer than it ever did, and it’s faster too. I’ve always liked writing fiction. I would say it’s my favorite hobby. I do it all in longhand now.
It actually comes out better, my immersion in the story is complete, the keyboard and screen used to distract me without my realizing it. It’s been eighteen years my handwriting has been atrocious, in five months it’s gone from hideous to beautiful and always, always legible even when I’m scribbling away like a machine. College note-taking here I come. And strike one for silly mistakes.
Mental math was the second thing to happen to me. I didn’t realize that I never could do mental math until I could do it. Mental math does not involve your stream of consciousness. If you’re saying numbers aloud in your head (as I was) and reciting multiplication mnemonics under your breath (same here), my friend, there’s your problem. There’s a brain area for that. Start using it and you’ll wonder how you ever got along without it. Now hold on, I have not developed a freaky math ability. I’m definitely above average now, but I’m not a savant. I cannot find the square root of 6787 to the second decimal in my head. Synesthesia is not on the menu.
What I can do now is know that 43 x 12 is 516 in a couple seconds. Maybe you can do that already, good for you, brain change isn’t about who’s the best, it’s about ‘your’ best. I’m not trying to be glib either. Everyone, absolutely everyone has brain area strengths and weaknesses and the experience of being able to do something you never could before is pleasurable beyond anyone’s ability to describe. Now, you might say, what’s the point of being able to do basic math in your head if you can just use a calculator? Well, I say to you, what’s the point in being able to run ten miles if you can just take the bus?
Cardiovascular fitness is universally useful. Brain areas come into play everywhere. They are not specific to certain tasks. I can now estimate accurately and comfortably in casual conversation, determine the tip without blinking, figure out how much time I have to get something done at home and tally in the travel time necessary to be somewhere else at a certain time. I can move numbers around in my head now like never before. I can remember numbers now unlike I ever could before. The implications are huge and what’s more, because the ability is open to me, I keep expanding my use of it everyday. I make calculations for fun, just like that, when I’m bored, because it feels good to be able to do something that would once have required closed-eyes, frowns, grunts from losing numbers, under-breath mumblings and a great deal of nervousness. This is just one brain area and it already feels like a whole new brain, I can’t wait for Calculus again. Oh, and silly mistakes strike two.
The last major changes I’ve experienced (so far, remember I still have four months to go) has been in recognizing words and symbols. I first noticed it about three weeks ago. I had gotten back into reading in October, I think it had to do with a reinvigorated ability to focus, which I believe comes with forcing yourself to do really hard mental tasks for hours every day. I had been making up for lost time in my reading and the goal was originally to read 52 pieces of classic literature in a year (by next October).
I say original because I already broke that, exciting, but beside the point. I was reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Silmarillion” in late January when I found that not only was I not confusing characters but I wasn’t even sounding them out. If you haven’t read “The Silmarillion” you should know that all the characters names are in Tolkien’s made up languages. It was a shocking, frabjous epiphany. When I thought of a character, I didn’t think of its name, I SAW its name…in my head.
If you can do this, it might not be a surprise. I however, had my mind fairly blown. For one thing I have very dominant auditory abilities. I can remember whole songs lyrics and tunes from hearing them a couple times but if you ask me what I see when I close my eyes, I would have told you two months ago: The back of my eyelids. Not any more. I had frankly been getting quite fed-up with this exercise. It was, as I have said, really hard and I was fairly convinced that I was doing it wrong because when I closed my eyes and “saw” what I was trying to memorize I really didn’t think I “saw” anything. Now I see.
I’m starting to remember words without sounding them out, and when I do sound them out, I do so much more accurately than before. And as if all this wasn’t exciting enough: I’m actually starting to learn how to spell. None of this setting letters to tunes, which is the only way I learned to spell “because” as a kid, now I close my eyes (or leave them open and just sort of “look” in my head) and I can SEE them. Looking up words in the dictionary has never been more fruitful because I won’t have to look them up again. I don’t hurry through Spell-Check anymore because I’m learning from my mistakes now. I SEE them now. I remember the spellings. I’ve actually had to teach myself to slow down a bit while reading non-fiction so that I can absorb the image of the scientific terms and the like. Above I spelt Synesthesia without spelling it out loud but by closing my eyes and seeing it, you can’t know how outstanding that feels. French and Spanish words have an all-new significance too and there’s no reason to think that won’t be the case for all languages, even those not written in Latin characters. Equations stick visually, I can remember formulae by seeing them instead of “logic-ing them out” like I used to. My whole experience of reading and language is undergoing a massive, unprecedented change with this one new ability, this one new function. Oh, and silly mistakes, strike three, you’re out.
