A Response to the Pandemic:
Arrowsmith Program Goes Online at Home
Students with disabilities face obstacles taking virtual classes
The Daily Orange, April 8, 2020
For students with disabilities, e-learning fails to replicate in-person attention and support
The Daily Northwestern, April 21, 2020
Online classes pose real ‘learning curve’ for special needs students
The B.C. Catholic, May 8, 2020
Online learning sets students back 5 months on potential reading growth
TechRepublic, May 8, 2020
Online classes pose real learning curve for special needs students
America: The Jesuit Review, May 13, 2020
The headlines noted above point to a significant problem in the field of learning difficulties during this concerning pandemic. The primary cause of this problem is that educational programs in schools today are not addressing the underlying cognitive deficits that result in learning challenges in the first place. Instead they use in-school classroom or resource room support, instructional scaffolding, accommodations, and technology to support the learner rather than addressing the problem. As a result, when these supports all disappear, challenges erupt. The child is struggling to acquire knowledge and, faced with these hurdles, parents are being asked to fill the gap, often unprepared for this reality and overwhelmed with the realization of just how challenging novel learning is for their child.
“A child or adult can improve cognitive deficits, increasing their ability to independently engage in subject matter and master areas of achievement.”
Over the last forty years, Barbara Arrowsmith-Young has dedicated her life to the creation and delivery of the Arrowsmith Program. As one of the first educational pioneers in the field of Educational Neuroscience, she proposed that the brain of a child and adult can change with strategically designed cognitive exercises that target specific cognitive functions related to neurological hubs in the brain, and their interconnected large-scale brain networks. By doing so, a child or adult can improve cognitive deficits, increasing their ability to independently engage in subject matter and master areas of achievement. Prior to the advancement of brain imaging, Barbara relied on cognitive and achievement testing to show the impact of the program on the learner. Today, neuroscientists have studied the brains of children with learning difficulties who have engaged in the Arrowsmith Program. The results have been revolutionary, in that her initial theory advanced decades earlier, is being validated as accurate in advanced brain imaging studies. Indeed, the brain of a child having engaged in an intensive Arrowsmith Program is showing improved neurological functioning. This in turn is being associated with advancements in areas of achievement and ability to acquire novel learning concepts.
Prior to the pandemic, access to the Arrowsmith Program was limited to schools or learning centres willing to adopt the program within their school day. Often parents have served as advocates in schools, and over time, convinced key school administrators that what they were currently delivering to children with learning difficulties was not enough. Thus, over decades, more than 100 schools around the world have adopted the Arrowsmith Program.
“The pandemic caused a major shift in how the Arrowsmith Program would be delivered.”
The pandemic caused a major shift in how the Arrowsmith Program would be delivered. Like in all other schools, students were asked to stay at home to keep safe and healthy and not venture out into the community. The teachers delivering the Arrowsmith Program around the world were wondering how they would continue delivering cognitive exercises to their students.
Barbara Arrowsmith-Young was just finishing a book tour in Australia and New Zealand for the new edition of The Woman Who Changed Her Brain. She realized that the facilitator-led in-class instructional format would need to shift to a facilitator-led at-home instructional format. It was essential to the Arrowsmith Program delivery that students received guidance and oversight from their facilitator. One could not give a student a 30-minute morning lesson and then leave them for the rest of the day to complete their work with parental guidance. This was not how advancement in cognitive capacity could be met within the Arrowsmith Program delivery system.
Immediately upon her return to Toronto she got her team together and set about finding a way to deliver the Arrowsmith Program with excellence in the home environment. Fortunately, steps had already been taken years before to make this a reality. First, the Arrowsmith Program had quite a few cognitive exercises that were on the computer. Second, with her team she had developed a remarkable cloud-based technology tracking system and tablet that allowed certified Arrowsmith Program teachers to monitor student performance in real time in the classroom. Clearly, this could also be done if the students were at home working on their computers on the Arrowsmith Program. Third, students could sign onto the Arrowsmith Program platform at home, not just at school. Finally, with the determination and ingenuity of her staff, Barbara shifted other Arrowsmith Program cognitive exercises that were less computer-based into accessible files that could be downloaded or accessed online at the students’ homes.
There was still some uncertainty as to how children and adults working on the Arrowsmith Program at home would perform. Would they struggle at home? Would attention be a problem? How much help would parents need to give their children? Would this slow down their cognitive capacity growth? How would the Arrowsmith Program teacher find online at-home facilitator-led instruction?
To answer these questions, it is important to step back and further discuss how the Arrowsmith Program differs from the support services in schools today for children with learning difficulties. The focus in the majority of schools is to bypass learning weaknesses and discover a student’s strengths. That is, if a student struggles with auditory processing, a school provides as much visual support as possible, if indeed that is a cognitive strength. If the student struggles with concepts, teachers do as much mind-mapping or direct concept instruction as possible, as the student will struggle to independently see relationships between ideas. If the student struggles with organization and planning, they provide as much executive coaching as possible, as the student’s prefrontal cortex is unable to do this executive work independently. This is the nature of the educational paradigm today in school as related to learning difficulties.
Here is the problem when it comes to those instructional supports disappearing as seen during this pandemic. The emergence of online at-home learning means the student with a learning disability cannot learn effectively. The student’s cognitive capacities do not allow them independent access to this novel learning. Suddenly, the parent becomes the teacher, and often realizes just how problematic novel learning is for their child. Remember, this also becomes an issue when the student leaves high school. These cognitive capacity weaknesses remain and suddenly they become barriers to college and the work environment.
“What has been discovered over the last two months in schools engaged in the Arrowsmith Program around the world is that most of the students could do this work either at school or at home.”
On the other hand, the Arrowsmith Program students are given targeted cognitive exercises that challenge and strengthen these weak cognitive capacities. What has been discovered over the last two months in schools engaged in the Arrowsmith Program around the world is that most of the students could do this work either at school or at home. The technology incorporated into the Arrowsmith Program, combined with the facilitator-led instruction and carefully planned delivery of the cognitive exercises, allowed the students to engage in the program with relative ease. Feedback to the student was in real time as the Arrowsmith Program teachers had handheld tablets that displayed their student’s engagement second by second. One parent wrote, “I wanted to write and let you know how much we appreciate all you have done to make this new learning environment enriching, fun and motivating for the students. Our son has really enjoyed the first week and is proud to be working so independently.” Another commented, “We also appreciate that you have made the day so structured and well organized. It allows us to attend to our work while knowing that he is in good hands.” Finally, one parent stated, “My daughter is working hard! She loves the one-on-one with her teacher every morning at 11am, and I am surprised how well it worked for her.”
It is key to remember that the Arrowsmith Program is about strengthening and overcoming cognitive weaknesses. In turn, this improved cognitive capacity allows the student to engage more effectively and efficiently with online educational options. As the brain improves attention, memory, reasoning and/or processing speed, the student with learning difficulties is less challenged when facing novel learning experiences, whether online at home or in school. What is even more promising is that the Arrowsmith Program is now available in more areas around the world due to online at-home access. If you are a parent in a rural area, and an Arrowsmith Program school site is not accessible, or it would be too costly to move, then there are schools offering this online at-home facilitator-led Arrowsmith Program instruction. In fact, there may be other benefits as this one parent wrote to us, “The silver lining in this new reality we are all living is that our son is making huge strides in self-discipline, self-awareness, and self-confidence… and he appreciates not having to rush to the bus in the morning. ;-)”
Howard Eaton, Ed.M.
Online/At Home Learning Opportunities
Available at Eaton Arrowsmith
Over the past few weeks learning at EA Vancouver, Redmond, White Rock and EA Adults has looked a little different! Due to the need for physical distancing, in order to slow the spread of COVID-19 and to keep our community safe, our students and staff have transitioned from learning and teaching in the classroom, to successfully and seamlessly navigating the world of online/at home learning. We are so proud of all of our students for their resilience, tenacity, open mindedness and positivity – and sense of fun – as we all embark on this new adventure!
We are now excited to announce that we are able to open up the following online/at home learning opportunities to new students, and to students who may have been with us in the past but who, due to distance or time restraints, may have had to leave sooner than they would have liked.
Please read below for details of our online/at home programs, and never hesitate to reach out and learn more!
Full and Half Day Programs
Are you looking for a more structured day for your child during this time of physical distancing? A day where students can get to the root of their learning difficulties by strengthening their brains capacity for learning – all while interacting with their teachers and classmates throughout the day from the comfort of home? Our teachers will provide an individualized program for each child and will oversee its implementation via online face to face check ins throughout the day. Leave the teaching to us so that you can focus on the job you do so well – parenting!
If you’re an adult – we’ve got a program for you as well! Why not take this time to focus on you, so that you emerge from this period of time with stronger executive functioning capabilities, such as planning, problem solving and decision making, and the ability to understand information more quickly and deeply?
Cognitive Enhancement (Part Time) Program
Interested in a program that can fit alongside your child’s current school tasks, or your work? Or, have you finished enough puzzles, read enough books or completed enough Sudokus for the time being? Is it time to challenge your brain in a new way? The time commitment for our Cognitive Enhancement Program is just four hours a week. No commute required to attend this program at the end of a long day – all you need is a comfortable chair and a computer!
Online/at home programs will run from May until the end of August, with the ability to extend throughout the next school year as required. Current students are also able to extend their programs past the typical 2019-2020 end date to take advantage of this time at home!
Cognitive Intensive At Home Program
Feedback From Our Families!
We have tremendous gratitude for the Arrowsmith Program staff and their tireless efforts to enable our students to access their programs at home, so that they can continue to strengthen their brains capacity for learning and reach their academic and social potential. Here’s some of the feedback we’ve received from our families regarding Eaton Arrowsmith’s transition to online/at home learning.
I wanted to write and let you know how much we appreciate all you have done to make this new learning environment enriching, fun and motivating for the students. Our son has really enjoyed the first week and is proud to be working so independently.
We also appreciate that you have made the day so structured and well organized. It allows us to attend to our work while knowing that he is in good hands.
The silver lining in this new reality we are all living is that our son is making huge strides in self-discipline, self-awareness, and self-confidence… and he appreciates not having to rush to the bus in the morning. 😉
He does miss seeing you all very much.
A big thank you from our family!
– Astrid and Andrew
I just have to say this again, Ms. C, our daughter’s teacher, is rocking this virtual school thing. Honestly she is just on it! I have gotten so much done the last two days.
Finally, here is a video clip from one of our EA Adults students, Alice, who is not only learning at home herself, but alongside her two sons who attend EA Vancouver! This time in our lives may not be as we planned, but there are definitely some benefits to be found from learning online/at home!
If you are curious about learning more about our online/at home programs, and would like to explore enrollment possibilities for a start with us as early as May, or in September, we’re here for you. We will continue to offer our online/at home programs as long as is deemed necessary. It may be some time before we are all able to return to physical classrooms, and we’ve planned for that. Always remember, we’re in this together!
Feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 604-264-8327 (EA Vancouver, White Rock, EA Adults) or 425-861-8327 (EA Redmond) to learn more!
Interested in learning more about possible tax benefits and reductions available while a child attends Eaton Arrowsmith? Join us March 10th or 11th!
By Mike Campagne, President DTS Disability Tax Services Ltd.
This article is not to be construed as financial advice, but rather as general information. Always consult a tax professional in determining the optimal way for you to file your medical expenses or any other relevant tax credits and deductions.
