Norman Doidge – Building A Better Brain

Barbara Arrowsmith Young

I found Chapter 2 of Doidge’s book particularly poignant. In ‘Building Herself A Better Brain’ Doidge describes the life of Barbara Arrowsmith Young, who, despite her particularly strong visual and auditory memory, suffered huge deficits in certain brain functions as a child and young woman. She couldn’t process even fairly simple relational concepts without extraordinary effort, making quantitative work extremely challenging.

Anyone familiar with the diagnosis of learning disabilities will recognize the sense of demoralization that accompanies the label. Barbara’s case was an extreme example.

When a child or young adult is diagnosed with a learning disability, he or she is typically provided with a diagnosis that allows them or recommends for them some compensations in their studies — extra time on tests for instance. These compensations favor the stronger aspects of their mental capacities and give leeway to the weaker.

By a winding path at 28 Barbara Arrowsmith Young came across the work of Mark Rosenzweig of the University of Berkeley. Rosenzweig had compared the brains of rats raised in stimulating and non-stimulating environments and found that those raised with stimulation had formed far more neurotransmitters and were bigger and healthier. This gave Barbara the idea that she might help herself by working the weaker areas of her brain rather than allowing for them.

Norman Doidge: The Brain That Changes Itself

Norman Doidge: The Brain That Changes Itself

With countless hours of arduous self-designed training Barbara eventually trained and strengthened her brain to perform more effectively, countering her deficits until they disappeared. She co-founded the Arrowsmith School in Toronto, helping children with learning disabilities to reverse those disabilities with appropriate training.

This is how Doidge sums up the lesson of Barbara’s case:

“Clearly many children would benefit from a brain-area-based assessment to identify their weakened functions and a program to strengthen them–a far more productive approach than tuturing that simply repeats a lesson and leads to endless frustration.”

Hear, hear.

Related Post:

Rewiring the brain In the first chapter of Doidge’s book he describes research and rehabilitation that shows how adaptible the brain is when “rewired”

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4 Responses to “Norman Doidge – Building A Better Brain”

  1. Denis Casey says:

    Interested to read the above article. Recently purchased Brain Fitness Pro. I am 55yo & although I have vg verbal skills I have difficulties with concentration, organising, planning & follow through of tasks.
    In the program I have noticed that I am much worse at the visual tasks.
    Any advice for improvement would be much appreciated.

  2. Shaun Luttin says:

    “I have difficulties with concentration, organizing, planning & follow through of tasks.” These characteristics could very well describe me too.

    Advice for improvement? Well, here is some of what I’ve done.

    (a) I’ve committed myself to the task. I remind myself to Just do it. When I’m wavering on my commitment, I remind myself that I’ve already decided.

    (b) When I’m dreamily hoping for a better score, I remind myself Don’t hope, plan!

    (c) When I’m having trouble concentrating, I ask myself What am I doing? What’s next? And I answer, oh yes, n-back training, n=5, remember 4.

    Just do it. Decide once. Don’t hope, plan! Focus. What am I doing? N-back training? What’s next? n=5. Go.


  3. Having just purchased ‘How the brain changes itself’, imagine my surprise – I wrote a short story years ago about a young woman who had a condition in which she was losing her linguistic powers. She went to a specialist who discovered that the break in her corpus callusom was mended – actually rerouted by the brain itself.

    I am not claiming anything here -it just struck me as odd that years after writing the story, i sould discover it had a ring of truth or reality about it.

    Please go to my website, where you’ll find the story.
    Robert L. Fielding

  4. devadas says:

    Hi Robert L. Fielding, I am a 52 YO stroke patient, I had a sever stroke 12 years ago and I lost my balance and I can’t walk much, if I want to use this technic of re- wiring my brain to get my walking ability back what do you suggest? I have the will power to do it! I lost my speech but I worked hard and I speak good now! please help me to get my balance back.

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