So what does this mean for you? Well, it means you don’t need to have a diagnosed or incapacitating learning disabilities to benefit from this program. And if you do, it means you don’t have to despair… if you’re willing to work really really hard. It means that if you’re top of the class, breezing through school, bored and no one is the least concerned that your brain might benefit from improvement, take a good poke around up there, you might find your deficits lurking where you least expect them. More importantly though, I think it means we have a serious problem in the way we think about intelligence right now.
“Smart” is an utterly useless word and you can’t be proud of something you haven’t earned. In our society, you climb up the ladder of the maths and sciences until it gets too hard and at that moment you’ll hear things like “I guess you’re not a science person” or “Your brain just wasn’t made for math”. No one ever mentions the word “cognition”. Some people have to study their brains out; others don’t know how to study (right here). For some people it “clicks” and for others it doesn’t, we take it for granted that it’s as simple as that. The Arrowsmith Program disagrees in my experience. What you can’t do today you might be doing tomorrow, if you’re willing to work for it. How beneficial would it be for every kid to be doing what comes hardest when they’re young so that come high school, classes are far more equalized and everyone enjoys the experience of a more balanced, more capable brain. How significant would such a paradigm shift be for the experience of education in general.
It’s hard to be arrogant about your intellectual prowess when you understand you’re experiencing a cognitive accident, an anomaly, and there’s stuff that’s really really hard for you to do too. Everybody should have the chance to experience a better brain if they are willing to put in the effort.
I have described to you here three of the greatest changes I have experienced so far. They are not the only ones though, and I’m not done working yet. The Arrowsmith Program presents a whole new way of thinking about, developing and improving the brain. I think it has consequences of a magnitude not yet understood or imagined. I for one am not going to be done telling people about it any time soon.
Where I have seen improvements…
I have seen improvements in Math. I have gone from the girl who would sit in the back of the class and after almost every sentence ask my teacher a question because I couldn’t do the work or understand it. Now I can get an 82 on grade 9 Math. I can now do the work without having the teacher almost glued to the desk helping me.
My writing has really improved. I was looking at my journal entries from just the start of the year and my quality, quantity and neatness have gone through the roof in improvements. I can now do triple what I was able to do.
My reading has also improved. I can now read a five hundred paged book in five hours and actually enjoy it. I hated reading before I came here because it was so hard. But now I can really enjoy reading. I went from below grade level to above grade level in my speed and reading. My punctuation, grammar and spelling has really improved. It is easier for me to let out my thoughts when I am writing.
Phrases have really helped me. Now in Math and English I don’t have to write down everything the teacher says. I can remember it! It has also helped me when my friends tell me to meet them somewhere, give me their address or phone number. I can also remember instructions from my parents like clean your room (but I pretend I forgot that!), get your lunch, feed the cats.
I know that Clocks and R-Think have really helped me socially. I would sometimes say the wrong thing because I couldn’t tell what would happen if I did and I couldn’t see how the person would react because I couldn’t read their emotions probably. It has also helped me know how to react to certain situations.
Brocas has really helped me not emphasize the last syllabel of the last word of a sentence. Every time I did that my parents would ask me “is that a question”? I would get so frustrated! And it has helped me say words in the way they should be said. I couldn’t always pull words together so I would seem like I was saying two words. I would say always – all ways, and magazine – maga zine. I would get so frustrated with myself.
L-Think really helped me understand the main thing that people were trying to say or once I finished a book I would understand the main point or importance of it. My spelling has improved too. I was never the best speller but now I am a decent speller! I am not like my little brother who is like a dictionary. I am like a normal person and can spell extremely well compared to what I used to be able to do.
Clocks has really helped me realize if I do…..then what will be the result. I would never be able to do that before. Now I can really to get what will happen I have noticed that it has helped my social life a lot. I am extremely proud of all of the progress I have made and I know that I can still do more in the limited time I have.