The information on medical expenses below is lengthy so as to make every effort for accuracy and covering a range of scenarios. I admire when those not trained in taxation take the time to learn, so please be my guest to read the lengthy article.
However – you can just call me direct at 604-551-6025 and I will be happy to explain the relevant rules while taking into account your unique circumstances. It never costs a penny to have me address tax questions on the phone, and if I discover some tax saving opportunities you’ve missed out on (which is the case more often than not), I can discuss arranging having DTS recover those $ for you, or provide some basic guidance if you prefer to act on your own.
If you have a child with a cognitive challenge that requires special schooling – like the Arrowsmith program – it is important to get advice from a tax professional with an in-depth understanding of related disability credits and deductions. Those sections of taxation are administered differently than other areas of personal taxation.
In the recent years, numerous tax-based credit and benefit programs have been introduced to assist families, but many are misunderstood or overlooked.
For this reason, I wanted to write about a topic that is relevant to all families with children attending Eaton Arrowsmith: claiming tuition as a medical expense.
However, while claiming special schooling costs for a child with a learning disability or mental impairment yields valuable tax savings, it’s barely the tip of the iceberg of what may be available.
There are a wide range of potentially applicable programs that include: the disability tax credit, related child disability benefit supplements to the child tax benefit, family caregiver amount credits, travel expenses (in limited circumstances), and the registered disability savings plan (RDSP). Arts and fitness credits were eliminated in 2018.
Not every child with a learning disability or impairment in mental functions will qualify for tax credits and benefits, but many do. These programs are complex and pre-assessed with a rigorous CRA testing system that often leads to erroneous denial of tax credits and benefits to Canadian families.
Recently CRA has been challenged on assessment procedures and a parliamentary advisory committee has been appointed to investigate concerns. That committee asked for my participation and my take home message is that many families with children with cognitive challenges have been denied a fair hearing for a range of tax and benefit programs. This may have happened to you and your child, and improperly denied benefits can run into the thousands of dollars. If you are unsure if you are receiving all eligible tax and benefit supports we provide a free initial analysis via a phone consultation. Feel free to call me at my iphone 604-551-6025 no appointment necessary, or you can email me directly at email@example.com .
2018 Rules on medical expenses:
Line 330 – Medical expenses for self, spouse or common-law partner, and your dependent children born in 2001 or later:
You can claim on line 330 the total eligible medical expenses you or your spouse or common-law partner paid for:
- your spouse or common-law partner; and
- your or your spouse’s or common-law partner’s children born in 2001 or later.
You can claim eligible medical expenses paid in any 12-month period ending in 2018 and not claimed for 2017. Generally, you can claim all amounts paid, even if they were not paid in Canada.
Your total expenses have to be more than 3% of your net income (line 236) or $2,302, whichever is less, to yield federal tax savings.
Reimbursement of an eligible expense – You can claim only the part of an expense for which you have not been or will not be reimbursed.
The medical expense is claimable by the date paid, rather than the date invoiced.
Medical expenses for other dependants must be claimed on line 331. (The most common example of this is a child over 18 living at home). Line 331 – You can claim the total of the eligible expenses minus either $2,302 or 3% of your dependant’s net income (line 236 of the income tax and benefit return), whichever is less, to yield tax savings.
The corresponding provincial lines for the medical expense claims are 5868 for a child under 18 and 5872 for a child over 18.
School for persons with an impairment in physical or mental functions – a medical practitioner must certify in writing that the equipment, facilities, or personnel specially provided by that school are required because of the person’s physical or mental impairment.
A question I have often been asked is, “Why do I need this certified by a medical practitioner?” The simplest way to explain this is to think of it as if your child has been prescribed special schooling due to a learning disability or impairment in mental functions.
Adapted schooling for a child who has no impairment, is generally not claimable. However, I would note that in my experience the description of what qualifies as an impairment in mental functions is relatively broad. With the admission entry process at Arrowsmith, I would expect all students attending the Arrowsmith program could meet this standard.
Which parent should make the claim?
Normally it is most advantageous for one parent to claim the entirety of the family’s medical expenses.
As only the combined medical expenses over $2,302 or 3% of net income result in a tax reduction, in a two parent family the lower income earner will often have the greatest tax reduction.
The corresponding provincial lines for the medical expense claims are for self, spouse and a child under 18 (line 5868) and for a child over 18 (line 5872). The threshold for provincial useable medical expenses differs slightly by province. For BC residents, the 2018 provincial tax year threshold is $2,165 or 3% of net income, whichever is less.
For example, with special schooling expenses of $30,000 and spouses with net incomes of $100,000 and $40,000, and no other claimable medical expenses:
The higher income spouse would see useable medical expenses of $27,698 ($30,000-$2,302) versus useable medical expenses of $28,800 ($30,000-$1,200) for the lower income spouse. By useable medical expenses, I am referring to that portion which leads to a tax reduction.
For a BC resident, the provincial useable medical expenses would be $27,835 ($30,000-$2,165) for the higher income spouse and the same $28,800 for the lower income spouse.
If you already have medical expenses over $2,302 or 3% of net income, whichever is less, the entire special schooling expense yields claimable tax credits.
Ensure to compare the amount you can claim with the amount your spouse or common-law partner would be allowed to claim. Either parent can make the claim, just choose that claim which leads to the largest tax reduction – run the numbers for both scenarios before filing you 2018 taxes. Most tax programs will ask you, when you enter medical expenses, whether they are to be “optimized”. Selecting yes normally leads to the tax software working out which spouse should claim the medical expenses, but I recommend doing the calculations for each parent to be sure.
And remember: medical expense claims create non-refundable credits, meaning they are valuable only in reducing taxes paid or owing. So, while the lower income parent might have more useable medical expense credits, if that person doesn’t owe enough tax to utilize them, it could be that less useable credits for the higher income spouse yield a larger tax saving.
So let me emphasize: run different scenarios, including a splitting of the medical expense claim, to find the best tax reduction outcome. A good tax preparer will do this and even consider within that calculation how other tax credits which are claimable by either spouse are allocated, as that can also impact the value of the medical expense claim. Taxes can be complicated. I recommend getting professional tax preparation assistance.
In the rare case where neither spouse does pay tax (such as a quite low family income or a high level of other deductions), there are no tax savings as the credits are non-refundable. In cases where a family is extremely low income, there may be a medical expense refund claimed, but in my experience families with such low incomes can rarely afford special schooling, so I will not address that issue here.
Tax planning opportunities can center around timing of claims in light of overall medical expenses.
Example (regarding the federal medical expense credits threshold): Sue is a single Mom who makes $100,000 net income. She plans on having her son Joe, who has a learning disability, have intense special schooling from September to March, cost $15,000 in 2017 and $15,000 in 2018. Sue has no other medical expenses. If she claims the expenses by calendar year, she has a useable medical expense amount of only $12,698 in each of 2017 and 2018, for a total of useable medical expense above the threshold of $25,396. This is due to the threshold being applied twice. But if she chooses to claim the period of September 2017 to August 2018 on her 2018 tax filing, her useable medical expense amount increases to $27,698 as the threshold is applied only once. As well, if she paid the entire special schooling amount in 2017 (a prepayment of the January to March special schooling), Sue would have the $27,732 useable amount for her 2017 filing.
How to meet the CRA requirement of “certified by a medical practitioner”?
Here is a typical letter (optimally on stationary identifying the doctor or registered psychologist) certifying the special schooling is required due to a learning disability or impairment in mental functions:
Joe Sample is my patient and a student diagnosed with a learning disability. Joe requires an adapted special schooling program that addresses this impairment. Joe is undergoing therapy/treatment for his learning disability at Eaton Arrowsmith School.
(Signed Dr.) W. Smith
While a doctor or registered psychologist is usually the best choice, I have seen the CRA accept medical practitioners with fewer qualifications as long as their field is relevant to learning impairments.
New in 2019: In a welcome improvement, CRA began in the latter part of 2019 accepting letters from schools like Eaton Arrowsmith wherein the school Principal could validate the medical expense. CRA recognized that it is sometimes difficult to get such a letter from medical practitioners due to factors such as retirement or needing advance notice to schedule appointments at medical office. I’ve reviewed the letter being provided to you this year signed by Sarah Cohen or Kelsey Hanna and my expectation is CRA will find this acceptable documentation of the medical expense eligibility. As such a letter from a doctor or psychologist may not be required, though if not inconvenient to acquire such a letter it could serve as backup validation.
Will I be audited?
CRA has in some past years set a threshold on medical expense claims for automatic computer generated review (audit is way too strong a term here). These “audits” are usually easily addressed by mailing to the CRA your Arrowsmith receipt and a basic letter like the example above. Most regular Canadians can handle this on their own, but if you run into any issues with the CRA here, give me a call.
Over the years, there have been occasions when families with a student at Eaton Arrowsmith have had their tuition medical expense claims rejected, but that was just the result of poor or inadequate communication in responding to the CRA query. In every instance I have been involved with where an Eaton Arrowsmith family encountered such a denial, I was able to intervene and see the CRA denial reversed and the medical expense claim validated.
How much tax savings does the claim yield?
For BC residents, this normally works out to 20.06% of the useable medical expense for middle or high-income earners (though the amount of tax reduction can be less in certain circumstances). The maximum tax relief, for a person with substantial other medical expenses above the 3% of net income or $2,302 threshold, on $30,000 of qualifying tuition expenses, works out to $6,018.00 for BC residents.
For business owners with a Health and Welfare Trust or Private Health Services Plan, the tax savings can potentially nearly double, but such plans have expenses and requirements, and I know of only a few clients over the years utilizing such a plan – they’re complicated. As a discussion of this component is rarely applicable, I won’t bother to cover the details here. If you are a person owning his or her own business, you may want to review these options online via a Google search, as there are companies in Vancouver who can explain and administer such plans.
There are also potentially claimable medical expense travel expenses if the commute to Arrowsmith is over 40 kilometres (each way), but there are complex requirements and provisions for such claims so you should consult with a tax professional on the viability of claiming travel expenses.
If you would like a free initial phone consultation regarding tax saving opportunities that may be applicable to your unique circumstances, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me direct at my iphone office at 604-551-6025.
Mike Campagne CFP, BA
Barbara Arrowsmith Young , a true pioneer in the fields of education and neuroscience, will be speaking in Vancouver, BC on February 1st, 2020 from 3:00pm-5:00pm. Her presentation is not to be missed! Along with speaking about the recently published research results on the Arrowsmith Program, Barbara will be sharing excerpts of the soon to be released 3rd edition of her best selling book, The Woman Who Changed Her Brain. Books will be available for purchase at the event, and Barbara will be on hand to personally sign copies!
Download the article here.
One of the most beautiful qualities of true friendship is to understand and to be understood.
Lucius Annaeus Seneca
Emily, twelve years old, looks at me, and then her parents, Richard and Karey. Her green eyes wide open, dark hair over her shoulders, she slowly leans forward in her chair uncertain about what she had just heard.
The admissions meeting has gone on for sixty minutes. Emily had not said more than a few words. The language of learning disabilities and cognitive intervention was one that did not engage her into conversation. Then the word “friends” was noted by her mother. She had said, “Emily likes her friends at school.” It was then that Emily focused in on the discussion. Her mother had mentioned a topic that defined her identity – her friends. “What about my friends?” Emily said.
Richard and Karey were interested in enrolling Emily at Eaton Arrowsmith School for the full-time program. They brought Emily along as she knew she was struggling academically, and hated learning. She was reading, but spelling, mathematics and writing were very difficult still. If Emily was going to attend the new school, she needed to be part of the admissions decision. In the morning, at breakfast, over some cereal and orange juice, she did not complain about taking some time off school to meet the admissions officer.
