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Stories

1970s

Johanna's Story
Several months into the program, Johanna started to notice improvement. At first, she wasn’t enamored of the change. I would later see this same phenomenon in other students. Flawed though Johanna’s thinking process was (indeed, there was little process at all), that approach had come to be tied up with her identity and self-image, and now both were undergoing a transformation.

She came in one day looking perplexed and asked to speak with me. Johanna had observed that she was becoming more objective about situations and no longer reacted impulsively. Now she would step back and analyze a circumstance to figure out the appropriate response. Johanna felt as if an internal stop sign had been installed and was preventing her from acting without thinking first. Johanna was not sure she liked this new sense of responsibility and feared she was losing her spontaneity.

Several months later, though, when a serious family crisis occurred, she responded in a more considered manner than any of her relatives, and for the first time, they came to her for advice and support. As Johanna improved over the next year and a half, her employer started to notice. She was sent to take courses and promoted to a supervisory position.

Two years later she wrote to me: “I always wanted to learn everything and get ahead, but I couldn’t before. I have now completed courses on my own at the University of Toronto. I took a course in effective persuasion at Ryerson and received a B. I then took marketing, in which I got an A. In the latter course, I had to do case studies on how to build a company. I had to think these through—and guess what? I did, and got As and Bs.”

I spoke to Johanna in September 2010, thirty-two years after we first met. She’s married and has a family and a flourishing business. Johanna’s ability to think strategically allowed her to develop contacts and networks to get work in her field, advance her career, and start her own business. That feat would have been impossible, she says, without the cognitive work that brought the wall tumbling down, to her immense relief.

Source: ‘The Woman Who Changed Her Brain’ By Barbara Arrowsmith-Young, 3rd Edition, 2019, p. 67

Devorah's Story
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 grade 13 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.  I checked the prices at a couple of agencies, and settled on one I knew: the YMCA.  Their course seemed to be thorough, but there was one attractive aspect about the place:  a family friend worked there, and I had been involved in some intermittent counselling with Reg Bundy, a counsellor who was available to supervise my career assessment.   

That was the most fortunate stroke of good luck I have ever had in my life, or will ever have again.  Reg was one of only a few people in Toronto who knew what Arrowsmith was all about.  He also had the training, through association with the Barbara Arrowsmith-Young, that allowed him to recognize learning disabilities as they showed up in test scores. 

This, after thirteen years of schooling, where I was subjected to numerous tests, all of which gauged – inaccurately – my intelligence, but not my problem. 

Those earlier tests did me the disfavor of revealing a high IQ. (although not as high as it ultimately soared when released from learning problems).  They showed me to be bright without explaining the discrepancies in the scores that might point to problems – areas where abilities did not match the overall intellectual level. 

I will never understand how such markedly disproportionate scores went unnoticed. 

But Reg Bundy saw the high levels of mechanical reasoning, writing and communications, compared them with overall poor mathematical scores, and suggested a learning disability. 

When a child, who has been searching all her life for an answer to why the world seems more puzzling to her than to others, finally hears the answer, she does not miss it.  Who would, when faced with my kind of background? 

Reg had only to point out a possible problem and I would have jumped on it right away.  Because I had been searching for the answer all my life. 

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 labelled as lazy because all my scores were not at the top of the list. 

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 only made me feel more stupid.  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 enrolled 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 reasoning, which is the prime factor in understanding mathematics or history, made it impossible for me to understand the many nuances in social interactions. 

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 problem.  Not interacting well in a social setting was another, and far more serious consequence. 

The day Reg Bundy 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 hard.  There is a surprising focus to their efforts. 

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 useless 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 depression so profound it is a wonder they had even survived their first years. 

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 selfimage 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 social workers 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; 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 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. 

My life did not take a drastic turn; I continued to enjoy most those subjects in which I reliably excelled.  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.

1980s

A School Takes Shape
Then theory turned to practice as I began to experiment with creating cognitive exercises: the clock exercise was first. I remember going through Luria texts with a yellow highlighter in my hand. I have many of his books that were translated into English (he wrote a score of books and hundreds of scholarly articles), and every one of those texts in my library is heavily marked and annotated.

Two things were happening at the same time: I was working on my own learning problems and with students on their learning challenges. It was like each of us was in the gym at a different exercise station (running on the treadmill, lifting weights at the bench, doing back flips on the uneven bars). Each of us had a tailored program, and each of us had specific goals in mind.