Where I have Seen Improvements
I’ve seen a lot of improvements while I’m in Arrowsmith. Some of the improvements that I’ve noticed are that I’m understanding more. When I watch a TV show I ask more questions and I’m understanding the story better. I’m also understanding why things happen in TV shows. I’m also asking about some things that are going on the news. I’m also noticing that I predict things and I’m right. I’ve also noticed that I’m better at adding and subtracting numbers. I don’t have to count one number at a time. I can skip count better. I also don’t have to use my fingers to count. Another thing I’m noticing is that I’m talking more. Before I came to Arrowsmith I was really quiet around my friends and family. Now that I’ve been in Arrowsmith I’m talking a lot more. When I talk to my mom or dad I can explain things better. I use to give up on the things I say now I can explain better. Another thing I’ve noticed is that I can tell time better. When I was in grade 9 I couldn’t tell time on a regular clock. Now I can. After the first day of Arrowsmith I could tell time. I’ve also noticed I can write longer and I have more to say. Another improvement that I’ve noticed is when I’m on the phone I talk more. I can tell jokes and they actually make sense. I’m also thinking things through before I do stuff. When something bad is going to happen I can think about the whole picture. I’m also noticing that I’m not as shy as I used to be. Another improvement I’ve noticed is that I can remember things better. I can also remember more things.
Changes that I’ve noticed:
I’ve noticed a few changes since the start of the year. One of the nicest changes was that when my sister was home over the holidays we hardly fought at all. Usually when she comes home there is an adjusting period in which we fight a lot. This time that didn’t really happen. I think it’s probably because I’m more verbal now and better able to tell her when I don’t like something that she is doing, and so the situation never escalates. Also, I think I’m probably better able to know when she is annoyed with me because I’m better able to read her facial expressions.
Another change that I’ve noticed that I’m starting to recognize similarities in appearance between numbers of my family. For example, I noticed that my sister has the same nose as my dad, and I have the same nose as my mom.
Also, when I went to visit my high school just before the winter holidays, every person I talked to commented on how happy I looked. While I went to school there I was always very stressed because I was having a very hard time keeping up with all the work. Now I’m doing very well in school, and I still have time to have some fun.
Changes I’ve noticed: I’ve seen a whole lot of changes from school, but by far, the biggest change I think I’ve noticed is something most people take for granted: confidence. A person’s confidence can raise them up, or carry them down to the depths of despair, if they have hardly any. Today, for instance, after many months and I’m pretty sure of this, or if I’m not, it sure has seemed like a long many months – I mastered sup motor 2B1.
Let me tell you, my hands were shaking, I felt faint, clammy, and like I was going to throw up. Not a very pretty picture, I’m sure but it’s the truth. I nearly cried, I was so please with myself. Ms. P said she knew that I would master when on the 1st set, I got 90%, but, you know how it is: sometimes you just have to go through the experience to work through it, and discover the very (pleasant!) results! So, confidence in myself is something that I’ve truly gained, and I think, it’s one of the most important things I could garner for myself, and now that I have some more, and develop in myself further. I can’t wait!!
Besides for confidence, I’ve gained friends, better handwriting, I mean look at it! It’s legible, or at least more so than it was, more uniform, neater, smaller! And, the ability to reason better, think things through, get places, being able to concentrate, to multi-task, the list goes on and on forever. I feel like I’ve gained a new life, a new me! (See my poem on Arrowsmith, LOL!)
When somebody saves and changes your life, when you have new hope, then you’ve truly gained. As wonderfully glad as I am for the skills I’ve gained (and earned, with hard work, mind you but, oh, the sweet wonderful results!), I am equally or even more glad that I now have confidence.
When someone brings you back from the precipice of despair and despair, you also have to take a step back and think what to do, what you’re truly grateful for. And I have. I can’t ever thank Arrowsmith for saving my life. To save a life is to save a whole world.
And I, who couldn’t be happier, or more grateful or thankful, can only quietly say my “thank-you’s”, and move on to more bigger and better things, such as masteries, lots and lots more of them.
I KNOW I CAN!! I AM OKAY, NORMAL, AND I CAN SUCCEED. No longer always feeling like a failure…feels…good…!! And I’m GLAD.