Emily had not thought through the entire idea of leaving her current school until that moment in time. She suddenly realized that if she attended Eaton Arrowsmith School her two best friends in Grade 7 would no longer be at her side during the school day. They had known each other since Grade 5. What would happen now? “I can’t leave my friends,” said Emily, “No way.”
The Big Question
What should Richard and Karey do? Is there a way to convince Emily that one will always have friends in life and that improving cognitive functioning was so much more important at this time in her life? Easier said than done. In fact, brain imaging can determine, through fMRI brain scanning, who has a high likelihood of being a potential friend.i That is, that two people would be more likely to be good friends if the brain activated in the same way when exposed to the same videos. If brain activation was different, then they were less likely to be a good friendship match. In short, our friends, the ones we are closest to, have similar daily neural activity. As friends, we may look different, but our brains are behaving the same! As the researchers said, “People tend to be friends with individuals who see the word in a similar way.”ii
Friends are critical to children. Even as we age, neuroscience is showing that the stronger our friendships, the healthier our brain will be.iii Friends have shared interests, values and, now we know, brain waves. Our sense of self, or self-identity, is immersed in our relationships with others. To be pulled apart from the strong bond of friendship is a significant neurological experience. The brain could easily become anxious. One understands Emily’s response to the realization that if she attends a new school, she would not have her two close friends in her school day environment. Again, do Richard and Karey make an executive decision and just tell their twelve-year-old daughter that she must go to Eaton Arrowsmith School?
What Factors to Consider
The answer to that question is not so simple, at least for Emily. Emily has had a history of problems making friends. In fact, when she was very young, she would often go right up to other children and, in the words of other parents, bother them. She appeared to have limited boundaries and challenges in understanding social engagement rules. Now, at twelve years of age her judgement is worrisome to her parents. She really wants to go to a friend’s house to see her, and then take the bus back at night in an area of town that is problematic. She appears to have no worries about doing this, and often Richard and Karey have to say no, we will pick you up at your friend’s house. This concerns them. Can she make the right decisions about social situations or obstacles? All these issues are reasons they are considering Eaton Arrowsmith School as the program addresses cognitive weaknesses related to strategic planning and social judgement. These are cognitive functions that centre around prefrontal functioning in the human brain and can be improved. Emily feels she is fine, but thus the problem.
Reasoning or logic are also issues for Emily. There is an area of the brain that takes in sensory information from our environment so we can make sense of what we are experiencing in real time. One can improve the capacity of this area of the brain so a child can reason with relative ease, see connections between ideas, and do this in real time. Thus, Emily struggles with social strategic planning and with reasoning through options in real time in order to make and execute the best social decision safely.
As noted above, Emily does not analyze all the possible ramifications of an action she might take. It is as if there is one possibility, and she is always right. No matter how they present their case as parents, Emily seems to struggle to take in a variety of differing opinions and see how they might all be related. “If I catch the bus, why does it matter if it is at night?” Emily would state. “Because it is not just night, but also where you are catching the bus,” Karey responds. “I am on a bus; why does it matter where I am?” says Emily. And it goes on.
So, Richard and Karey must consider whether building cognitive capacities overrides not seeing two close friends at school as frequently. Emily is certain of her opinion at this point as we sit in the office. No way. Not happening. Not leaving my friends.
“One of the most beautiful qualities of true friendship is to understand and to be understood.”
Seneca the Younger, who lived in Rome, from 4 BC to AD 65, was a Stoic philosopher, among many talents. The quote above is attributed to him. As a follower of the Stoicism, School of Hellenistic philosophy, he believed that a system of logic should form one’s personal ethics. Humans should not be ruled by our passions (fear, anger, pain), but by using reasoning. Thus, the quote attributed to him follows his beliefs, that the best feature of a friendship is that we understand each other. That we can view the world in a similar way, and we perceive the meaning of each others’ actions.
Thus, to develop “true” friendships it would be important to have a mind that can reason, understand and extract meaning from shared experiences. This is where it gets interesting for Emily, and the decision Richard and Karey need to make. Remember, reasoning, logical thinking, extracting meaning from experiences, are significant weaknesses for Emily. Thus, she can decode words, but her reading comprehension is weak. She can add and multiply numbers, but her math problem solving is below grade level. She hates Science and Social Studies and needs to go to the resource room at school for extra help to understand these subjects. It just takes Emily longer to get the meaning of a presentation at school or even when watching movies at home with the family.
How does this weakness impact Emily’s friendships? Richard and Karey have watched friendships come and go, and yes, over the last year she has formed a good bond with her school friends. Though, these friendships were often one-sided. They would ask her to do something, tell her to go places, and essentially, she just tagged along happily. With past friendships, they would get annoyed with her as she would stretch social boundaries, by calling too often, or sending text messages that seemed disconnected to the flow of the actual conversation. One day she would have a friend, and the next day they’d be gone. Emily has struggled to understand her friends, and they can be confused by her actions.
Making the Decision
This is what parents are faced with when considering the “missing my friends” question at enrollment. Parents understand how their child would want to avoid social change. Often, for a parent, it is experiencing or observing one’s child upset about a change that is so painful.
For children with learning disabilities, research shows that social success is not easy. What is more worrying is that the current social skills training programs are not having positive effects.iv The most likely reason for this is that social skills training programs are not addressing the actual underlying cognitive deficits in an intensive and systematic intervention.
Children with learning disabilities often live in a world of uncertainty as a result of waking up on a school day morning just hoping all will go okay both academically and socially. This is where it is important to make a decision for the long-term social success of your child. Mental health issues must also be weighed, as repetitive social failure can result in anxiety and depression.v
Of course, the decision to leave a school, and one’s friends, should not be announced suddenly without lots of dialogue. Though, eventually, the decision needs to be made for the best interest of the child. The goal is to improve the cognitive functions needed for improved social awareness and understanding once they are finished with the Arrowsmith Program. These cognitive functions are not needed for school socialization only, but long-term for employment, and if they desire, finding a partner and possibly raising their own children.
If necessary, ask for help from a child psychologist or counselor. They can often talk to a child in a way that helps with their decision making. Ultimately, however, it is the parents that must make the choice. I recommend listening to Emily’s feelings and needs, repeat what you have heard from her to show your respect and understanding. Then, as parents, tell Emily how you are feeling, and what your needs as parents might be. Use some of the Arrowsmith Program language about improving the brain and how this will help her social skills. Write this all down. Review it. Then ask Emily, what action can we take that would make sense for you now, and for when you are all grown up. See what happens. This process may not be perfect, and you still may have to make a decision that results in short-term anxiety, but her thoughts and feelings were considered.
The eventual goal of attending the Arrowsmith Program is that children develop stronger cognitive capacities for self-awareness and social interactions. That they understand who they are based on their recall of life experiences and their ability to see meaning in their world today. That they can quickly interpret body language, spoken language, and understand the nuances of these social engagements during one-to-one meetings or as opportunities arise through larger group interactions. These social skills all require efficient cognitive functioning.
Of course, there are situations where the child is quite good neurologically at establishing and maintaining friendships. The problems are more academic as related to cognitive weaknesses. What is interesting in these situations is reasoning or logic often convinces the child that improving cognitive capacities is more important than missing one’s friends for the school day for several years. They also realize that new friends can be made at the new school. There is logic to be used to reduce fears or anxieties and accept a new experience. Thus, once a child develops these social cognitive capacities they are often more flexible in decision making, resulting in their desire to experience the world and all it has to offer safely.
Howard Eaton, Ed.M.
Eaton Arrowsmith School
iv Forness, S. R., and Kavale, K. A. (2016) Treating social skill deficits in children with learning disabilities: A meta-analysis of the research. Learning Disability Quarterly, Vol 19, 2-12
v Kawachi, I., and Berkman, I. K. (2001) Social ties and mental health. Journal of Urban Health: Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine, 78(3), 458-467
Download the article here.
By: Howard Eaton, Ed.M., Director, Eaton Arrowsmith Schools
I sit in my home office this early July morning, listening to the sprinkler outside provide water to the vegetable garden. My computer is on, with the screen reflecting a blank Word document. I want to share my thoughts, ideas, beliefs on special education, neuroscience and the Arrowsmith Program. I will go for a walk after, taking my dog, Hector, who has been a loyal family friend for the last twelve years. This is almost the same number of years I have been engaged in the Arrowsmith Program. To be exact, it has been fifteen years. During this time the Arrowsmith Program has been my primary career focus. It has been my privilege to learn from a remarkable pioneer in Educational Neuroscience, Barbara Arrowsmith-Young.
The following words highlight what I know Barbara Arrowsmith-Young has brought to the field of Learning Disabilities and Neuroscience. These are revolutionary, paradigm shifting ideas that I hope will one day be common place in public schools around the world; that indeed children and adults of all socioeconomic backgrounds, who are struggling in school, will have open and free access to cognitive intervention solutions like the Arrowsmith Program. These are the top eight revolutionary ideas rooted in the Arrowsmith Program that we must all understand and when possible, should be shared with parents, educators, psychologists, psychiatrists, medical doctors, speech-language specialists and all those involved in the well-being of children and adults who struggle to learn.
#1) Not Lifelong
Just now I went to search for the latest definition for learning disabilities on the Learning Disabilities Association of Canada (LDAC) website. I had last seen it in 2002. I wanted to know whether the 2002 definition was still on the site, or if the definition had changed based on insights from research. It was updated in 2015, but one aspect of the definition remained the same. It still stated that “learning disabilities are lifelong”[i].
What really grabbed my attention when the LDAC web page appeared on my screen was the ad above the text on the official definition of learning disabilities. It is (at this moment in time) an advertisement for the Arrowsmith Program. An intervention program that knows learning disabilities are not lifelong.
The irony of all this really outlines where we are at in the field of Learning Disabilities. It is a time of change – as slow as it is. Thousands, upon thousands of educators still believe that learning disabilities are lifelong. It is easy to understand this as the official definition for learning disabilities, as both Canada and the United States highlight this notion. Textbooks on learning disabilities that are used to train educators still state that learning disabilities are lifelong.
The research on the Arrowsmith Program is highlighting the fact that this is not true; that the underlying cause of learning disabilities, weaknesses in neurological functioning, can be improved. If you have time, review the decades of research undertaken on the Arrowsmith Program.[ii] Research conducted in 2018 and 2019 is showing that the Arrowsmith Program improves functional connectivity between large-scale brain networks with related improvements in cognitive abilities. These brain networks are associated with processing speed and cognitive efficiency.[iii] [iv]
The concept that the brain can change (neuroplasticity) is not new. This is not an idea developed by Barbara Arrowsmith-Young alone over the last half-century. The knowledge of brain plasticity has existed for many decades.[v] The challenge in education or educational policy-making is that the old ideas are hard to replace. Educational law and policy on learning disabilities are built on the pre-existing idea that the brain is fixed, and that if you have a neurological based disability, it’s for life.
How long will it take for learning disability definitions to change, to remove the word lifelong, and replace it with less certain statements of permanence? Might we add a sentence to these official definitions like: “learning disabilities can be caused by persistent neurological dysfunctions and might be remediated through an intensive cognitive intervention program”?
This is a real challenge for the field. What I do know is that the current definition is creating a false narrative about the potential of children, and even adults with learning disabilities. The current definition is limiting their potential to improve cognitive capacities. More importantly, it is telling school administrators, teachers, children and their parents that your brain cannot change.