Over time, more cognitive exercises were developed and the small number of part time students grew. I exhausted my savings and rented a one-thousand-square-foot space in downtown Toronto on Yorkville Avenue. I used my middle name, Arrowsmith, for the school’s name — to honour my Arrowsmith grandmother’s pioneering spirit.

I had no money and a tiny clientele, but I look back on this time as one of the most stimulating in my life.

Source: ‘The Woman Who Changed Her Brain’ By Barbara Arrowsmith-Young, 3rd Edition, 2019, pp. 179-180

Ann's Story
The exercise for the quantification sense cognitive function was developed in late 1983 and in 1985, Ann Tulloch was one of the early students to work on this program. 

Cash in envelopes marked “Rent,” “Food,” “Bills to Pay.” That’s how Ann Tulloch managed her own finances from month to month. Doing basic arithmetic, planning a budget, balancing a cheque book: all were beyond her. And until she devised this rudimentary system for managing her money by earmarking it, Ann was perennially short of cash and having to borrow — which only put her into debt. Even as an adult, she could not do simple calculations (8 + 3). In 1985, at the age of thirty-three, Ann found her way to Arrowsmith by pure serendipity.  

Testing showed that she had a quantification deficit that led her to put cash into envelopes. Ann could not perform mental calculations in her head. Just symbols on a page, numbers had no meaning for her. In school, she would squeak by with a passing grade of about fifty but she finally reached the end of her tether in Grade 10. She was told that even vocational school was inappropriate for her owing to her bad attitude. Her response at the time? “I don’t have an attitude problem. I just can’t learn anything.”  

Shy, unable to articulate properly, she had little confidence and low self-esteem.  Ann quit her various jobs and worked for two years on a horse farm — a virtual sabbatical from the human race. The horses were just grateful to be fed on time and never once called her stupid. Then came the break. By chance, she encountered Tanya (an Arrowsmith student), who shared Ann’s passion for horses and who often got a ride with Ann to the stable. 

“We would drive up to the stable in the car,” Ann remembers, “and she would say, ‘I like cars, I like black cars. I like cars, I like black cars.’ And that would be about it. But you could tell she was smart. She could remember directions. She wasn’t stupid; she just couldn’t talk very well. And then she started going to Arrowsmith and all of a sudden she could talk. It was wonderful.” Ann thought: if they can help Tanya, maybe they can help me.   

“I felt for the first time in my whole life,” she told me, “that somebody finally understood me. I felt, ‘I have this learning disability and now I’m doing something about it’.”  

“It was tough,” Ann says of the exercises to overcome her deficit. “So frustrating.” 

“I feel like I have more control in my life,” Ann said, summing it up in 1986. “The difference is so incredible. Other people wander around with all this stuff as normal and they just take it for granted and for me it’s so exciting now.  

Finally, Ann’s finances are better. She can do math in her head, she no longer makes mistakes on company invoices, she balances her chequebook (if she forgets to enter a transaction in her chequebook register, she retains the amount and does it the next day), she knows how much money she has in her wallet since she can keep a running accounting and she started a registered retirement savings plan — so she’s begun to plan ahead. She is now capable of that kind of financial planning. Ann was also able to budget for, and take, her dream vacation.  

No more cash in envelopes.   

Source: ‘The Woman Who Changed Her Brain’ By Barbara Arrowsmith-Young, 3rd Edition, 2019, pp. 219-222 

Clare's Story
Our daughter, Clare will soon be 22.  She was attending a private school in grade 4 when the first signs of learning problems were brought to our attention.  We were told that the school she was then attending would no longer accept Clare as a student as they would not have “backward” children enrolled.

Clare was then enrolled in another private school where it was believed that they specialized in helping children overcome learning problems with a special education program.  This also proved unsuccessful and none of Clare’s learning problems were overcome.

Clare then moved to another city and was enrolled in still another private school.  She was unable to cope with the workload, had difficulty completing her courses and, at the same time, was socially inept.

She was tested by a psychologist and his report indicated that there was no hope for Clare.  His recommendation to the school was that she be given exemptions from mathematics, English, and French.  This would lighten her workload and hopefully, she would get by.  The school acted accordingly and Clare graduated from this school in 1980; however, it was obvious that she had learned very little and was still unable to cope due to her learning problems.