2 Years after Arrowsmith School…
I am naturally inquisitive and have always been intrigued by the learning process and the pursuit of knowledge. As a student I loved to learn and yet I found aspects of my schooling very challenging. In the later part of my high school career I was diagnosed as being both Learning Disabled and having Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
One of the learning disabilities that was diagnosed was one which affects the expression of thought through speech, and more significantly in my case, in writing. At that time I felt frustrated because I knew that I understood the material, but because I had difficulty expressing my thoughts on paper I was unable to keep up with the required written assignments. I also had great difficulty completing tests and exams in the allotted time. The few accommodations made by the school and the suggestion of doing remedial work did not feel encouraging. I struggled, but managed to complete high school.
When I thought about what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, I was confronted with the importance of a university or college education. The thought of trying to get a university education was overwhelming.
My love of knowledge led me to Arrowsmith School, where I was a student for a year in 1996 to 1997 in anticipation of pursuing a university education.
One of the primary reasons for my decision to attend Arrowsmith was the knowledge that the work done there on remedying learning disabilities would enable me to get the most out of the university experience, and assist me in reaching my full potential. I have been pleased that not only do I notice improvements and a greater ease in performing tasks that had previously been challenging, but also these improvements can be felt and seen in day to day activities. The test results were dramatically different from September to the re-testing in June.
I find that I now am able to write in a more concise manner, and am able to write much more quickly than in the past. My reasoning skills have also benefited and are a strength. I am more comfortable with and better skilled at performing mathematical problems mentally.
After finishing at Arrowsmith School and beginning my first year at York, I had some experiences which confirmed the benefits that I felt I had received from the program. My most exciting result from my first year was the midterm for the Introduction to Psychology course. In a class of 112 students my grade placed me within the top 10 students in the class. This year I passed Statistics on my first try, which amazed me because previously I always had to repeat math classes, even in grade nine.
The benefits that I feel that I have received because of Barbara Young’s research and my own hard work are almost too numerous to mention. A few major areas that have been improved include writing, reading, mathematics, reasoning, and auditory memory. Before the program I was a very slow writer, and now I am able to take down notes during a lecture. I am able to retain the auditory information long enough to get it down on paper. When I am writing essays, I am able to remember what I want to say long enough that I am able to write it down. I am also able to complete tests and assignments within the allotted period of time. While at Arrowsmith I worked on exercises which improved my reasoning skills, helping me to better understand the main point when reading. My problem solving skills have improved and I find that I am often able to find solutions more quickly than others are in my work place. My confidence in my academic abilities has grown.
I learned a lot about myself, while at Arrowsmith and had some wonderful experiences with my fellow students who ranged in age and had varying levels of ability. It is an experience that I will always remember as having the greatest impact on me both educationally and socially. That experience also made me want to learn more about the functions of the brain and how we learn.
I am currently working on a Specialized Honours Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology at York University. I have applied to the York Concurrent Teacher Education Program with the hopes of completing my degree and Teacher’s Certificate. I feel that these are realistic goals because of the work done in the Arrowsmith Program. Barbara Young’s research and the work done at Arrowsmith School provides hope for students and adults with learning dysfunctions.
1998/1999 Arrowsmith Students Attending St. Patrick Catholic Secondary School
I have improved in my listening skills and my hearing what everyone has to say. This program should have a permanent place in the school system because it helps many students with their disabilities.
I feel that I am progressing in speech, vocabulary, mental focus and pretty much better changes in most aspects. I do think this program should have a permanent place in my school because it’ll help other students significantly as I noticed in me, i.e., my concentration span improved along with my interaction with siblings, teachers and I am able to focus on the task at hand a lot more than being without the Arrowsmith Program.
This program has bettered me.
The biggest improvement that I have seen has been in math. I went from getting 70’s in Basic math to 90’s in General math. I hope to move to Advanced math.
In math class, I can copy the board writing on my paper without looking at the paper.
I have made lots of progress. In science I am finishing all my work in that class.
I understand math more.
The Arrowsmith Program has helped me in subjects like math, spelling and even memorizing.
I have done better in math and spelling.
Your program is successful and has helped my attention and handwriting.
