Posts Tagged ‘toronto’

Norman Doidge – Building A Better Brain

Sunday, September 28th, 2008

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”