Upon graduation, Clare returned home and we were dismayed to find that she could not read well, write well, retain information, could not follow directions easily, and was also somewhat physically uncoordinated.  Her knowledge of mathematics was non-existent as she was unable to grasp the basic relationship between numbers.

Clare tried a number of part-time jobs, but she was unable to adequately perform her jobs due to her inability to understand mathematics and follow directions.  She became more and more frustrated and disinterested in anything other than television.  In desperation, we sought help and learned of a testing facility which would test Clare and indicate what interests and aptitudes she had and what she should pursue as a career.  As a result of this testing, Clare was advised to speak with and be tested by Barbara Arrowsmith-Young.  We decided to have her tested. We welcomed the results of these tests and received them with enthusiasm.  Clare’s learning problems were classified in ways that made sense to us and explained her struggles. Clare was invited to enrol in a program of cognitive exercises developed for each individual area of difficulty identified.  It was felt that considerable improvement could be achieved if Clare was prepared to work.

After two years of hard work by Clare, she had improved and overcome her learning disabilities to the extent that she applied and was accepted at college.  She just completed her first year of study and plans to continue. Clare has a new life.  Today Clare’s interests are varied.  She speaks intelligently of current events, she has a good fundamental knowledge of mathematics, she reads well and her comprehension is excellent.  Her spelling and English grammar are also very good and she is a totally new person.  Clare has a great deal more self-confidence and is able to demonstrate her basic intelligence.  She likes herself, is not frustrated any more in trying to express herself, and is progressing well on a social level.

Needless to say, we are extremely pleased with Clare’s results and obviously also pleased with the great help that she had from the Arrowsmith program.

From grateful parents

Brent's Story
In math and geometry, I would sit in class and be totally lost in one class after another.  First, I would get frustrated then finally I would just give up and I would end up not learning.  I would not be able to get a thought out of my head.  I wasn’t able to understand many things.  Now, after 2 years at Arrowsmith, I can win more arguments, understand my math by myself in many cases and I have more internal control over my thoughts, conscience, and understanding.

I’ve lived in the Burlington area all my life and because of a spatial reasoning problem, I could never really picture the area around me in the right proportion on a map.  If I was a couple of miles away from my house I wouldn’t be able to point in its direction.  I would have trouble finding my way around in a shopping mall.  I had trouble finding my way around when driving.  Now all of these problems have vastly improved.  I no longer have problems with spatial reasoning.

Working on my memory has helped me remember things which I was unable to do in the past such as phone numbers and license plates.  I have the ability to dig deeper into my mind to remember incidents, quotes, numbers, and names, etc., much better than I could before.  I have noticed a change in remembering the sequence of different events.  My karate is one area.  I can remember patterns much better and also I remember my math equations.

I have had a significant change in improving my motor symbol sequencing problem.   I can now see many of the spelling and motor errors that I make either in editing or the initial draft.  I also make fewer writing errors and my handwriting has improved.

Overall I believe that I am sharper now with my thinking, understanding  and even my physical reactions.

Cheryl's Story

Our daughter was at Arrowsmith for 1 1/2 years in 1988 to 1989.  We are residents of the United States and our confidence was such that we sent our daughter at 16 to Canada to live with a family recommended by the school so that she would be able to attend. Our daughter’s learning disability surfaced toward the end of 7th grade and she struggled in the subsequent grades, managing to pass only with the support of regular tutoring sessions for several subjects. However, by the time she reached 11th grade, the complexity of the subject material seemed too much for her and her performance regressed even further. It was at this point that we removed her from our local school and sent her to Canada to Arrowsmith in order to improve her cognitive functioning in several important areas that were deficient.

When she started at the Arrowsmith School, she had not developed the capacity to abstract, to keep her focus on intellectual tasks, to read material and understand the main point, and to gain meaning from a lecture or somewhat complex con­versation.  She had difficulty in understanding the relationships between ideas and concepts and was unable to discern subtle differences in the meanings of written problems or questions.  She was rigid and persevera­tive in her reaction to and grasp of written material, math problems, and the like.  Her approach to academic work and life in general was super­ficial.  When she sat in class, she complained that the words went in one ear and out the other and that she could not understand or remember the material.  When she read more complicated passages, as in social studies material, she could not get meaning from the printed page and she could not answer the questions asked.

Our daughter showed significant improvement in her ability to abstract and reason after her work with the Arrowsmith Program. As an example of a significant development, she suddenly acquired the ability to subtract after several months in the program. Her tutor had tried for years to teach her to do this, but she had continued to add backwards until this breakthrough in reasoning occurred.

