The Arrowsmith Program


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Wouldn’t you love to spend an evening with Barbara Arrowsmith-Young?  I guarantee you would, but first I may have to convince you why.  Let’s go back about 15 years ago.  A mother and father brought their son, Richie to my office.  Richie clearly had significant learning issues, and we determined that we could help him with the visual component of his struggles, which we did.  It became apparent to his parents that there was no school locally that could address his learning disabilities.  His father was so determined to help Richie succeed that he searched until he found what looked like the ideal program.  The only problem was that the school was located in Toronto, Canada.  Undaunted, Richie’s dad moved there so he could be close at hand while Richie made significant strides in learning, all the while agitating for the Arrowsmith Program to be opened in New Jersey.

After experiencing vision therapy, Richie’s dad mentioned to me on more than one occasion that the learning methodologies we applied through The Vision & Learning Center had much in common with the theory and methods employed in the Arrowsmith Program.  I always had it on my list to arrange to learn more about how our approaches could be synergistic, but I never delved into further.  Fast forward to today, and we have the story of The Arrowsmith School as told in a very personal account by its founder, Barbara Arrowsmith-Young.  The book is well done, beginning with the Foreword by Norman Doidge, MD, author of The Brain That Changes Itself.  Doidge’s book in fact help put Arrowsmith on the map, featuring her program in one of his chapters on neuroplasticity as applied to education.  The bottom line is that Arrowsmith-Young was heavily influenced by her readings of Luria, and applied a variety of cognitive exercises before it was fashionable.  What Arrowsmith-Young doesn’t do is acknowledge that others before her blazed very similar trails, for example Thinking  Goes to School, by Furth and Wachs.  She gives very little detail in her book about what her cognitive exercises are, and readers must settle for broad categorical descriptions.

Having said this, there is much about Arrowsmith-Young’s book that will resonate for those working with children’s learning issues.  Here is one gem: “Some parents may fail to recognize some daunting possibilities: that their child’s learning disability may be much more severe than their own, or that their child has inherited different deficits from the mother and the father and that the end result may be even worse than either can imagine.  Such parents may have struggled in school with learning challenges but are now functional and successful, leading them to believe, mistakenly I think, that their child will ‘make it’, just as they did.”

There are many other nuggets here, from the compensations that some children can make and others not, to the point that emotional healing must still take place even when cognitive exercises have been mastered.  Children with LD or on medications for AD(H)D have had years of cumulative trauma, with low self-esteem and expectations of difficulty or failure.  And it does get personal.  Arrowsmith-Young struggled to learn as a child, and struggled through a tumultuous marriage that left her physically and mentally depleted to the point of folding her program in 1994.  The story of how she rebounded and relaunched the school to now have 35 programs throughout Canada and the U.S. is nothing short of miraculous.  And that is why I can guarantee that you’d love to spend an evening with Barbara Arrowsmith-Young, and be inspired by her story.

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