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Barbara Arrowsmith-Young

The Woman Who Changed Her Brain, Pioneer in Neuroplasticity

Diagnosed in grade one as having a mental block, which today would have been identified as multiple learning disabilities, Barbara Arrowsmith-Young is recognized as a pioneer and as the creator of one of the first treatment applications utilizing the principles of neuroplasticity. As the founder of the Arrowsmith Program, she began using the principles of neuroplasticity in 1978 to develop cognitive programs to address learning disorders, first starting with her own debilitating set of brain deficits. She continues to develop programs for students with learninbarg disabilities and her program of cognitive exercises is implemented in 55 schools around the globe.

Toronto, Ontario, Canada


A Personal Journey Into the World of the Brain: Shaping The Mind/Function and Plasticity
Barbara talks about her journey of discovery, the lines of research she combined and the outcomes achieved over her 35 years as an educator and researcher. She will describe a number of learning disorders, from those that impact the learner in school to those that affect us in life. She will discuss ‘cognitive glitches’ – those areas of weakness that we are all familiar with and often explain away by saying, “I am just not good at navigating, recognizing faces, (fill in the blank).” She will discuss ‘cognitive mismatches’ – situations we find ourselves in where the demand of the task is incompatible with our cognitive functioning and the challenges this presents. Principles of neuroplasticity and the factors leading to both positive and negative brain change will be discussed.

The Arrowsmith Program: Addressing Learning Disabilities – A Cognitive Approach
Barbara talks about her journey of discovery, the lines of research she combined and the outcomes achieved over her 35 years as an educator and researcher. She will describe a number of learning disorders, from those that impact the learner in school to those that affect us in life. The focus will be on learning disorders that impact academic performance such as reading and writing and some of the outcome studies demonstrating cognitive and academic performance change in these areas as a result of students engaging in the Arrowsmith Program’s cognitive exercises.

The Intimate Connection Between Mental Health Issues and Learning Disabilities
In this presentation Barbara briefly describes her own personal struggle with learning disabilities and its impact on her mental health in context with the research findings in this area. The talk focuses on the research findings linking mental health outcomes related to learning disabilities supported by the ‘voices’ of individual students, ages 11 to 63, describing their experiences. The impact of learning disabilities on the individual and society become clear.

The Woman Who Changed Her Brain (Author talk)
Barbara’s talk covers the personal and the universal. The personal is Barbara’s journey of discovery driven by her hunt for a solution to her own debilitating learning disorders leading to the integration of two lines of neuroscience research. The universal is that we all have a brain and by furthering our knowledge of how our brain shapes us through mediating our understanding of the world we can gain insight into our functioning and that of others. And most promising, that through our growing understanding neuroplasticity, we now have the knowledge to develop treatments to shape our brains. It is a journey of understanding and transformation.  This talk is supported by readings from Barbara’s Internationally best-selling book, “The Woman Who Changed Her Brain”.


Alumna of Honour Award from the University of Guelph

2010 Brain Fitness Awards - Arrowsmith School named Most Innovative Special Education School

Giraffe Awardl

  • Barbara Arrowsmith-Young is a pioneer, a bold and ingenious woman, deeply empathic and utterly determined. Rarely is the person who makes a discovery the one with the defect. Barbara is the exception.

    - Norman Doidge, M.D., author of The Brain That Changes Itself
  • Arrowsmith-Young explains some of the most complex neurological concepts in a personal and breathtakingly simple way.

    - The Globe and Mail
  • Hers was a struggle between despair and determination. Determination won.

    - CNN Radio News

Summary Profile

At an early age Barbara read and wrote everything backwards, had trouble processing concepts in language, continuously got lost and was physically uncoordinated. She eventually learnt to read and write from left to right and mask a number of the symptoms of her learning disabilities through heroic effort; however she continued throughout her educational career to have difficulty with specific aspects of learning. Barbara Arrowsmith-Young holds both a B.A.Sc. in Child Studies from the University of Guelph, and a Master’s degree in School Psychology from the University of Toronto.

In graduate school she came across two lines of research that intrigued her. Alexander Luria’s description of specific brain function lead her to a clearer understanding of her own learning problem and the work of Mark Rosenzweig suggested the possibility of improving brain function through specific stimulation, at least in animals. This lead to the creation of the first brain exercise designed to improve the learning capacity involved in logical reasoning.

The results were positive with gains in verbal reasoning, mathematical reasoning and conceptual understanding. This lead to a further exploration of the nature of specific learning capacities and to creating exercises to strengthen them.

In her 2012 bestselling book, The Woman Who Changed Her Brain, Barbara interweaves her personal tale of struggle with riveting case histories from her more than thirty years of working with both children and adults affected by learning disabilities. The book powerfully and poignantly illustrates how the lives of children and adults struggling with learning disorders can be dramatically transformed. It deepens our understanding of how the brain works and of the brain’s profound impact on how we participate in the world.