Tuesday, May 11, 2021

The Woman Who Changed Her Brain

An Arrowsmith exercise asked Michoel to listen to sounds – the sounds that make up words – for several hours a week. His task was to hold onto those sounds, which began simply and grew more complex. The book explains that this placed a load on the Broca’s area of his brain, resulting in a greater facility in learning languages. Instead of getting grades in the 50s, Michoel, now in eleventh grade, gets between eighty-five and ninety-five percent on Hebrew tests and no longer has difficulty remembering the shoroshim of words.


In the late 1970s, Barbara Arrowsmith-Young was a graduate student in school psychology, but she couldn’t tell time on an analogue clock. She couldn’t understand most conversations in real time, didn’t get jokes, and had great difficulty understanding cause and effect. To get through school, she spent entire nights reading and rereading her coursework. She’d relied on memorization her entire life.


This was until Barbara Arrowsmith-Young discovered the innovative scientific theory surfacing at the time that found that the human brain hasthe ability to restructure itself. Determinedly grasping onto it, she worked to develop a remarkable series of cognitive exercises that actually addressedthe problems underlying her own learning disabilities. Immensely encouraged by her personal success, she persisted in expanding the neuroplastic work over the years, creating programs to address the most common learning disorders, such as attention, dyslexia, fine motor, executive function, non-verbal learning and auditory processing. As a result, students who completed the program no longer require resource support or program modification.


A student in Toronto with an auditory processing difficulty was so lost that he could not make sense of his world at all. “What what what?” and “Huh huh huh?” were the words he used most. A family video of Zachary at age four shows him just staring blankly at the camera. Communication was so difficult for him that he used to take a phone from home to nursery school, thinking that if need be, he could call his mother at work in order for her to speak for him. On the first day of camp, when he was four, says his mother, Aliza, “He stood outside the whole time. They didn’t know to ask him if he wanted a drink of water. It was ninety degrees. He didn’t drink all day. He didn’t go to the bathroom all day. He couldn’t even ask for himself. He didn’t go swimming, because he couldn’t ask where the change room was.”                                   


Zachary was assigned a clocks exercise, the same exercise that Barbara first developed for her own struggles to understand the world. Today, Zachary understands things the first time they are explained to him. He understands the rules of games, jokes, conversations, and math. He is now a shining star in his school. So excited by what she saw, Aliza spearheaded a grassroots parent-driven effort to bring the program to Eitz Chaim Schools in Toronto for other children in her community. In an interview, the parents note their gratitude to Rabbi Isser Pliner, dean of Eitz Chaim Schools, for being a leader in new educational initiatives in Toronto. 


The Arrowsmith Program is currently being offered at the following yeshivos: Bais Yaakov of Boro Park, Beis Chaya Mushka in Crown Heights, Eitz Chaim Schools in Toronto, Jewish Educational Center (JEC) in Elizabeth, NJ, Yeshiva Degel Hatorah in Monsey, and Yeshiva Tiferes Torah in Lakewood.

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