#2) Bridging the Gap: Neuroscience and Education
The Arrowsmith Program is building an important bridge between neuroscience and education. This is important as most teachers (90%) believe that knowledge of the brain is important when designing educational programs.[vi]
Barbara Arrowsmith-Young is one of the first pioneers in a developing discipline called Educational Neuroscience.[vii] Dr. Norman Doidge, author of The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science, wrote an entire chapter on Barbara as it is quite a remarkable narrative of overcoming severe learning challenges. He highlights the fact that Barbara studied concepts in neuroscience while at graduate school and then, ingeniously found a way to translate them into an educational program focused on improving cognitive capacities for children and adults with learning disabilities. In Barbara’s book, The Woman Who Changed Her Brain: How I Left My Learning Disability Behind and Other Stories of Cognitive Transformation, Dr. Doidge’s foreword noted that “Barbara’s own story…is truly heroic, on par with the achievements of Helen Keller.”
In short, Barbara Arrowsmith-Young brought neuroscientific insight into educational practice for children and adults with learning disabilities. She was one of the first to begin to bridge this gap, and it is a critical gap to continue to fill. These two fields of study have a difficult time communicating with each other at colleges and universities around the world. It is getting better, and Barbara, through the Arrowsmith Program, is playing a significant role in making this happen. Neuroscientists and educators at universities around the world are now studying the Arrowsmith Program. Faculties of medicine and education at several top universities are researching the Arrowsmith Program to discover how both could work together to improve educational outcomes of children.[viii] There is a long way to go to fortify the bridge between the two fields of study, as problems related to a common language and research literacy exist.[ix] What is great to see is the Arrowsmith Program is providing these two research fields, and their scientists, a shared language and experience.
#3) Cognitive Assessment to Cognitive Intervention Model for Learning Disabilities
I taught at the Faculty of Education, at University of British Columbia, as a Sessional Instructor. This was back in 2000-2005, prior to my full awareness and engagement in the Arrowsmith Program.
Each year I was asked to teach a course on Learning Disabilities to students in the teacher education programs. The textbook I chose for the course was widely used and praised by academics in the field of Learning Disabilities. The textbook focused on definition, assessment, intervention, and future possibilities for the field. There was, of course, no mentioning of brain plasticity or neuroplasticity. It was all about lifelong problems, bypassing weaknesses, finding accommodations, the importance of technology, and essentially how to help children with learning disabilities survive school.
There was one chapter in the textbook that interested me the most. It was the chapter on assessment of learning disabilities. This was because I had my own psycho-educational assessment practice at the time. I would work with psychologists to conduct comprehensive assessments, and with that data make educational recommendations for parents, teachers and school administrators. I was known in Vancouver for writing good reports with practical recommendations.
A challenge I had at the time was that many of my recommendations were not implemented in schools. My assessments were used to designate the child as having a learning disability for funding purposes, write up an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), and then placed in some filing cabinet. Yes, there were teachers that read the assessment, placed recommendations in the IEP and did a monthly review. They were amazing; positive development happened for that child as a result, because we found ways to work around their neurological weaknesses.
What was missing in the assessment world was a connection between neurological or cognitive deficits, and the intervention given to the child. If we found a cognitive weakness, say in processing speed or working memory, we did not give an intervention for it; instead, we wrote down a way to avoid that problem in school. We would write in the report that the child should be given extra time on tests or the ability to use a keyboard because their written output was too slow with paper-pencil tasks. There was no intervention, but rather avoidance of the underlying cause of the learning disability. The reason for this was obvious at the time to me. These neurological weaknesses were permanent.
The Arrowsmith Program is the first, and to my knowledge, the only comprehensive assessment-to-intervention program in the world addressing a wide range of cognitive capacities. Thus, unlike a school-based psycho-educational assessment that uncovers a weakness in auditory working memory, and then recommends that teachers write down what they say on the white board, the Arrowsmith Program assessment will identify this cognitive weakness and then implement a cognitive capacity improvement program to strengthen auditory working memory. Again, it is the only comprehensive cognitive assessment to cognitive intervention program that can also be implemented in a classroom setting.
#4 Individualized Cognitive Intervention: Progress Measured in Real-Time with Real-Time Feedback
The Arrowsmith Program Assessment was created to help teachers, parents and children understand the underlying cognitive capacities that are responsible for learning. As well, an individualized Arrowsmith report is provided to identify one’s unique and specific combination of cognitive strengths and weaknesses. Many parents note the report is so comprehensive that they now understand why their child is struggling both academically and socially.
Prior to being engaged in the Arrowsmith Program, I conducted thousands of psycho-educational assessments. My goal was to get a measure of intelligence, discover other cognitive capabilities, along with areas of academic achievement in reading, writing and math. My team needed to determine if the child’s potential to learn (IQ score) was in any way not showing up on measures of achievement. By reporting to the parent whether the child’s intelligence was average or above average, the children will do better in areas of achievement and in school-based subject matters. The reason their child was struggling in school was because they were not getting the proper instructional format, such as extra time on tests, or the teacher was not writing down information they were saying on the board. This was not the child’s fault; the school and the teachers had to do better.
Well, I can go down that road, complain about schools and how we poorly deliver curriculum to children with learning disabilities. Teachers can argue back that they do not have the time or resources to help all the children with learning difficulties, each with their own unique cognitive weakness, in their classroom. Yes, we can all agree to that point. So, what do we do? I suggest we look at the Arrowsmith Program as a solution. The Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB) adopted the Arrowsmith Program for years in multiple schools and had remarkable outcome data. Again, I recommend you to look at this research and see just how many children did not require in-school resource room support after receiving the Arrowsmith Program.[x] These children with learning disabilities, many receiving intensive resource room time, were able to go into the regular classroom setting without extensive assistance due to improved cognitive capacities after their targeted cognitive intervention designed around their Arrowsmith cognitive assessment.
I like this quote from Ed Batista, “make feedback normal [and] not a performance review.” I don’t know a lot about Ed, but I love that quote because it relates to schools, education and working with children and adults with learning disabilities. Everyone should embrace feedback, but oftentimes we are fearful of it. This is especially the case for those with learning disabilities, because it has often beem negative.
The Arrowsmith Program is designed around normalizing feedback, making it immediate, seeing feedback as a way to grow your potential to learn and to set new goals in your program. Barbara Arrowsmith-Young was aware, having had a learning disability herself, that a program that worked on one’s cognitive weaknesses would be challenging. Thus, she needed to design the delivery of the program in a way that would inspire one to move forward through a challenging task. She worked to develop a program that would incrementally challenge a child on a specific cognitive task, give the right feedback to reinforce success when necessary, and move them to mastery level of that cognitive task over time. Once achieved, a higher level of cognitive challenge would be presented to that child.
The Arrowsmith Program is now extremely effective with feedback for both the student and teacher through technology advancement. Today, teachers using the Arrowsmith Program walk around the classroom with tablets that display each child’s cognitive program and level of engagement on their cognitive intervention program at that moment in time. Each child can see in real-time how they are doing when engaged in the programs. Thus, teacher-student interaction is high, feedback is constant, and their progress is measured by the second.
Teachers are motivated by the desire to make a difference in the lives of their students. Arrowsmith allows teachers to realize this goal when working with students with learning disabilities. Too many students with these disabilities are not engaged in school and leaving before graduating or graduate with minimal course requirements. Today, research supports this finding as related to dropout rates for those with LD[xi] and/or ADHD[xii]. This needs to change. We need to give these students a reason to engage in school.
#5) Connections Between Neuroscientific Research and Academic Success: The Importance of Working Memory
Achievement remediation may not be the most critical school-based intervention need for children with learning disabilities. Why would that be the case? Does one not need to read, write or understand math concepts? Of course, that is a real need, but what is important to recognize is that one needs underlying cognitive capacities to acquire those achievement skills. For example, the brain needs to have neurological abilities with verbal and visual-spatial working memory to achieve in mathematics.[xiii]
Working memory is a part of short-term memory and allows us to hold information temporarily for processing. It is important for holding information, reasoning through information, and expressing information. A weakness in working memory capacity can be extremely problematic for a child or an adult.
Today, there is a significant body of research that has informed psychologists and neuroscientists, and less so educators, that working memory can be improved, and with this improvement, can help children succeed in areas of achievement.[xiv] As well, research is showing that working memory skills are more important than one’s IQ score in predicting academic attainment.[xv] Thus, at times, there may be a real need for cognitive capacity intervention before achievement intervention. This can be observed in non-responders to math or reading intervention programs.
I have seen hundreds of children with learning disabilities not benefiting from reading or math programs. These programs are delivered by excellent tutors or teachers, and yet that child’s progress in reading and math is very slow. These tutors and teachers are puzzled, as they have had other children advance very quickly with them over the years. Why is there a discrepancy in their levels of progress? The answer lies in the underlying cognitive capacity profiles of those children. Some have more severe verbal working memory deficits. They may also have more severe visual-spatial working memory deficits. As a result, they will each respond differently to the achievement intervention, say in mathematics.
A problem arises when the parent or teacher continues to try the math intervention without success. The child begins to feel utterly useless, a failure and disappointment. We are trying to provide the child’s brain with sensory information they cannot process, memorize and therefore, understand.
Neuroscience research is now showing that we can improve these cognitive capacities and should do so before introducing achievement skills. The Arrowsmith Program Assessment can identify these cognitive capacity weaknesses. Then the Arrowsmith Program provides the cognitive intervention to improve these weaknesses. It is imperative that we put children in educational experiences they can manage neurologically. In cases where they can’t manage, we now have the knowledge to strengthen the underlying cognitive capacities so that they can.
#6) Teachers Can Directly Improve Cognitive Capacities of Students and Not Work Around Weaknesses in Brain Functioning
I have been writing a book on the 150 Australian families that moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada to have their children enroll in the Arrowsmith Program from 2010 to 2019. There are fewer each year now since 23 schools in Australia adopted the Arrowsmith Program during that time. As part of my research for the book I decided to interview some of the schools in Australia that adopted the program. I wanted to see how the recently trained Arrowsmith Program teachers were doing, moving from the regular resource room model of intervention for children with learning difficulties to a more cognitive intervention model.
What these Australian teachers said was quite profound. One teacher in Melbourne said, “I would never go back to a resource room model. I can’t imagine it. I can now improve the child’s brain, and not have to work around their weaknesses. No, no, can’t imagine it.” Another from Sydney noted, “it is so rewarding to provide this program to my students. I am giving them more hope, [and] more control over their lives.”
This is a revolutionary change in teacher education and teacher skill development. The Arrowsmith Program is educating teachers from around the world on brain functioning, how the brain changes, learns, and how to best develop neurological abilities. The Arrowsmith Program is allowing them to directly improve the quality of life of children not just in school, but for the rest of their lives.
The teacher is no longer feeling as if they are just trying to get the child through school. No longer do teachers feel like they are doing the work for the child. Instead, they are coaching children to do tasks they never imagined they could accomplish, let alone even focus on for just a few minutes.
#7) Students Are Finally in Control of Their Success and Developing Self-Awareness
I have had many meetings with parents and their children who are struggling in school. I often hear the parent state how much they are doing to help their child with homework. Whether it is to remind them to do homework or assist them as they work through a school-based project, they are spending hours repeating elementary school or high school with their child. I will also hear the child say that they go to a special education classroom or resource room to get extra help as they often did not understand the teacher in the classroom. The child will say to me, “Ms. Williams is really nice, and helps me a lot. She does things for me like writing out my answers or reading things I don’t understand.”