After her work at Arrowsmith she attended a private academic high school with a very demanding curriculum and, without any tutoring or special support, she successfully completed high school, attaining several A’s.  She was able to handle finals testing very success­fully.  These are achievements that never occurred before.   In addition, she no longer complains that she does not understand the material.

We are very pleased with our daughter’s benefits from this program and feel that her potential for successful academic and general life functioning has been substantially enhanced.  We feel very fortunate since, as a clinical psychologist, I was in a position to more fully understand and appreciate the value of this program, and, as a profession­al and a parent, I highly recommend the Arrowsmith Program.

Update on Cheryl’s Progress (October 8, 1999)

Our daughter Cheryl successfully completed high school and started her first year of college in September of 1992.  She continued to improve in her academic endeavors.  In contrast to her previous inability to fully understand the meaning of written and spoken material and her difficulty with abstract thinking, she was able to achieve mostly A’s in her classwork, including philosophy and history.  The following is an example of a comment on her work, “exceptionally well done, clear, interesting narration, excellent organization, judicious use of source material and consistent focus on the question asked.”  She made the Dean’s List with a 3.5 grade point average.

About 1-½ years after completing the Arrowsmith program, an independent psychologist administered the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale-Revised.  The IQ she attained at this time was in the very superior range and 30 IQ points higher than what she had tested before starting the Arrowsmith Program, at which time she scored in the average range.

Cheryl’s continuing achievements in college were consistent with this higher level of functioning.  Again in contrast to her previous difficulty with math, as when she had been unable to subtract, her grade in calculus was an A and she was invited to tutor other students.

In 1994, Cheryl received an invitation to join the Honor program on the basis of her high grades.  She graduated from college in 1995.  After considering going on to graduate school in psychology and social work, she decided, instead to pursue a career in advertising.  She has been successful in this field and has shown herself to be well-motivated, quick to learn, conscientious, and responsible – a respected participant and a team player.

In recent months our family has been experiencing a major medical crisis.  Cheryl has been extremely helpful and sensitive to this difficult situation – offering intelligent and thoughtful suggestions and very appropriate support.  The level of her judgment and analytical ability during this time confirm that she is continuing to function on a very high level.

We are grateful to this program for offering our daughter the opportunity to overcome her deficits and to achieve a high level of functioning.  We are very proud of her for working hard and taking advantage of this opportunity and maintaining an attitude of cooperation and responsibility.

From Arlene, a grateful mother

1990s

Jessica's Story
When Jessica Graham was four years old, her parents brought her into a high school gym. She saw a rope and, before anyone could stop her, climbed it all the way to the ceiling. When she talked to anyone, she stood inches from them — unaware of the discomfort she was causing.  Sleep came, but only after she had been allowed to burn off tremendous amounts of energy. The only way to tire out little Jessica and convince her it was bedtime was to let her chase her dog, a miniature greyhound for about forty-five minutes. The girl’s high energy, coupled with her inability to control her impulsivity, made her mother worry for her daughter’s immediate safety, never mind her long-term future.

Jessica was oblivious to the world, but not because she was deliberately disobedient or oppositional. Though this behavior may signal an emotional problem, it can also suggest a cognitive deficit.

Young children learn appropriate behaviour through their interaction with their parents. When a small child does something, for example, if he is able to read his mother’s body language and see that his mother’s response is not favorable, he will generally change his behaviour. When a child is older and a mother tells a child that she is not pleased with his actions or does not respond favorably to his request, a child with average ability in this area will learn to change his behaviour next time to achieve the desired outcome.

A child with an artifactual or non-verbal thinking deficit, however, is not able to learn appropriate behaviour or modify her own behaviour from past experience. This area of the brain is essential to learning which behaviours are appropriate, or not, in different social contexts. What is fine at home may not be fine at school; Jessica could not grasp the difference.

At one point, Jessica’s mother Laura took her daughter to an audiologist, praying that what ailed her daughter was a hearing problem. That, she thought, was an easier fix than this — whatever “this” was. Some days, Laura wondered if Jessica had an attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD).

Students with problems in either artifactual/non-verbal or symbolic thinking are frequently identified as having this disorder since the symptoms — lack of focus and impulsivity — are similar. Studies have shown that some children with ADHD have a reduced grey matter volume in specific parts of the brain (the prefrontal cortex in particular) and that their frontal lobes are less well connected with other regions of the brain.