It was in my 18th year that things began to change for me. Looking back, I can only describe my life to that date as existence, struggling along trying to survive in what was for me a continuously confusing world.
With graduation from high school looming up before me, I spent a great deal of energy trying not to think about the future, because I really hadn’t a clue what I wanted to do with the next 60 or 70 years of my life.
My father wisely suggested I receive some career counselling. That was a most fortunate stroke of good luck. The counselor identified a learning disability and recommended the Arrowsmith Program.
This, after thirteen years of schooling, where I was subjected to numerous tests, all of which gauged my intelligence, but never provided a reason for my problems. I had grown up with the syndrome I call the “can do better kid.” This child is always told she is not functioning at the level she should, and she can do better.
It makes me very angry in retrospect, because of the damage it inflicted on my personality. I was not responsible for poor marks in mathematics and history, or for poor penmanship. But, because I was accepted as overall quite bright, I was labeled as lazy because all my test scores were not at the top of the class.
I turned this inward, until I really did believe I was slacking off. But I kept searching for another answer, because others’ opinions of me did not match what I really felt about myself – that I was trying as hard as I could. I needed to resolve this inner conflict between what I believed and what others told me about myself. Deep down I hoped there was another answer, if I could only find it.
So, at the tender age of six, I stood outside the room where hearing tests were being conducted, and prayed fervently that they would find a problem. I remember this clearly, as well as my disappointment when they said I was just fine. And at the age of 15, I was the one to insist on getting tested for glasses, because I had detected a slight change in my vision. Perhaps, I thought, this would explain that “can do better” label I had suffered with all my life. But, although I was fitted for glasses, they did nothing to improve my problem.
It was in grade 10 that I started having serious schooling problems, and almost dropped out. I remember my disappointment with the whole thing, even though I was enroled in a special arts program. Nothing measured up to what I hoped it would be, and I just couldn’t understand why. I was at times bored, at times frustrated with simple things, and I was always socially isolated.
Social problems are an integral part of learning dysfunctions. My difficulty with symbolic reasoning, which is the prime factor in understanding mathematics or history, made it impossible for me to understand the many nuances in social discourse.
I had few friends, because I was afraid of people. I didn’t understand them. The process by which an individual runs together events in history, and finds a pattern in them, is the same process by which that person puts together information learned in a social setting and sums up her companions.
Without that tool, it is impossible to know at any point what other people are up to. It is also impossible to understand when others are teasing, or, similarly, when they mean to do you harm. It is like having all the pieces of the puzzle available, but not ever knowing how they fit together.
And it is easier to be alone, than to risk being laughed at. My social behavior was also inappropriate; all the jokes came out wrong, and my comments were made unwisely and at the wrong time.
For all that a child, or adult for that matter, has a heart of gold, no-one can see it through all this kind of social awkwardness.
I remember the day I cracked my first joke – and it came out right! My family is very witty, but jokes never happened easily for me. I had them straight in my head, but they came out wrong. They only started being funny after months of work at Arrowsmith.
It was a combination of motor and symbolic reasoning dysfunctions that prevented me from being funny. Those two disabilities interfere with the mechanism that transfers information from the brain out through the mouth, or through the hand in writing and in being able to grasp meaning.
My poor penmanship was an indication of the one problem. Not interacting well in a social setting was an indication of the other problem, and had far more serious consequence.
The day the vocational counsellor said “I think there might be a learning problem, here” was the day my life began to change. That sounds rather dramatic, but words cannot express how much my work at the Arrowsmith school changed my life.
I can show you, though. One walk through the school, and you will see children working harder than young people should. There is a surprising focus to their efforts, for all that the exercises seem not to make much sense. They don’t seem related to the problem, either.
So why would a child work that hard? In my case, it was because I knew this was my last chance to improve what had until then been a pretty unhappy life.
I did not blindly believe what Barbara said could be done to help. I did not blindly accept that this work could turn my life around. I was too suspicious of the world at that point to be so naive.
And yet I worked at that place, harder than I have ever done in my life, or probably ever will. I applied a discipline to myself that I never thought I was capable of.
It was because at the very first, someone was talking my language. No one in my entire existence up to that point had so clearly identified what I was struggling with. I was asked questions like: “do you have trouble telling the time?” Or: “is it hard for you to follow events in history? They were questions that seemed innocent enough, but they pointed to a very troubled mind.