Essentially, what I described above is not highly unusual for families with children with learning disabilities. It is worrisome when this is teaching the child that external forces, chance, luck and adults are controlling their lives. It also teaches that life can be unpredictable, as there is someone there to help you, and at other times, not. There is a lot of research since 1966 about the locus of control.[xvi] The finding of data is that the more external the locus of control is in a child, the more negative the outcomes for academic achievement, personality, and social adjustment. In fact, findings show that maternal prenatal external locus of control accompanies reduced mathematical and science abilities in children.[xvii] During pregnancy, the more the mothers feel that life is about luck or fate, the more the likelihood of the external locus of control showing up in their children. It is uncertain whether the father influences their children, however, I would bet it is not good either.
The Arrowsmith Program provides an educational platform that teaches both the child and parent that success is based on their effort, their ability to set goals and to achieve them over time. The Arrowsmith Program teacher does not provide answers, reduce workload, or ask parents to re-teach concepts at home. The parent is not in the educational environment, other than to encourage and cheer their child onto success. Slowly, over time, the child can begin to build an internal locus of control. Children or adults with an internal locus of control realize that their success is dependent on their own engagement in life. You are not successful in the Arrowsmith Program because of luck or fate, but rather it comes from determination, resilience and responsibility.
This development of an internal locus of control can then lead to a better sense of self-awareness. Here the impact of the Arrowsmith Program gets very interesting to me. This is one of the most revolutionary concepts that Barbara Arrowsmith-Young is introducing to the field of Learning Disabilities. I will take this one step at a time, as it is important to be clear on this concept.
First, the Arrowsmith Program does provide a child or an adult with the opportunity to see the control of their lives coming from the internal mind, and not external forces influencing their lives (i.e., teachers explaining or parents helping). This is where it all begins, in the self-discovery stage¾that what I do and the amount of effort put into a task, will shape who I am.
Second, the Arrowsmith Program provides the child or adult with cognitive programs that builds self-awareness. That is, there are parts of our brain, like the parietal temporal occipital association area[xviii], that allow our minds to develop meaning from the world around us. Self-awareness is hard to achieve without developing the meaning of the world around us. These parts of our brain need to be developed and challenged.
Barbara Arrowsmith-Young developed a cognitive program called Symbol Relations. Over time, the task progressively gets more challenging. Brain imaging shows that children who do this task engages parts of the brain responsible for reasoning, or cause-and-effect problem solving. In just a 6-week summer intensive program, research showed that three large-scale brain networks responsible for self-awareness show improved connectivity.
Finally, let’s bring this all together; the relationship between the ability to have an internal locus of control and its development in children and adults. The Arrowsmith Program first begins to develop this approach to life by how the individual engages in the tasks and second, the program itself builds neurological functions that allow that individual to better understand themselves as related to the world around them. The combined effect is life changing for that child or adult. It is not uncommon for an adult engaged in the Arrowsmith Program to state, “I no longer live in a fog. I live in real-time. I know what I can do, and how I can achieve it.” If this is not a statement of self-awareness, I am not sure what one would be.
#8) Learning Disability Narrative Change
The Arrowsmith Program is changing the current learning disability narrative. It is very difficult to change the narrative of a field of study. It is usually accomplished in small steps, over many decades. This is the case for the impact of the Arrowsmith Program over the last forty years.
The current narrative in the field of learning disabilities, is as stated above, that these are lifelong disabilities. That the brain is fixed, and that children and adults with these difficulties must be understood as needing strategies, technology or other specialized instruction to work around their neurological weaknesses. Yet, they are smart as well, with average to above average intelligence. Some become famous like Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, and more recent names like Jay Leno, Paul Orfalea, Charles Schwab, Cher, Whoopi Goldberg, Richard Branson. And even more recent names like Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Michael Phelps and Daniel Radcliffe.
So, there is the narrative. You have a lifelong disability that you need to find ways to work around your weaknesses, and if you do so, you can quite possibly be successful like those famous people. I used to embrace this narrative whole-heartedly. It was all I knew.
The Arrowsmith Program is slowly revolutionizing this narrative. It is important that we do, because what we have is not working in schools today. Dropout rates are still too high.[xix] Depression and anxiety[xx] in those with learning disabilities is too high. Suicide rates are higher in this population and particularly with women.[xxi] Economically having a learning disability is not good.[xxii]
The narrative from the Arrowsmith Program is clear. If you have a learning disability you can improve your cognitive weaknesses. These are not lifelong neurological deficits. YOU oversee your success, not others. You can develop a better sense of self-awareness. You have more possibilities in life for career choices. You do not need to look up to famous people with learning disabilities to feel good about yourself and accept your fate. You can achieve so much more. As Barbara Arrowsmith-Young states, “It is through cognitive transformation that we help unlock each individual’s gifts, allowing them to dare to dream.”
Howard Eaton, Ed.M.
Eaton Arrowsmith School
[iii] Jagger-Rickels, A. C., & Rose, G. M. (2018) ‘Exploring the Relationship Between Improvement in an Intensive Learning Intervention and Changes in Resting state Functional Connectivity’, paper presented to Sixth Biennial Conference on Brain Connectivity in Montreal, 26-28 September, presented 27 September 2018.
[iv] Jagger-Rickels, A. C., Rose, G. M., & Kibby, M. Y. (2019) ‘Effect of Comorbid Learning and Neurodevelopmental Disorders on Resting-state Functional and Effective Connectivity in Adolescents’, poster presented to Cognitive Neuroscience Society Annual Conference in San Francisco, 23-26 March, viewed 26-28 March 2019.
[vi] Pickering, S. J., and Howard-Jones, P. A. (2007) Educators’ views of the role of Neuroscience in Education: A study of UK and International perspectives, Mind, Brain and Education, 1(3).
[ix] Devonshire, I. M., and Dommett, E. J. (2010). Neuroscience: Viable Applications in Education? The Neuroscientist, 16 (4), 349-365.
[xii] Fried, R., Petty, C., Faraone, S. V., Hyder, L. L., Day, H., and Biederman, J. (2016) Is ADHD a risk factor for high school dropout? A controlled study. Journal of Attention Disorders, 20 (5), 383-389.
[xiii] Van de Weijer-Bergsma, E., Kroesbergen, E. H., and Van Luit, J. E. H. (2015) Verbal and visual-spatial working memory and mathematical ability in different domains throughout primary school. Memory & Cognition, 43 (3), 367-378
[xiv] Soderqvist, S., and Nutley, S. B. (2015) Working memory training is associated with long term attainments in math and reading. Frontiers in Psychology, 6: 1711
[xv] Alloway, T. P., and Alloway, R. G. (2010) Investigating the predictive roles of working memory and IQ in academic attainment. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 106 (1), 20-29
[xvi] Rotter, J. (1966). Generalized expectancies for internal versus external control of reinforcement. Psychology Monogram, 80, 1-28.
[xvii] Golding, J., Gregory, S., Ellis, G., Nunes, T., Bryant, P., Iles-Caven, Y., and Nowicki, S. (2019) Maternal prenatal external locus of control and reduced mathematical and science abilities in their offspring: A longitudinal birth cohort study. Frontier in Psychology, 10: 194.
[xx] Nelson, J. M., and Harwood, H. (2010) Learning disabilities and anxiety: A meta-analysis. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 1 (44), 3-17.
Download the article here.
After a decade of working alongside Barbara Arrowsmith-Young, the Founder of the Arrowsmith Program, I wondered if there was a way to bring her program to more children and adults with learning disabilities. Was there a way to reduce the intervention length, but maintain the quality of the outcome? I began to discuss with Ms. Arrowsmith-Young this idea, for which she had also considered for some time. I asked her if we could take the Symbol Relations (reasoning) program and provide an intensive version of it over 6 weeks.
The reason that Ms. Arrowsmith-Young looked at the Symbol Relations was due to the fact that this program was theorized to engage an association area of the human brain. In neuroscience this cognitive function is considered an “association area of association areas” in the brain which simultaneously processes multiple stimuli – both external and internal – necessary to understand the world, oneself and others. It is involved in processing concepts in all academic principles, understanding and quickly grasping what we read and hear, logical reasoning and flexibility in thought.
Ms. Arrowsmith-Young agreed that if the intervention could have the same number of hours as a 10-month intervention during a school year then one could consider this option. The concern was the intensity of the intervention for children. Could they manage to engage in such an intensive intervention? As well, it would be important to find researchers who would study the outcome of this idea.
In the Summer of 2017 the researchers were found, children enrolled in the research, and the study coordinated. The students brain networks would be imaged both pre-and-post Symbol Relations intervention. In addition, cognitive measures of behaviour were also measured pre-and-post. If the research found that this method of intensive delivery was getting results then it was possible that the intervention could be offered to more children who did not have the opportunity to engage in the year-round school-based programs.
In September 2018 and March 2019, Dr. Greg Rose and his colleagues presented their data. It is one of the most important pilot studies to date in the field of Learning Disabilities and was presented as poster sessions at two conferences in North America.[i] [ii]
First, the studies presented discovered that children with learning disabilities have brain network connectivity problems.[iii] This was not a novel finding as research has been underway at various universities around the world showing that children with learning disabilities have brain network problems.[iv] That is, the major brain networks responsible for executive functioning or attention control regulation showed hyper-connectivity concerns.[v] In other words, being hyper-connected indicated less efficient brain network communication resulting in potential learning problems.[vi] The students about to undergo the 6-week intensive Arrowsmith Program also showed this problem further validating these discoveries in neuroscience.
What was extraordinary about the September 2018 presentation by Dr. Greg Rose and his colleagues, from Southern Illinois University, was that his research was showing that the Arrowsmith Program was changing this connectivity dysfunction and transforming the brain network activity to improved functional connectivity with related improvements in the cognitive abilities these brain networks are associated with such as processing speed and cognitive efficiency.
It is important to restate why this research should transform our thinking of the field of Learning Disabilities. First, the current definition of learning disabilities states that these disabilities are lifelong as the brain cannot change. Second, the recommendations for intervention in the definition of learning disabilities focus on compensations or the use of technology to work around neurological dysfunctions. Finally, the most common form of intervention in our schools today is to have children with learning disabilities focus on their strengths and avoid thinking about learning weaknesses. The research coming from Dr. Greg Rose and his colleagues put to question these assumptions and recommendations.
It is also important to note that the brain networks that showed improvement in connectivity also impact mental health. Thus, the salience network is implicated in problems with anxiety[vii] and depression[viii], a common secondary diagnosis after a child has dealt for years with learning problems. As well, attention disorders (ADHD) are also being researched as to their relationship with brain network connectivity. Again, connectivity concerns within the salience and default mode network have been shown to be correlated to ADHD.[ix] Finally, brain injuries resulting from TBI are also showing that brain network hyper-connectivity is likely a result of post-acute higher order cognitive dysfunctions in this population.[x] This hyper-connectivity for TBI has also shown to be alterable through intensive cognitive rehabilitation interventions like the Arrowsmith Program.[xi]
Based on the pilot research coming from Dr. Greg Rose and colleagues, it appears that the Arrowsmith Program is fundamentally transforming the neurological capabilities of children with learning disabilities. Psychologist, psychiatrist, medical doctors, speech pathologist, special education teachers, school administrators, adults with learning disabilities, and parents of children and adults with learning disabilities need to all take note of this new paradigm of intervention. The brain can change for those with learning disabilities. Research is showing that one can improve brain network connectivity that is likely part of the neurobiological basis of various learning disabilities such as dyslexia, dysgraphia and dyscalculia.[xii]
Howard Eaton, Ed.M.
