Can we make conscious efforts to alter our brain, overcome so-called disabilities or develop new talents and skills.

The story about Barbara Arrowsmith-Young I just read in Guardian show that we can. It also shows often out education systems should be a little bit better educated. Read the full story here.

Barbara was always a strange kid: she had perfect visual and auditory memory, can remember many things for long time without error, yet has a foggy idea about how the pieces are connected in all the information she read. Sometimes she done very good in tests, if it was about memory, and done very poor if it was about deductions. She had some very basic skills lacked, e.g. couldn’t read the arms of the clock, yet everybody around her though that she is a poor student because she is not trying enough hard. Her story even at this point is very interesting and reaise many questions:

  • How can it happen that no-one realizies in a functional education system that a girl who cannot read the arms of the clock by 20 may have some other problems than just being lazy?
  • How a girl who cannot tell different between sentences  ‘The boy chases the dog‘ and ‘The dog chases the boy‘ can enter a university based on formal tests?

Sure, I am happy for her she could, but the fact that formal entrance exams not able to filter out the lack of even such a basic cognitive skill / reading skill is rather disappointing.

Now as in any news that can make it in the mainstream media, it has a happy and prosperous end. Barbara read a book about a soldier with a serious brain damage, and she realized having almost exact symptoms. Then she had an idea that she may able to actually train those brain areas that seems to be under-achieving in her brain. The interesting thing is that though her symptoms were very complex, the training that focused only on one specific problem still could lead to major improvements. She was smart enough to choose a problem that easy to drill and easy to test: reading the clock. By practicing several hours a day with flashcards – it sounds like simple memory training for me at first – could lead her overcoming her problems in a wide area of skills! Ie. practicing with the clock could actually help her understand written text, understand the relationships of words and sentences even at the level that she finally were able to read complex texts like Kierkegaard. A simple memory drill can actually (drastically) improve higher cognitive skills!

Let me focus on some major points here that can be useful for all educations:

  • She had a very specific and obvious mental disability, already known for science.
  • Her disability had very diverse effects on her cognitive skills, yet it could have been found by very simple, specific tests (reading clocks, able the comprehend basic sentences).
  • Her disability could be cured  but a demanding, but simple, cheap, easily utilizable technique and her progress could be monitored quantitatively.

So you have kids who are bright and healthy yet they do miserable in Chemistry classes even if the try the best? Maybe we should think about more what we want to achieve in elementary and secondary education. Maybe we should think about more when 90% of the people show abysmal results at a Math, Physics or Chemistry test, if there is any better way to teach them than we are doing now.

Well, if you are interested more about Barbara and her work to help kids like she used to be, you can find her website ( and her training site ( for further details.


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