At Arrowsmith, what we have found in the majority of these cases is this: as the underlying cognitive problem is addressed, the ADHD symptoms are also addressed and individuals on medication are able to discontinue these medicines.

Jessica was five years old when she came to us for testing. Testing identified a photographic visual memory which allowed Jessica to teach herself to read at the age of four. But we also found eight different brain deficits, many of them severe – including an artifactual or non-verbal thinking deficit.

Jessica’s thoughts, I remember, were disorganized. During testing, I would show her a picture of, say, a bear — and she’d correctly identify that animal and tell a story. I’d then move on to the next, different image and I’d ask her about it. “A bear,” she would reply. Still fixated on the previous item, she could not reorient herself to the task at hand. Asked to comment on an image of a boating accident, she said they were playing basketball. This is a classic illustration of the artifactual or non-verbal thinking deficit: in the picture were people wearing swimsuits, which Jessica took to be shorts, and quickly (too quickly) she deduced that a basketball game was underway. Jessica hadn’t looked at all the details to get the big picture, only a few, so she’d leapt to the wrong conclusion.

In his book, Higher Cortical Functions in Man, Luria recorded the eye movements of patients with right frontal lobe lesions when they were looking at a complex picture. These individuals, he found, “do not make the necessary searching movements with their eyes; they pick out just one detail (which they fix on for a very long time) and, on this basis, they guess the meaning of the picture as a whole; later their eye movements either continue to fix this same detail or they follow a chaotic course.”

The eyes are fine; the problem lies with the right prefrontal cortex and its failure to direct the surveying of this particular picture and in general the entire non-verbal world. People with this deficit will have accidents, not because they have a kinesthetic deficit or because they’re uncoordinated but because they are inattentive and unaware.

During one test, Jessica was asked to look at four pictures and to identify the one that represented a word or a concept. Disappointment, for example, was illustrated by a child reaching into an empty cookie jar. Jessica would look at one or two of the four items and make a choice, or just pick all of the same item number for several questions — say, answer number three. When left to her own devices, she scored in the nineteenth percentile (low average).

But when I gave Jessica an alternate form of the same test (she was to point to each item in sequence and then wait five seconds before making her choice), she scored at the sixty-second percentile (average). That’s a forty-three percentile difference. Jessica’s artifactual/non-verbal thinking problem was interfering with her ability to survey the material. Her impulsive, scattered approach was her default mode, leading to performance well below that expected given her intelligence.

To help Jessica see, truly see, her world with focus and attentiveness, we assigned her the task of examining narrative art (illustrations that tell a story or convey a parable). This process of active and purposeful exploration is guided by the pre-frontal cortex.

In this exercise, the student strives to understand the picture’s storyline by carefully considering the dynamics between the individuals portrayed. The aim is to come up with hypotheses that make the most sense while discarding ones that make the least sense before reaching a conclusion about what this piece of art is saying.

The aim of this exercise is to stimulate the prefrontal cortex so that students can eventually read non-verbal cues on their own, be aware of their social world and plan their actions accordingly. There is no rule book for life, nor is any set of rules comprehensive enough to govern every situation. It is critical, therefore, that individuals learn to think for themselves. As I hypothesized in 1980, these individuals not only get better at reading others’ non-verbal cues but they also become more self-aware. As with all the other cognitive exercises, this one targets the broad range of functions governed by this particular cognitive area.

In 2009, Jessica was tested by her school’s psychologist, who could find no trace of a learning disability. The Arrowsmith Program, says her mother, “gave her life.” Without this intervention, her mother is convinced, Jessica would be on medication and in a behavioural class.

That “pinball of energy,” as Laura once described her daughter, is in control now and is aware when something she’s done makes people angry.

She has become the captain of her university basketball team and skillfully mediates team conflicts. Once a scattered little girl, now she has emotional intelligence, focus, and discipline in spades.

“She is a beautiful young woman now,” her mother says. “Fully aware, socially poised, and adept.”

Source: ‘The Woman Who Changed Her Brain’ By Barbara Arrowsmith-Young, 3rd Edition, 2019, pp. 109-112

Dan's Story
As a little guy, I learned early on that school was not going to become a great love of mine. My inability to successfully accomplish what it was my teachers were asking of me, very quickly revealed to my teachers my learning disability.