Eaton Arrowsmith School
[i] Jagger-Rickels, A. C., & Rose, G. M. (2018) ‘Exploring the Relationship Between Improvement in an Intensive Learning Intervention and Changes in Resting state Functional Connectivity’, paper presented to Sixth Biennial Conference on Brain Connectivity in Montreal, 26-28 September, presented 27 September 2018.
[ii] Jagger-Rickels, A. C., Rose, G. M., & Kibby, M. Y. (2019) ‘Effect of Comorbid Learning and Neurodevelopmental Disorders on Resting-state Functional and Effective Connectivity in Adolescents’, poster presented to Cognitive Neuroscience Society Annual Conference in San Francisco, 23-26 March, viewed 26-28 March 2019.
[iii] Finn, E. S., Shen, X., Holahan, J. M., Scheinost, D., Lacadie, C., Papademetris, X., Shaywtiz, S. E., Shaywitz, B. A., & Constable, R. T. (2014). Disruption of functional networks in dyslexia: A whole-brain, data-driven analysis of connectivity. Biological Psychiatry, 76(5), 397-404.
[iv] McCarthy, H., Skokauskas, N., Mulligan, A., Donohoe, G., Mullins, D., Kelly, J., Johnson, K., Fagan, A., Meaney, J., & Frodi, T. (2013). Attention network hypoconnectivity with default and affective network hyperconnectivity in adults diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder of childhood. Journal of the American Medical Association Psychiatry, 70(12), 1329-1337.
[v] Sripada, C., Kessler, D., Fang, Y., Welsh, R. C., Prem Kumar, K., & Angstadt, M. (2014). Disrupted network architecture of the resting brain in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Human Brain Mapping, 35(9), 4693-4705.
[vi] Rosenberg-Lee, M., Ashkenazai, S., Chen, T., Young, C. B., Geary, D. C., & Menon, V. (2015). Brain hyper-connectivity and operation-specific deficits during arthimetic problems solving in children with developmental dyslexia. Developmental Science, 18(3), 351-372.
[vii] Geiger, M. J., Domschke, K., Ipser, J., Hattingh, C., Baldwin, D. S., Lochner, C., & Stein, D. J. (2016). Altered executive control network resting-state connectivity in social anxiety disorder. The World Journal of Biological Psychiatry, 17(1), 47-57.
[viii] Kaiser, R. H., Andrews-Hanna, J. R., Wager, T. D., & Pizzagalli, D.A. (2015). Large-scale network dysfunction in major depressive disorder: A meta-analysis of resting-state functional connectivity. Journal of the American Association Psychiatry, 72(6), 603-611.
[ix] Qian, X., Castellanos, F. X., Uddin, L. Q., Loo, B. R. Y., Liu, S., Koh, H. L., Poh, X. W. W., Fung, D., Guan, C., Lee, T. S., Lim, C. G., & Zhou, J. (2019) Large-scale brain functional network topology disruptions underlie symptom heterogeneity in children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Neuroimage Clinical, 21:101600.
[x] Hayes, J. P., Bigler, E.D., & Verfaellie, M. (2016). Traumatic brain injury as a disorder of brain connectivity. Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, 22(2), 120-137.
[xi] Porter, S., Torres, I. J., Panenka, W., Rajwani, Z., Fawcett, D., Hyder, A., & Virji-Babul, N. (2017). Changes in brain-behavior relationships following a 3-month pilot cognitive intervention program for adults with traumatic brain injury. Heliyon, 3(8).
[xii] Michels, L., O’Gorman, R., & Kucian, K. (2018). Functional hyperconnectivity vanishes in children with developmental dyscalculia after numerical intervention. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, 30, 291-303.
Download the article here.
Should my child with a learning disability attempt to improve brain functioning or try to survive through core academic subjects?
If this opportunity exists for a parent, and I am aware that such options do not exist for most parents at this time either due to financial constraints or availability of programs, then this question should be considered. This is such an important question for the future of that child. Another way to reframe the question would be, do I focus on trying to get my child through an academic curriculum with extensive supports, or give them improved neurological functioning for increased independent functioning.
My experience over the last 30 years in reading about brain science, implementing cognitive intervention programs, and being involved in school-based strategies for children with learning disabilities provides me with a breadth of knowledge, and the answer seems obvious to me. First, improve brain functioning or cognitive capacities. Focus on developing brain functioning over trying to have your child survive such subjects as Chemistry, Physics, Calculus, Geometry, Algebra, Social Studies, Economics, Law and the many other complex subjects.
There is an incorrect assumption that if my child needs to improve brain functioning or cognitive capacities that they must have more severe learning disabilities than other children who have been given this diagnosis. I have been told by parents of children with learning disabilities in Vancouver, that are considering Eaton Arrowsmith School, that our school is really for students with more severe disabilities. That if your child needs the Arrowsmith Program, they must really have brain problems.
This is further from the truth and not based on fact. If your child has been diagnosed with learning disabilities such as Dyslexia, Dsycalculia or Dysgraphia (Reading, Math or Written Expression Disorders) then they have brain-based neurological deficits.[i][ii] That is the likely reason they are struggling to acquire these achievement skills. There is a lot of research that points to specific cortical and brain network deficits in functioning as a cause for these disabilities.[iii]
What is critical to point out is that these large-scale brain networks are also involved in planning, organizing, memory[iv], decision making, reasoning[v], attention, social skills, emotional regulation and self-awareness capabilities.[vi] Thus, if one has dyslexia it is likely you also have working memory deficits, attention control problems, possible social skills deficits, and reasoning problems when it comes to reading comprehension and math problem solving, to name a few additional issues faced by your child other than just sounding out letters to read words. The brain is complex and so is your child’s struggles. If your child struggles to decode words, it is more common than not that they will also struggle with some of the issues noted above as they progress in school. Two children diagnosed with a reading disorder will have some similar yet unique cognitive deficits that will results in highly specific learning related problems.
What does it mean when one states cognitive capacities can be improved? If indeed, school success can be partially attributed to strengths in cognitive functioning, and research on working memory has confirmed this[vii], then it seems obvious an attempt should be made to do just that.[viii] If my child has a learning disability due to neurological weaknesses, then I should want to reduce the impact of this problem. To my puzzlement, even with financial concerns a non-factor, some parents choose curriculum engagement over cognitive capacity improvement. That is, they want their child to move through the core curriculum with a variety of options in place such as small classes, resource room support, tutoring, accommodations and use of technology. To miss the core curriculum is far more concerning. The question is why is that the case?
I believe there are a few reasons for this line of reasoning. First, it is hard to understand neuroscience and the literature coming from the field. Science writers like Dr. Norman Doidge and his book, The Brain That Changes Itself[ix], has made neuroplasticity and implications for intervention innovation understandable to thousands around the word. Yet, for most parents of children with learning disabilities the brain and how it functions is not a part of their knowledge base. For many of us, what we don’t understand we fear. What we fear we avoid. Second, as the sayings go, same old same old, or old habits die hard. Parents are used to the school core curriculum model. One should be doing Science, Social Studies, Mathematics and English if enrolled at a school. If my child is not engaged in the core curriculum then they may never graduate from high school. If they miss one or two years of Science or Social Studies, they will never make it up and might not get to college. Third, psychologists that conduct psycho-educational assessments are also learning about neuroscience and research being published on brain functioning, neuroplasticity and learning disabilities and/or ADHD. Parents and teachers should realize that many are still in the accommodation/strategy paradigm when it comes for finding ways to bypass learning disabilities. Some are waiting for research, as outlined below, to feel more confident that intensive cognitive intervention should be recommended for children with learning disabilities. Thus, psychologists still might recommend schools or support programs that focus on compensating for the child’s cognitive weaknesses over directly improving them with intensive intervention. Finally, there is a focus on improving achievement skills for children with learning disabilities. This makes sense as one needs to learn to read, write and perform mathematical operations in life. Most achievement skill interventions focus on basic skills such as word decoding, numeracy, spelling, composing sentences or paragraphs. The focus on achievement skill acquisition has made a huge difference in teaching children to read and write. The problem is that these achievement skills are not the only areas of struggle for the student. Planning, organizing, reasoning, attention, comprehension, speed of processing, flexibility of thought, social skills and memory are usually additional complications for that learner.
It is very difficult to direct a parent away from the lines of thought above. Nevertheless, let me try put forth a few reasons as to why parents, and even psychologists, could consider the origin of their apprehension, and not focus on worrying about missing curriculum or core subject matter for a few years of cognitive capacity intervention. I want to address important large-scale brain networks that the Arrowsmith Program appears to be improving, and the impact this has on a child’s ability to engage at school independent of all the educational supports they might currently have in place on their individual education plan.
Large-Scale Brain Networks
Your child moves through their environment taking in sensory information. The brain has developed over thousands of years to sense, attend to, process, memorize and understand sensory stimuli. For example, when your child first observes a bird they see it, hear it, might feel it (poor bird), possibly smell it, and then relate that bird to all the other birds they might come across. Your child’s brain must see patterns or relationships between the various birds observed to understand complex relationships. Then, if they come across a dog, or cat, they need to distinguish those animals from birds as related to whether they fly, how heavy they are, or if they have claws or not, or what they eat. Categories and relationships begin to form in their brain. Their brain has unique cortices to process sensory information and then what one calls association areas (most developed parts of the cerebral cortex) to integrate or relate this information to each other. That is, various sensory information is moved in the brain through networks to these association areas. There this sensory information is compared, analyzed and more deeply understood by the brain. It is a complex task, and if these cortices are not connected effectively then uncertainty or confusion would arise. These association areas are theorized by some neuroscientist to hold our sense of self-awareness or consciousness.
These sensory cortices and association areas are also managed by the frontal cortex, that helps direct behaviour and considered to be a conductor of the brain. If the frontal and parietal lobe network is disrupted, then the brain struggles to engage in learning activities. Large-scale brain networks are involved in all this remarkable activity of the brain. Clearly, one could imagine if the brain networks were not operating at peak performance how learning in a classroom setting, or engaging in a social interaction, could easily result in failure to understand.
Now place a child with dyslexia, who most likely has large-scale brain network connectivity problems[x], in a classroom to learn a core academic subject like social studies. In specialized schools for learning disabilities one may have small class sizes. For example, there might be one teacher for five students. As well, the teacher has been trained to write most of what they say on the white board. They may also help the students understand the main ideas, by writing down those main ideas on the board and saying to them, “These are the main ideas that I need you to know.” Still, that child, whose large-scale brain networks are not efficient, must try to make sense of the relationships being presented. In social studies, they might be comparing various countries to each other, types of governments, foods, arts, geography, and need to find patterns or relationships within the information given. What I have observed, is that children with learning disabilities are given so many scaffolds and supports that they end up being told what to study, how to study it, and how they will be tested to allow them to survive the exam.
If one can improve the cognitive capacities of brain cortices and large-scale brain networks, then core subject matter could be understood in real time, without all the school-based support. If these brain networks functioning effectively then sensory information could be gathered and transferred to association areas rapidly for understanding. New information could be compared to old information, and comprehension could happen fluidly. This is often not the case for children and adults with learning disabilities. The look of confusion, uncertainty, or embarrassment or fear, is more often the case when they are presented with novel knowledge or complex concepts.
