The recently published celebrated book by noted author Howard Eaton, Ed., M., “Brain School: Stories of Children with Learning Disabilities and Attention Disorders who Changed Their Lives by Improving Their Cognitive Functioning,” captures the essence of the tremendous impact Arrowsmith has had on students. Painting a vibrant portrait of learning success in terms of improved cognitive functioning on standardized tests, the book highlights factual examples of students in Vancouver, Canada, that demonstrated significant academic prowess while more effectively integrating into life’s activities upon completion of the Arrowsmith prospectus.
Urging educators to deviate from traditional remediation methods for learning disabled students and explore the Arrowsmith phenomenon, Eaton disputes the common assumption that the brain is more or less of a fixed nature. Cognitive functioning can improve, he declares in his book. The brain can change, he says.
“I was much the same,” he admits. “It was not easy for me to accept that the brain is plastic. I clearly recall classroom discussions about the brain during my undergraduate education in psychology and then in my graduate program in special education. The brain was fixed, unchangeable, hard-wired like a computer. My professors were critical, almost mockingly so, of so-called radical scientists discussing the brain’s ability to change. They acknowledged that there are some formative years of brain development in early infancy, but that was it. This was my training and background. In fact, I co-wrote handbooks and produced educational videos advising parents and their children with learning disabilities to accept their cognitive weaknesses and view them in a positive light…”
Challenging what he asserts was his own blatant misconception, Eaton warns educators that despite the great strides made in the field of special education, they should not focus on improving spelling, reading, writing skills and the like without recognizing the primary tool responsible for learning limitations: the brain’s existing cognitive functioning, including any weakness in reasoning, memory, auditory processing, visual-perceptual processing, visual-motor integration and social-perception. Passionately and with extraordinary conviction, he emphasizes that these widespread cognitive failures do have the potential to be addressed, thus unleashing an unprecedented world of learning opportunity, as well as emotional and behavioral growth.
Relinquishing any claim to magical solutions, Eaton’s “BrainSchool” asserts the difficult journey to cognitive advancement. “Neuroplasticity does not occur without significant active engagement over a lengthy period of time,” he states. “…it takes resilience and diligence to improve.” Nevertheless, the effort invested in what can take three to four years has produced undeniably incredible results for participating students, some of whom have even been acknowledged for ranking with honors after reintegration to full academic curriculums.
In a brilliant rebuttal to Arrowsmith critics, “Why would you make children with learning disabilities work so hard? They are already struggling enough…,” Eaton reaffirms the program’s dogma that hard or tiring work is productive as well as necessary if it has a vital purpose. Just as many great and famous minds developed earth-shattering breakthroughs in engineering, physics, chemistry, architecture, literature, music, mathematics, medicine and other subjects through time-consuming deliberation of thoughts, ideas and theories, and budding athletes preoccupy themselves with hours of physical training, the Arrowsmith curriculum, he says, bases itself on consistent and repetitive cognitive exercises in order to stimulate and empower a learning disabled and attention deficit child’s brain.
BrainSchool? Who can vouch for the authenticity of the name of a book that is based on the promise of the Arrowsmith Program better than the winning students themselves?
“Where I have seen improvements are in my math, because I am able to understand it and realize how to do it properly. Another improvement I’ve seen is in my confidence, because since I have been here, my confidence has gotten stronger. I have also seen improvements in my spelling, because I have noticed that when I am writing, I don’t get a lot of words wrong, but I still have to work on some words. And since I have been in Arrowsmith, I have made a lot more friends…”
“I’ve been in Arrowsmith for one year and I have noticed lots of changes. These are some of them, like reading. Before I came to this school, I couldn’t read a page in a book without wanting to stop after, because it would take me a long time to read the page! Another one is I couldn’t read an analogue clock before I came to this school and now I can. Also I understand math now…”
“But this is the one I notice the most – my printing. My printing has improved so much that now when I look back at my old printing, I can’t even read it! But now it looks just like a normal person’s, all because of the exercises. By the time I get out of this program, I will probably have printing just like my mom or brother, but not like my dad, because my dad has distonia or something like that in his wrist. He can’t even read his own writing!”
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For more information about the Arrowsmith Program, visit www.arrowsmithschool.org.