What if you could heal brain injury through intensive therapy? Or what if you could improve reading fluency of a dyslexic student, by two years in just two weeks? Can we overcome conditions as complex as depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder with simple brain exercises?
Or if you are the parent of a struggling child, would it change anything in your life to find a method that could improve the academic performance and self-esteem?
Until recently, all this talk had been fodder for speculation or even science fiction. Brain plasticity research had long been though of as being theoretical, academic and anecdotal.
But in 2013, neuroplasticity seemed to be a major and recurring theme in television documentaries, on bestseller book lists, in the medical literature, across articles in the lay press, at McGill teacher conferences and within the curricula of some progressive Canadian schools. Maybe it had always been there swirling around me and I had I neglected to notice.
Could anything be more exciting for teachers, tutors and trainers? What about for society as a whole?
The brain may always remain a mysterious entity not unlike an uncharted frontier town. I had once heard that the mysteries brain research are akin to the unknown explorations of outer space witnessed in my parent’s generation.
I had once been skeptical about the potential benefits of neuroplasticity – six months ago, to be precise. It was a warm May evening in 2013, when I had made my way to the back of the wrong room at the open-house of a local school. I ended up in a presentation about a new neuroplasticity program to launched that September.
I was disinterested and skeptical at the claims being made that evening. But with time, research and exposure, I became thoroughly captivated by the notion that a brain has power to change. L’idée a fait son chemin, as they say in French.
I would like to mention that brain plasticity is not actually a new concept. The learning psychology field began at least 100 years ago with the observational work of Alexander Luria, a Russian neuropsychologist associated with early documentation about brain and injury.
At the time of Luria, there were no available therapeutic treatment options but the work of these early scientists is credited with inspiring all modern day plasticity practitioners. A brain can be re-wired to overcome its own challenges – any claim to the contrary is becoming quickly outdated and impractical. And now more than a year later, I am now hearing about plasticity in the corporate setting!
At the risk of producing an overly long blog, here is a list of resources to help teachers, tutors, trainers, therapists and parents understand and even tackle the issue of neuroplasticity:
- Arrowsmith schools have been challenging neural weaknesses for more than twenty years in Canada. The program begins with a thorough intake period to evaluate as many as 19 different cognitive parameters and students are prescribed daily, repetitive exercises such as tracing symbols, speed writing, journaling, memorizing fast-moving words and summarizing one-paragraph stories. This repetitive, targeted work seems to strengthen or re-wire neural pathways needed for academic success. Performance is tracked very closely each school day and the program is constantly changed to reflect progress. Students can eliminate cognitive deficits and emerge performing at an above-average grade level.
- Montessori-style and Rudolph Steiner schools present an interesting alternative to Arrowsmith, for younger students. Based on the learning theories and educational approaches of an Italian physician and educator, such schools emphasize independence, freedom within limits, and respect for a child’s natural physical, and social development.
- The Cellfield reading program can induce changes to reading performance for dyslexic students. It claims to be a patented intervention designed to create conditions of accelerated brain plasticity. It also promises improved reading literacy by two years in two weeks. I am acquainted with their product, which is available world-wide, and I have been impressed by its efficacy. I would even consider administering the program to adults or a non-dyslexic child just to improve fluency, speed and overall love of reading.
- Software programs such as Fast ForWord can have a major impact on brain agility and learning ability. I learned a little more while watching the CBC’s The Nature of Things during which David Suzuki presented the topic of neuroplasticity. Part 1 of the broadcast was an introduction to the research and case studies which prove that brain research is taking a more practical approach.
- Part two of the CBC episode introduced its audience to some of the American and Canadian plasticity scientists who are proving that increases to cognitive capacity are possible.
- Norman Doidge MD, FRCP is a Canadian-born psychiatrist and author who wrote a best-selling book about the implications of the changing brain. It offers principles to use to overcome brain limitations. The publication is available as an audio book, which I recently downloaded.
- A range of captivating TED talks can shed light on the evolution of the theory of neuroplasticity.
Educational psychologists, academic counselors, support agencies and my local school boards are starting to recognize neuroplasticity. It is critical to shop around to find the right type of plasticity training.