I would love to write a detailed analysis of all the brain networks. This would result in a 500-page article. So, to be as brief as I can be, I am going focus on three of the most critical large-scale brain networks, the salience, default mode and frontoparietal networks and how the Arrowsmith Program appears to be improving the connectivity of these neurological networks. It is important to note that the large-scale brain networks noted above do not operate in isolation of each other, but in relationship to each other.
If you are a parent of a child with a learning disability you need to be aware that large-scale brain networks and their proper connectivity is key to educational attainment and mental health. You can have a child at a school that teaches the core curriculum in small class sizes, and if these brain networks are operating poorly they will struggle. And, if they don’t struggle within that small class environment due to reduced curriculum content and strategy instruction, they will outside of it, as work and college is seldom capable of replicating an 8 to 1 student/teacher ratio instructional design. In other words, problems in brain network connectivity likely stay a problem from childhood to adulthood, as seen in studies on ADHD. So, if your child is struggling with attention, planning, organizing, memory, reasoning and/or social skills they could also experience these problems as an adult.
Dr. Greg Rose and his colleague, Dr. Jagger-Rickels, from Southern Illinois University were interested in large-scale brain networks and whether an intensive intervention over 6-weeks would improve their connectivity.[xi] There had already been research on brain networks and connectivity as related to ADHD and other learning disorders.[xii] The research was indicating that large-scale brain networks had connectivity dysfunctions as related to these disabilities.[xiii] Thus, the researchers knew that large-scale brain networks played a part in effective cognitive functioning, and as a result likely learning achievement. What had not been researched is whether an intensive intervention that targeted brain functioning would improve large-scale brain network connectivity, and did this improvement lead to increases in cognitive capacities such as progressing speed or executive functioning.
The Arrowsmith Program was selected as the focus on the intensive intervention. To reduce the length of the study the 6-week Symbol Relations reasoning program was selected for research. The students would be children with learning disabilities.
Dr. Jagger-Rickels presented research at two major conferences in North America. What they found in their pilot studies was that children with learning disabilities have brain network connectivity problems. That is, the major brain networks responsible for executive functioning or attention control regulation showed hyper-connectivity concerns. More importantly, their research was showing that the Arrowsmith Program was changing this connectivity dysfunction and transforming the brain network activity to improved functional connectivity with related improvements in the cognitive abilities that these brain networks are associated with such as processing speed and cognitive efficiency. In other words, the children with learning disabilities show cognitive capacity improvements related to how quickly they could analyze information and how accurately they could do so at the same time.
Dr. Jagger-Rickels stated in their presentation that, “Participants in the six-week Cognitive Intensive Program (CIP) improved their performance in the Symbol Relations Task that were correlated with changes in resting-state brain connectivity. The most notable change was increased connectivity between the Default Mode (right lateral parietal) and the Salience Networks (bilateral rostral Prefrontal Cortex, bilateral Anterior Insula, right Supra-marginal Gyrus, and the anterior cingulate), and the Frontoparietal Network (right lateral Prefrontal cortex).”
There is a lot of brain jargon here, but the take home message is critical. The Arrowsmith Program is changing large-scale brain networks by increasing their connectivity. Problems with brain network functioning is being observed on achievement and behavioural measures that cause school failure. For example, poor connectivity in the salience network is associated with weak reading comprehension. Struggles in math problem solving is associated with functional hyperconnectivity in brain networks. Children with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) show altered functional connectivity in default mode and frontoparietal networks.
TCDSB Study: One Example of Arrowsmith Program Impact
This improved connectivity between large-scale brain networks has an impact. One of the most significant program reviews was undertaken by the Arrowsmith Program and the Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB) that highlights how improved brain network functioning can impact academic engagement, reduce academic supports and improve school-based outcomes.[xiv] In September 1997 the TCDSB started implementing the Arrowsmith Program and over a few years it was available in seven schools.
In 2007 TCDSB teachers and parents were asked to complete questionnaires and data was collected on a sample of 64 students who had received resource or learning support prior to entering the Arrowsmith Program. Of the 64 students, 36 (56%) of them received 4 to 8 periods a day, or 50% to 100% of their day was in resource room support. Those students selected for the Arrowmsmith Program tended to have severe learning disabilities. Another 23 elementary students received 1 to 2 periods a day of resource room support or 36%. The other students were waiting for support or had not been identified yet. All of them required some form of resource room support (100%).
Given the extent of support required for these elementary students the following is a remarkable finding from these 64 students at the TCDSB. Data was collected on 42 of the 64 original students that had engaged in the Arrowsmith Program. Prior to starting the Arrowsmith Program 45% of them required 4 to 8 periods a day of resource support (19 children). After the Arrowsmith Program of those 42 children only 5% of them required that level of support (2 out of 42 children). In another statistics, of those 42 followed before and after the Arrowsmith Program 100% (all 42 children) all required resource room support before implementation of the Arrowsmith Program, and after implementation 69% (29 out of 42 children) did not require any resource room support. How is this possible?
One should be immediately curious as to why an intensive intervention program that does not teach specific achievement skills or strategy instructions could eliminate the need for resource room (learning support) for such a large percentage of children? What Barbara Arrowmsmith-Young, and now neuroscientists are discovering, is that the Arrowsmith Program is improving brain functioning, thereby giving children the cognitive capacities to engage in school-based curriculum independent of special education teachers, technology, strategy instruction or resource room support.
In summary, based on research on brain networks and relationships to a variety of learning and mental health problems[xv] I highly recommend improving brain network connectivity before engaging in an intensive core curriculum program. If a child with a learning disability has a brain that struggles to communicate within and between brain regions, thereby making attention, planning, organizing, memory and reasoning problematic why not address this issue head on, first. Pilot research from Jagger-Rickles & Rose is highlighting the fact that the Arrowsmith Program within a 6-week intensive intervention is improving the connectivity of three of the large-scale brain networks for children with learning disabilities. In short, it appears that large scale-brain networks can improve connectivity and thereby significant improving cognitive functioning that would have a direct impact on school engagement and success as seen in the TCDSB review. In short, improve brain network connectivity, and then challenge it with curriculum. If schools would implement programs like Arrowsmith it is inevitable that books like, The Survival Guide for Kids with LD and Survival Guide for College Students with ADHD or LD would become obsolete. Enjoying school, versus surviving school, is our goal for children and adults with learning disabilities.
Howard Eaton, Ed.M.
Eaton Arrowsmith School
[i] Rosenberg-Lee, M., Ashkenzai, S., Chen, T., Young, C. B., Geary, D. C., & Menon, V. (2015). Brain hyper-connectivity and operation-specific deficits during arithmetic problem solving in children with developmental dyscalculia. Developmental science, 18(3), 351-372.
[ii] Van Hoorn, J. F., Maathius, C. G., & Hadders-Algra, M. (2013). Neural correlates of paediatric dysgraphia. Developmental medicine and child neurology, 55(4), 65-68.
[iii] D’Mello, A. M., & Gabrieli, J. D. E. (2018). Cognitive neuroscience of dyslexia. Language, speech, and hearing services in schools, 49(4), 798-809.
[iv] Santangelo, V., Bordier, C. (2019). Large-scale brain networks underlying successful and unsuccessful encoding, maintenance, and retrieval of everyday scenes in visuospatial working memory. Frontiers in psychology, 10:233.
[v] Sevinc, G., Gurvit, H., & Spreng, R. N. (2017). Salience network engagement with the detection of morally laden information. Social cognitive and affective neuroscience, 12(7), 1118-1117.
[vi] Bressler, S. L., & Menon, V. (2010). Large-scale brain networks in cognition: emerging methods and principals. Cognitive sciences, 14(6), 277-290.
[vii] Simone, A. N., Marks, D. J., Bedard, A. C., & Halperin, J. M. (2018). Low working memory rather than adhd symptoms predicts poor academic achievement in school-aged children. Journal of abnormal child psychology, 45(6), 277-290.
[viii] Chalmers, K. A., & Freeman, E. F. (2018). A comparision of single and multi-test working memory assessments in predicting academic achievement in children. Journal of psychology: interdisciplinary and applied, 152(8), 613-629.
[ix] Doidge, Norman. The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Neuroplasticity, New York: Penguin Group, 2015.
[x] Zaric, G., Correia, J. M., Fraga Gonzalez, G., Tijms, J., van der Molen, M. W., Blomert, L., & Bonte, M. (2017). Altered patterns of directed connectivity within the reading network of dyslexic children and their relation to reading dysfluency. Developmental cognitive neuroscience, 23, 1-13.
[xi] Jagger-Rickels, A. C., & Rose, G. M. (2018) ‘Exploring the Relationship Between Improvement in an Intensive Learning Intervention and Changes in Resting state Functional Connectivity’, paper presented to Sixth Biennial Conference on Brain Connectivity in Montreal, 26-28 September, presented 27 September 2018.
[xii] Sripada, C., Kessler, D., Fang, Y., Welsh, R. C., Prem Kumar, K., & Angstadt, M. (2014). Disrupted network architecture of the resting brain in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Human Brain Mapping, 35(9), 4693-4705.
[xiii] Jagger-Rickels, A. C., Rose, G. M., & Kibby, M. Y. (2019) ‘Effect of Comorbid Learning and Neurodevelopmental Disorders on Resting-state Functional and Effective Connectivity in Adolescents’, poster presented to Cognitive Neuroscience Society Annual Conference in San Francisco, 23-26 March, viewed 26-28 March 2019.
[xiv] Arrowsmith Program. (2007). Report on the effectiveness of the Arrowsmith Program in the Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB). January 25, 2007.
[xv] Geiger, M. J., Domschke, K., Ipser, J., Hattingh, C., Baldwin, D. S., Lochner, C., & Stein, D. J. (2016). Altered executive control network resting-state connectivity in social anxiety disorder. The World Journal of Biological Psychiatry, 17(1), 47-57.
A brain-based education is the only real option for our children struggling with academic, social, emotional and physical challenges, because these challenges speak of a central cause of their sometimes, complex issues. In virtually all cases the best approach to a central problem is a central solution, addressing the brain itself.
The cortex, our powerful learning center, our source of coordination, art, communication and adult living skills, is the peak achievement of the human brain. It is a brain supported by underlying drivers, levels of the brain that are no more under our control than our ability to control the growth of our toenails! Yet that is the brain that often interferes with the full expression of our cortical brilliance. This is the brain that we are going to explore in this article.
Our discussion of Realms of Intelligence will include Motor Sequencing, Vision, Speech, Reading, Social Cueing and the unique role of the corpus callosum in coordinating our two cortical hemispheres. However, rather than focusing solely on the cortex our goal is to help readers understand how even the activity of the neonate brain, as well as every brain level below the cortex, is influencing the above listed skills. Viewed from the perspective of Neurological Reorganization we can come to understand how to help our children become academically, physically, socially, and emotionally whole.
Each level of the central nervous system is dependent upon the levels beneath it to achieve maximum integration, and in this discussion we will explore the preconscious brain and how we can work with those levels of integration along with an explicitly cortical approach to help all of our students move more quickly to neurotypical skills and academic success.
Realms of Intelligence: Motor sequencing and coordination.
Motor sequencing is a realm of intelligence deeply dependent upon the pre-cortical brain. This complex topic involves not only the left hemisphere with its capacity to influence vision hand and oral function, but also areas of the central nervous system that begin to organize as early as a few weeks of age.
