Director’s Message

Director’s Message

I recall quite clearly the discussions about the brain during my undergraduate and graduate education in Psychology and Special Education. The brain was fixed, unchangeable; it was like a computer, hard-wired. The definition of a Learning Disability stated that it is a life-long condition, again, highlighting the fact that we are born with what we have neurologically and are unable to improve it.

For a student with a learning disability to get through elementary school and high school, he or she needs both luck and hopefully accommodations. By “luck,” I mean exceptional teachers who understand learning differences and appreciated the student’s strengths. By “accommodations,” I mean extended time on tests, use of a laptop and/or calculator, books on tape, and the assistance of a scribe or a reader if required. Learning assistance classes are also important in order to re-teach what the student was unable to learn in class. Today, students with learning disabilities receive accommodations and learning assistance classes, where they learn how to bypass, or work around, their difficulties.

It is hard to sway the opinions of others, including those dealing with Learning Disabilities in the field of Special Education. There are wonderful minds in this field that have provided significant insights into the remediation of learning disabilities; nevertheless, the idea that the brain can change itself and that cognitive intervention methods can be designed to improve brain functioning is revolutionary to many of these experts. It certainly was for me. The idea that the brain is fixed and cannot change is rigidly lodged in our thinking today, despite mounting evidence to the contrary.

The idea that the brain can change itself may not be surprising to you if you have been reading the latest research. Even as I re-read this paragraph, I said to myself, “Well, Howard, it is obvious that the brain can change;” however, at one time, I was one of those people who questioned whether the brain could change itself. I had a difficult time accepting what was a new idea to me. The truth is, we have our opinions and beliefs and we often stick to them. It helps us create a sense of safety, a feeling of security and gives us a partnership with others. This is what I think. This is what my colleagues and friends think. If I didn’t have the same opinion as them who would I associate with? Who would I be able to talk to if I found someone I didn’t agree with? We don’t want to lose things. The word “loss” is frightening.

It is all very simple. We want to belong, to be part of a group. We will easily overreact to the thought of our group being harmed, challenged, and forgotten.

The most significant problem with this reality is that if a new idea comes along that challenges your perspective of the world and your opinion, your mind may not be open enough to explore new possibilities. Are you willing to separate yourself from your group’s opinion? I want you to really think about this question: how open is your mind to possibilities if you are strongly allied with your group’s thinking? How much evidence do you need to adjust your thinking, to accept new facts that might challenge your opinion? Most importantly, if more and more evidence is built that contradicts your opinion, do you become more stubborn or inflexible in your thinking as you refute each new point?

For me, changing my beliefs is not easy. I am susceptible to stubbornness at times. My friends, colleagues, and family will tell you that. I am being honest about this, just as I hope you are about your own thinking. This fact resulted in my own difficulty seeing the possibility of brain change for individuals with learning disabilities and attention disorders.

In December 2004 I was fortunate to have the opportunity to visit Barbara Arrowsmith Young at her school in Toronto. I had just completed three updated psycho-educational assessments of students who attended her school. The results of these updated assessments shocked me. I had, for the first time in my years of assessment, observed significant intellectual and cognitive improvements in my clients with learning disabilities. I had previously seen improvements in academic achievement, but never such improvements in intelligence and cognition. I realized that these changes in cognitive ability were likely to have the greatest impact on that student’s future success, even more so than the academic changes. It was after this visit to Toronto that I decided to bring the Arrowsmith Program to Vancouver, to start Eaton Arrowsmith Learning Centre.

I recognize that improving cognitive functioning is not easy work. It takes resilience and diligence to improve brain functioning and neuroplasticity does not occur without significant active engagement over a lengthy period of time. There is no magic to the Arrowsmith Program, nor is it a quick fix; however, with a commitment from the student and the student’s family, significant improvements to cognitive functioning can be made. The reports from our graduates who have returned back to the public and private school systems continue to show very positive results.

I thank you for your interest in Eaton Arrowsmith Learning Centre, and more importantly the Arrowsmith Program. I hope you are able to take some time to explore the program and the opportunities we can provide.

Howard Eaton, Director

Eaton Arrowsmith Learning Centre

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