The discovery of my learning disability marked the beginning of my mother’s search to find a solution to my problems with learning. This search carried us both through 10 different programs, all of which claimed to have a solution to my learning problems. I was in programs that had me crawling on the floor for hours a day, programs that had me playing with blocks, programs that gave me drugs, programs that had me trace shapes on chalkboards, programs that worked on my pronunciation of words, programs that had me listen to distorted classical music, and none of them worked. All of these programs were well-intended, however, they failed to show a significant positive impact on my ability to learn.

I was 13 years old and my reading and math skills were at a grade three level. I had grown older and the seriousness of my problem had become a great concern. My parents brought me to Tufts University for a series of Neuropsychological and educational tests to help determine just how bad their son’s situation was. The University’s conclusions were that I would never graduate from high school, that I would be financially dependent upon my parents for the rest of my life, that I would most likely be able to work in a gas station, and that I should be sent to a school where other kids are “wired” up like me. Needless to say, my parents were rather disheartened.

Through a friend, my mother heard about the successes a school called, Arrowsmith School, had had with her daughter. After much deliberation, my parents and I decided I would go through testing at Arrowsmith, giving one last program a chance to solve my learning problems. We were not optimistic.

I began going to Arrowsmith at the age of 14. When I first started the program, I was at a grade four reading level and a grade three in math. For the first year, I only worked on a series of brain exercises for my specific problems and after a half year, we could see significant progress in my test results. This was the first time that we ever saw the progress that showed measurable gains. I was able to read and understand basic math formulas at a level that I was unable to, prior to doing the exercise, by the end of the year. My capacity for understanding had grown.

I spent three years at Arrowsmith School. At the end of my three years, I was at a grade 10 in both reading and math. For the first time in my life, I was at my grade level. I went directly into a “normal” high school for both my grade 11 and 12 years. Both of those years I had tutoring to help me in areas where I had developed gaps from not being involved in a traditional educational system.

Arrowsmith School strengthened areas of my brain which gave me the gift of being able to participate in learning. Before Arrowsmith, I lacked the ability to grasp the concepts that were essential to surviving in the world today (reading and math).

I went on to graduate from high school and college. Today I work for a high net worth individual doing many different things ranging from: venture capital acquisitions of industrial industry and educational companies, joint ventures in Russia, high-level foreign diplomacy, commercial real estate, and property management.

I know that without Arrowsmith School I would not have graduated from high school and would not be where I am today. There is no question in my mind that Arrowsmith School can help anyone with learning disabilities that are willing to work.

From Dan

2000s

Zachary's Story
Six months into his time at Arrowsmith, Chris, and the other teachers began to see a change in Zachary. He became more social. Says Chris, “He was stepping out of the box.” The part of Zachary’s brain necessary for making connections with the world was so severely impaired it was as if he lived inside a box, the walls isolating him from the world. As that world became less threatening and confusing to him, Zachary could use other people’s pencils, a huge change from requiring his own particular pencil and eraser. He needed to feel safe in the world, and now, because he understood the whys, he did. He was starting to reason, to lose some of that anxiety, and to feel good about himself. 

“Zachary’s comprehension improved,” says Chris, “because he got things the first time. There were times in the beginning of the school year where you’d have to explain to him how to do one of the exercises five different ways, and he would still ask the same question because he just didn’t understand what you were saying.” No longer. 

Source: ‘The Woman Who Changed Her Brain’ By Barbara Arrowsmith-Young, 3rd Edition, 2019, pp. 54

Zachary’s mother, Aliza, has no doubt that the three years her son spent at the school rescued him. “He would not be a human being,” she says, “had he not come here. There isn’t a shadow of a doubt. He couldn’t leave the house. He was in a fetal position like the world was attacking him.” 

Zachary is twelve now and he’s out in the world. When Aliza and her husband want to go on a vacation, they give their son a credit card and he organizes everything on the phone—from car rentals to hotel accommodation. He reads the fine print of contracts and is prepared to joust over the details. Aliza describes astonished hotel staff leaning over the counter to address a five-foot-tall, long-haired whiz kid, who has just told them, “No, no, no. This is how it’s going to be, as the reservation clearly states on page . . .” 