In the first 2.5 – 7 months of life on average, the pre-cortical brain is dominated by the pons and the amygdala which come on board as early as one month of age. During this stage of development, given the appropriate developmental opportunities such as crawling, time spent on the tummy and the integration of early reflexes the proximal joints (shoulders and hips) gain stability and flexibility, while the hand, during tummy crawling learns to supinate and pronate in preparation for writing, a skill that will not be used by the student for years, but is offered to us as an option as early as a few months of age.
Older children who have not achieved mastery of this early developmental stage may walk like little bears, or without arm swings, or feet turned in.
As the baby matures into the mid-cerebrum, between about 7 and 12 months, and still without cortical control of their mind or body, the organization of the medial joints (knees and elbows) is completed if the child is allowed to creep on hands and knees and do related reflex activities. At this time the cerebellum begins organizing the sequential motor firing. Additionally, sequencing in general is dependent upon a healthy cerebellum. The cerebellum, which is gaining skills during the first year of life is a big factor in determining visual motor skill level, and that of balance, coordination and proprioception.
The child who has not mastered this developmental level may not seem to know where their body is in space, may have knees that align poorly, poor balance, inability to hop on one foot, or in general an ‘awkward gait’ when walking and running. They are frequently unable to skip.
Realms of Intelligence: Vision
The coordination of early visual motor skills comes about between 2 and 7 months as the baby, prone on their tummy, tracks the whereabouts of her caregiver, and that primal need results in eye tracking that will later be used for reading.
The active 7 to 12-month old child, given the appropriate environment is easily able to integrate the critical skill of visual convergence. The nerves that go to the muscles that turn the eyes in, thus creating visual convergence, run through the mid-cerebrum and many children whose eyes turn out do not need vision therapy so much as they need the experience of mid-brain/mid-cerebrum activities. This is the way nature gave all of us visual convergence and this original plan can be reactivated to bring visual convergence to our children. When both eyes look at the same thing at the same time reading becomes much easier than when words move on the page, turn from black to gray, black to gray, or when all the letters have ‘shadows’ around them.
Children who have not mastered the early phases of vision development may appear to need glasses and may suffer from poor reading and visual fatigue.
Realms of Intelligence: Speech
Speech is a Realm of Intelligence deeply dependent upon pre-cortical areas of the brain.
Babbling and cooing, the ability to make a wide range of sounds, experimentation with the tongue, lips and cheeks, are all a well-known component of speech arising from the pre-cortical brain between 7 and 12 months. It has been observed by this practitioner that children diagnosed as ‘on the spectrum’ have often skipped the babbling phase of speech, and thus bring little prosody to their speech. Other children with poor social cueing skills are often lacking in tonality. Poor spoken tonality and inability to carry a tune may be unrelated to cortical brilliance, but rather may be a product of an injury to the brain or lack of brain integration in the first months of life.
Sequencing problems are illustrated when the word ‘spaghetti’, is heard and pronounced in many young children as ‘busgetti’, with the cerebellum unable to process the ‘p’ and ‘s’ in the proper order. The P is explosive, while the S is sibilant and travels more slowly through the brain. The cerebellum matures as a result of stimulation including vestibular activity, creeping on hands and knees and other related activities, the child’s cerebellum matures and sequencing at all levels becomes resolved. The word spaghetti is no longer a problem!
The child who has not mastered the earlier developmental levels may have a flat tonality, garbled speech, poor pronunciation of words.
Realms of Intelligence: Social Skills
Social skills, too, are often challenging for our children, and are dependent on multiple levels of brain functioning. While the pre-frontal cortex is known for its role in helping us achieve sophisticated social skills, the seeds of our social behavior start at birth.
Mirror neurons that begin to come on board during the first weeks of life can be prompted again at any point in the lifespan by replicating the activities of the first months of life in the context of appropriate parenting and understanding teachers and aides.
The seeds of compassion start with our own ability to feel deep pain, which allows us to understand that others can feel this too. It is the beginning of understanding our impact on other human beings. If I know that I can hurt, I know that you can hurt as well and I am less likely to do things that will bring about pain for you. Injury to this area of the brain can cause behaviors that display a lack of regard for others, and may even appear as a lack of conscience.
The mid-cerebrum is the area of the brain that we humans share with other pack animals and our pre-conscious brain is the driver. A healthy brain naturally sees and responds to posture, gesture, spatial distance from others, tone of voice, volume, etc., and creates appropriate body language in return without cortical intervention. The best public speakers, teachers, managers, actors have these skills naturally and it is their ease in this area that gives us confidence in their presentation of themselves.
In the pack animal, the individual who cannot pick up on the body language of their pack, and who does not display the appropriate body language may be kicked out, may become the ‘lone wolf’ and it is the same for our children. And while we do our best to train in more appropriate responses, the natural skill, when lacking is hard to replicate in any but artificial ways.
Children who have not mastered this level may have few friends, not able to understand how to work in a group or team, may seem to lack compassion, always seem on the ‘outside’ of any social circle. When the mid cerebrum is stimulated by replicating the developmental sequence, the skills can be gained in children at any stage of development.
Realms of Intelligence: The unique and diverse role of the Corpus Callosum
Reading comprehension, memory and impulse control are further enhanced during the second half of the first year and, in fact, are dependent upon the bridge that runs between the two hemispheres of the brain. The corpus callosum is a part of the cortex, but does not develop to maximum efficiency without the critical activities typical of the 7 to 12-month old. These mid-cerebellum/midbrain activities also include hands and knees creeping, vestibular activities and reflexes that are usually not re-visited after the child has begun to walk.
Those children who experience high fluency and low comprehension are those children who cannot pull together the word recognition skills of the left hemisphere together with the picture and meaning making skills of the right hemisphere. Rather than practicing making pictures out of words, we have found that the deepest way to permanently resolve the issues is by replicating the developmental activities of this level of the brain.
Impulse control, while certainly something that one can think about and manage temporarily, even building up more and more habits of self-control, is a product of an efficient corpus callosum. While the ‘Little Brother/Little Sister” right brain wants to mentally or even physically chase and touch every bright and shiny object (‘Squirrel Squirrel” brain), the ‘Big Brother/Big Sister brain has a role in taking charge of the situation to remind the child that this is not the time or place.
All of these responses happen at a pre-cortical level, and thus when the brain is healthy there is little effort in self-regulation, impulse control, seeing ‘pictures’ when reading, etc.
Children with poor mastery of the activities needed to integrate the Corpus Callosum may have fluency/comprehension differentials, poor impulse control, poor short-term memory or ability to follow multiple step directions, among other issues.
The extra effort used by so many children to notice, think through and control their behavior would be so much better be devoted to learning, and when a child repeats the missing elements of the Developmental Sequence the skills are integrated at the brain level originally responsible for these skills.
While we have left out areas such as Math proficiency, Attention, Regulation, Fine Motor Skills, Auditory processing, Sensory Seeking or Sensory Avoidant Behaviors, Anxiety and Phobias, all of these too have their roots in the organization of the brain in the first year of life.
Neurological Reorganization has a 75-year history of helping the disorganized brains of children with challenges to reclaim their birthright, the full Developmental Sequence, which is the master plan for the organization of a human brain. The addition of a pre-cortical plan for brain organization in addition to the cognitive programs at Eaton-Arrowsmith Schools can ease the pathway for maturing our children’s brains and optimizing their academic success. For more information about Neurological Reorganization contact Bette Lamont: developmentalmovement.org. Website: www.neurologicalreorganization.org.
Article by Bette Lamont
Certified Counselor, State of Washington
Certified Neurological Reorganization Practitioner
Laban Movement Analyst
No part of this article can be replicated online or in hard copy without the author’s permission.
© Bette Lamont 2019
Thank you EVERYONE who attended, performed, and supported the 2nd Annual Eaton Arrowsmith Redmond’s Got Talent Show!
There were so many magical moments that our student’s and community contributed to we hope you felt the warmth of the love shared here that night as well. Plus, through our snack sale, we raised $200 to donate to “Charity: Water”!
In case you missed, or simply want to re-watch the performances, here are the links to the “unpublished” YouTube videos. ***Note*** you will only be able to watch these videos if you have the direct link.
Doggy Pow “Romeo and Juliet”
Simone “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”
Miss Sarah “You Say”
Will’s Films He Has Made
Will Demonstrating How to Make a Film
Will Completed Film
Brennan’s “My Friend is Sad”
Rylan & Keira “Harry Potter Song”
Miss Lacey’s Make-Big-Inator
Staff and School YMCA
You’re invited to the screening of Mindset Matters, a 45-minute documentary film that follows a Surrey, BC class participating in the six week PowerPlay Young Entrepreneur program, and documents the students’ journey, placing special focus on four students who have unique social and educational needs.
April 29th, 2019 at the HR Mac Millan Space Center Auditorium.
For more details about this event and to register, click HERE.
*live stream link now available – read on for more information!
*Please only sign up via Eventbrite if you intend to attend the event in person, as space is limited.
*Can’t make it to the event in person? The presentation will be live streamed and available for viewing immediately afterwards. Click the following link just before 6:30pm PST on March 14th 2019 to gain access to the presentation. This link also acts as a way to access a recording of this event, so even if you miss the live streamed presentation you can use the link to view the presentation at any time after it has finished. https://mediasite.audiovisual.ubc.ca/Mediasite/Play/bb7b0b9891b34649b2fbd66a56281a541d
Barbara Arrowsmith Young and the Eaton Arrowsmith team look forward to sharing this event with you on March 14th – either in person or via live stream! If you know others in your community who may also be interested in attending – either in person or virtually, please considering forwarding on this email, or sharing this information via the social media channels listed below. Thank you!
Our colleagues at the Arrowsmith Program are hosting an exciting event that we wanted to share with you. The Arrowsmith Program is based on the application of neuroscientific research and for 40 years we have worked to help students strengthen the weak cognitive capacities underlying a range of learning difficulties.
On February 21st, 2019 Dr. Greg Rose from Southern Illinois University, and Drs. Lara Boyd and Rachel Weber, both from University of British Columbia, will present their latest research about the Arrowsmith Program and its effectiveness. All three academic leaders are currently undertaking research projects into various aspects of the Arrowsmith Program and its outcomes, and this presentation will focus on the following aspects of their work:
* Behaviour relationships in children with learning disabilities – Dr Lara Boyd
* Benefits of Arrowsmith Training on Brain Connectivity and Neuropsychological Measures – Dr Greg Rose
* Neurocognitive and Behavioural Outcomes of the Arrowsmith Program – Dr Rachel Weber
Date: Thursday, February 21st, 2019
Time: 7:00pm to 10:00pm EST Venue: W New York – Times Square, 1567 Broadway, New York City, NY Presentation room: Studio 1,2,3
Please click here to register to attend the event in person.
There are two other options to watch the presentations.
1. Watch the live presentation via live-streaming.
Date: Thursday, February 21st, 2019
Time: 7:00pm to 10:00pm EST (4:00pm to 7:00pm PST) You can register for the live-streaming link here https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/live-stream-presentation-by-researchers-from-ubc-and-siu-research-studies-on-the-arrowsmith-program-tickets-55298402009?aff=EAG
2. Watch the recording of the presentation. You can register here to receive the link to the video recording when available.https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSddE2H8OhNlSWxFjW2kwNFqkWcBllmKWvFaV5rsWUGiDluYPA/viewform
Join Howard Eaton for a evening of interesting insight and conversations and learn how you can improve your large scale brain network connectivity! Read more and register here.
- Keydates for this location TBA
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