After all, how many 18-year-olds do you know who have had to conceal the fact they cannot easily tell the time? For me, if asked, I would go through a routine of looking hard at my watch, figuring out where the hands were, then computing what they meant. Most people can glance at their timepiece and instantly know the hour. I can, NOW, but I could not then.
Again, because of my high intelligence, it took very little time for me to do these fast computations – so the problem went unnoticed. Except by Arrowsmith. I remember a great feeling of relief after my first conversation with Barbara. Although my years of cover-ups had been exposed, at least someone understood – FINALLY – what was wrong.
She was also very supportive. Daily she deals with the various emotional problems that arise from learning dysfunctions. I have watched children coping with frustration, using every form of subterfuge possible to avoid facing their problems, deliberately distracting one another, or dealing with a profound depression as a result of their struggles.
I was a classic depressive, after so many years trying to understand a world that constantly eluded my comprehension. Somewhere down the line I had given up trying. My self-image was also very poor. I was not unique. So, day by day, the Arrowsmith staff would deal with the problems that would arise, as well as motivating children who had learned to fail.
Once the students had seen the results of their labors, however, motivation was no longer greatly needed. For me, this came about three months after starting the program.
One day, I became aware that everything looked different. It is hard to describe, but it seemed like my perception of the world had become sharper. Shapes, textures and colors were clearer and had a luster to them I had not noticed before. I remember literally walking down a street staring at everything, feeling a wonder I thought I had lost, and full to bursting with a joy that is indescribable.
My days after that were precious; as jokes came faster, learning became easier and my world opened up, life finally looked as if it might be worth living after all.
Of course, personality problems do not disappear, and there are things I still am working on now, ten years after the year I spent at Arrowsmith. But now I have the facility to work on them, because I understand what is wrong.
For years after my time at the school I would recall something that one of a succession of counsellors had said to me while growing up. It would be an obvious thing. But I would recall it, and say to myself “of course – so that’s what they meant!” It was the difference between hearing what was said and really comprehending the information, in all its nuances and complexities. After that year, I had the facility to apply ideas to my life, and solve problems – really solve them, where before they merely bewildered me.
That is the greatest of the many tools given to me – by myself – through my work at the school. Arrowsmith provided the materials and the methodology; gradually, bit by bit, I cleared out the cobwebs in my underused brain and exercised it until it was functioning at normal capacity – and in some instances, above average.
But the most important thing is, I now have an effective ability to learn. I have lost my teenage years – they can never be recalled, and I needed to relearn many things that were never absorbed over the years. This included the nuances of social interaction and discourse as well as book learning.
But I now have the capacity to learn – efficiently, completely, and discriminatingly, choosing those ideas that are important to me, and discarding useless information. I have the capacity to choose, to set my own standards, and to have confidence in myself, that what I absorb is reliable and will not disappear into a mist somehow.
My brain is sharper than it has ever been, my jokes are average – but funny – and my special gifts are no longer weighted down by deficiencies in other areas.
Always good at writing, I have chosen journalism as my life’s profession. But my days have changed more than I can ever describe, in the way I approach and understand things.
I now have some close and lifelong friendships, whereas before I had none; I have been involved in several positive romantic relationships, where before I never knew whether a man was on the level or not; and I now have a satisfying career, which I chose because I can now sum up my assets and decide which ones I wish to highlight. In other words, I have control – over my life, over what is done to me, and over where I will be in the future. Many people take this as a given in their lives; I never had that pleasure. Until Arrowsmith.
Life for me now is filled with the usual ups and down, pleasures and disappointments. It is a very ordinary life that, ten years ago, was extraordinary in its misery and confusion.
I know this all sounds rather unreal; but then the problem I was coping with, although shared by many people in this society, is one that creates a feeling of unreality. My story sounds dramatic, but is not exaggerated; it is hard to convey just how important to my future the experience at Arrowsmith was.
All I can say is, I am not sure I would still be functioning today, if I had not received that help ten years ago. I’m sure at some point I would have given up. It is a triumph hard won, through lots of effort and the courage to believe in myself.
I like today, and I like myself. I owe my life, and my future to Barbara Arrowsmith-Young and myself.