Source: ‘The Woman Who Changed Her Brain’ By Barbara Arrowsmith-Young, 3rd Edition, 2019, p. 250

2010s

Lennie's Story

I’m with a friend in Toronto and talk turns to hi25-year-old son (let’s call him Lenniefor he prefers anonymity), who is adrift and overwhelmed 

Lennie cannot organize his life – let alone his bedroom. Unable to focus or prioritize, he allows his driver’s license and passport to expire, he ignores warning letters from the university registrar about required courses, and must study an extra year to attain his degree in psychology. Hworks as a waiter, his nights consumed by video games, his days by sleep. And yet Lennie is smart, athletic, charming, funny, and well-liked. 

My friend’s explanation for his son? “I’m afraid he’s lazy.”  

“It sounds to me like he has cognitive deficits,” I reply. “We could have him tested.” 

Lennie’s profile shows four deficits, all of them mild but all “high order” executive functions, and all conspiring to keep him drifting and unable to mobilize his talentsImagine a sports car with a high-performance engine but missing its transmission: the car was going nowhere. Testing of Lennie also revealed extraordinary strengths in spatial and mechanical reasoning and other right hemisphere functions, which delighted him for no one had ever told him that 

Lennie spent a year at Arrowsmith. He was not a model student: at first he was often late or absent. The deficits had established patterns of behavior that were slow to dissipate. Lennie focused on programs designed to build the cognitive capacities underlying mental initiative, organization, logical reasoning, problem solving and strategy generation; they all helped. Lennie later described it this way, “I began to organize my thoughts more effectively, and to plan ahead: First a few weeks ahead, then a few months ahead. For the first time in my life, I had real long term goals and was able to take steps towards achieving them.”  

I remember with absolute clarity the day that Lennie came to school looking tired, with bags and dark circles under his eyes. Something, he said, had changed and he could feel it. “I am now compelled to organize my room, my life,” he told me. “I see what needs to be done and instead of procrastinating, I feel a compulsion to set things right — in the moment.” At last, engine and transmission were coupled and the newfound acceleration was truly exhilarating. 

Near the end of that year, Lennie took aptitude tests that pointed to a career in industrial design. What followed was a four-year degree in that field, two major prizes on graduation day plus three more in a province-wide design competition, and immediate hiring.  

“One of his early projects at work,” my friend recently told me, “was to design working catapult, a conversation piece for the executive office. Lennie built toy catapults when he was 12. He is doing what he was meant to do.” Today he is a happy young man and fully engaged in his life and work. 

For years he flew under the radar. Parents, teachers, friendsLennie himself: none suspected what was holding him back: his own brain. Nor could they imagine what would put him right: his own reworked brain.     

Source: ‘The Woman Who Changed Her Brain’ By Barbara Arrowsmith-Young, 3rd Edition, 2019, pp. 195-196 

Rand's Story
Rand Webber’s profile in October of 2016 looked like this: popular elementary school teacher, living in Vancouver, 58 years old but not thinking about retirement, a fit former marathoner. But in the middle of that month, while driving to the gym, his car was hit at high speed by the driver of a stolen car. 

Rand’s profile changed dramatically. “I was focussing,” he says, “on soft tissue damage to my neck and upper back.” Concussion and brain injury were not yet on his radar. But just days after the accident, Rand barely got through a parent-teacher conference and he missed the rest of the school year. 

With no peripheral vision, he started seeing an optometrist to be fitted for special tinted glasses. The eye doctor’s office just happens to be in the same building as the Watson Centre Society for Brain Health, which uses my cognitive exercises (under the Brainex brand, as part of a licensing arrangement with Arrowsmith) to deal with traumatic brain injury. When Rand mentioned his trouble with focus, the optometrist suggested a consult upstairs. 

Rand did the reasoning program, starting with three afternoons a week, then two full days, and finally three full days. “Before this work,” he says, “I had no lateral thinking. If I veered off a topic or got distracted, I’d get lost. I wouldn’t know where to start again. The difference is incredible. I saw a huge spike in my ability to focus and to multi-task. And my days at school are way more productive. Now I’m able to switch from one activity to another — from programming the Smart Board, to talking to the kids, to writing at my desk, to moving through the classroom, and helping students at their desks. I couldn’t do that before and I wasn’t teaching at a level that was doing anybody any good.” 

(Traditional rehab services, by the way, focus on compensatory training and get clients back to work only forty percent of the time. The Watson Centre, on the other hand, focuses on neuroplasticity and get clients – all with complex brain injury – back to work seventy-seven percent of the time.) 

Yes, Rand is back in the classroom. He teaches four days a week, taking off every Wednesday – when a colleague steps in. “My principal,” he says, “has been so supportive. Her son had a brain injury.” 

Meanwhile, a psychiatrist and a neurologist saw Rand, with the latter insisting that the best he could do was “wait and see”: if within two years of the accident he was no better, he could expect no further change. The psychiatrist flatly urged early retirement. Neither specialist seemed to understand the possibility of brain change as a result of targeted cognitive intervention. Rand was so incensed at the psychiatrist’s report, in particular, that he wrote his lawyer a point-by-point rebuttal to be put in his file. 

Meanwhile, two separate studies at the University of British Columbia point to the positive impact of Arrowsmith cognitive intervention in cases of acquired brain injury. The first study, published in 2017, found that this intervention led to significant changes in functional connectivity in the brain along with significantly improved cognitive scores — one of which was fluid intelligencethe capacity to reason and problem-solve. The second study, presented in 2019 in Toronto at the World Congress on Brain Injury, looked at the same intervention and found increased functional connectivity in the left prefrontal region, which was linked to behavioral changes and a reduction in anxiety and depressionRand’s story is the human face of these brain/behavior changes. 

I asked Rand: Are you a different teacher as a result of your experience? “I am,” he replied, “so much more patient and understanding, especially with those students who have learning difficulties.” As were the kids in his Grade 3 classroom who were kept abreast of things while he was away. “Mr. Webber,” one told any who asked, “is at brain camp.”    

Source: ‘The Woman Who Changed Her Brain’ By Barbara Arrowsmith-Young, 3rd Edition, 2019, pp. 259-260 

2020s

Ella's Story

The changes that I have experienced are really, really amazing. I feel like a very different person now to when I started [the Arrowsmith Program]. I’m someone who’s very hard on myself and I’m very critical of my own progress. But even I have to admit that there’s like a lot of things that have changed.

The people around me, my parents, my boyfriend have said that I’m very different now. I’m more present. But even the fact that I can see myself recognize that I actually made some progress is quite a big deal. 

My handwriting has improved…My motivation started to come back and suddenly I actually wanted to do better and that energy had been something that I had lost. So, getting it back felt amazing. My self-esteem and my trust in myself were starting to come back.

Arrowsmith Student, Ella, CoreSenses, Sydney, Australia

Vicki's Story

The gains from Arrowsmith Program (for my child) have been huge.The cognitive gains, the level of confidence and the discipline in work, just on their own, have been huge differences.

(My daughter) was struggling in a way I had not fully understood, and she is not struggling in the same way now… she uses her own brain to do things, where before she was borrowing mine.

Arrowsmith Parent, Vicki, Arrowsmith School Peterborough, Canada

Sheila's Story
Sheila Furey shared these words she received from one of her students, Aaron and his mother:

‘Aaron is making awesome progress in the Symbol Relations/Reasoning Cognitive Intensive Program. He did the following today, made breakfast for the family, wrote a menu for the week on the refrigerator, read a sentence and identified the independent clause, the dependent clause, and the subject.

In his words:

  “Mom, before Arrowsmith my brain was like a bunch of lifeboats at sea and now some of them have made it to land.”   

There is not a price tag you can put on the above.

Arrowsmith Educator, Sheila Furey, Richmond, Virginia, USA

Barb's Story

It was amazing. I don’t think we’ll ever forget picking her up, this was a kid that literally was coming home from school every day and breaking down, … and she said, they can teach me so I can learn. … and she followed that by saying, “this is where I belong”.

We noticed enormous growth within the first year of the program. We couldn’t believe how quickly she kind of was moving up the scale that they used to make progress. We were really excited.

Arrowsmith Parent, Barb, Eaton Arrowsmith, Vancouver, Canada

Marika's Story

Within four months my parents noticed big changes with my learning. I could read a book, I could write the date, I could spell my own name. I was able to articulate certain feelings that I couldn’t do before.

Since Arrowsmith, I have been able to go to high school, I was able to study police foundations in college. And to be honest, without Arrowsmith, high school would have felt impossible to do and I wouldn’t have even dreamed of going to college. The program opened my doors and gave me opportunities that I wouldn’t even think of doing.

And I learned to believe in myself with the confidence that I gained. I loved school. I loved learning new things.

Arrowsmith Alumnus, Marika, Arrowsmith School Toronto, Canada