Casa Loma, the 35th anniversary party for Arrowsmith and it is good to be home!

It is just over a week since I have been home. Whilst we have been having sweltering days, my first day home was a record breaking 41C, there have been snow flurries in Peterborough, though Simon says it is not too cold yet as most days are over zero degrees Centrigrade. How quickly we adapt! We would have thought that was freezing (literally, ha ha!) in our first winter in Canada.

Lucky me, I have enjoyed long lunches with friends, dinner with friends, sailing on the harbour, meeting up with my writing group, lunch with Emma and her friends, they have all grown into such lovely young women, a 50th birthday dancing the night away, long walks with Rusty through Balmain and going on the People’s Climate Change March. What a mix! It has been fun and this week holds more of the same for me, and into the mix is finding time to write as I plough on with Simon’s story which is slowly taking shape.

Simon is looking forward to coming home, his brain needs a break he says! He is working hard to try to master 6 handed clocks before he comes home, but he seems not to be too desperate, which is a good thing, as with desperation can come disappointment, should he not master. His time is decreasing and he is doing extra homework to help as he asked Matt what he could do to improve his time, showing great initiative. More of that and his academics in another post another day.

As I wrote the other day, we had the opportunity to meet Barbara Arrowsmith Young at the party to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the founding of the Arrowsmith school. A bus was arranged from Peterborough which was a very relaxed way to travel down the 401 expressway rather than the somewhat fraught drive – I don’t think I will ever get used to driving in 12 lanes of traffic! We dressed in our finery and the students who were over 18, the parents who were able to go and all the Arrowsmith teachers piled onto the bus, the bus was full of chatter until the driver announced he didn’t know where he was going as we sped along the 401!  Jill took charge, as ever, and steered him right to the door where upon Simon announced “I’m home!”. And he was right at home, the castle reminding him of Hogwarts, comfortable in his colourful shirt and red trousers, he is his father’s son in that regard, mingling  and chatting! The party was held at Casa Loma, the only castle in North America, all decked out for Christmas so looking more beautiful than grand.

The atmosphere was one of great celebration, so much love in that room, for Barbara and for all the Arrowsmith staff. We parents have much to be thankful for, our children’s lives transforming before our eyes. There were speeches and we all got teary as a father spoke movingly of his daughter’s life before and after Arrowsmith, she who wasn’t expected to finish high school and who couldn’t cross the road safely is now planning a round the world trip having finished a university course.  Simon raising his eyebrows at me as I got out my hanky. The teachers and staff from the Toronto Arrowsmith school talked of their favourite Arrowsmith moments – too hard to pick as there were so many. I particularly loved the talk by the cognitive teacher who said that while there were many moments in the classroom it was the emails, letter and phone calls sometimes long after the students had left the programme that were her favourite moments – the call or email to say I have just met the man who I am going to marry, I have got into Med School, I have passed my driving test, I have moved into my own apartment, I am going on a backpacking trip by myself, I have cleaned out my closet and tomorrow I am going to clean out another one – all these attesting to things these students could not have done before they undertook the Arrowsmith programme, all manner of things which most people take for granted and which they expect. How thrilling it was to hear how much these students have achieved, and how their participation has allowed them to dare to dream, just as Barbara hoped it would.

Howard Eaton was there from Vancouver, now with 5 Eaton Arrowsmith schools and the Director of Research, research which is proving that there are permanent brain changes, increased lighting up within specific areas of the brain related to specific cognitive improvement exercises. The rats, who inspired Barbara, whose brains grew in a stimulating environment aren’t the only ones! Arrowsmith students brains grow too!

Barbara talked about the prospects for Arrowsmith, strategic directions that are being forged that will allow more students to access the programme. There is so much hope and excitement for the future where increasing numbers of students will be able to realise their potential.

After the talks it was time to head back up the 401 but not before we had a chance to be introduced to Barbara and I thanked her for her life’s work which was changing Simon’s life, and a quick photo.  It was too quick because there were so many other parents waiting for their chance to say their thankyous too. A quick thank you does not seem enough.

I was re-reading the article where I first read in some depth of Barbara’s work. At the end of the article, having described Barbara’s struggle in early life and how she devised the exercises which allowed her to overcome her learning difficulties, Janet Hawley writes

“I put it to Arrowsmith Young that her life sounds a bit like Sleeping Beauty waking up after being kissed by the Prince.

“Yes” she replies with a soft laugh, “but I was my own prince”.

Barbara’s work has allowed all the Arrowsmith students to be their own prince too.




Respect! The Arrowsmith students are amazing!

Yesterday evening was an eye-opener for me. Simon has been waiting for this evening for a long time as we missed it in his first and his second year. It was the Parent-Teacher night at Arrowsmith but this is not like the Parent-Teacher night as you know it. There was no sitting in front of the teacher waiting to hear the latest about your child, how they can improve, work harder or, indeed, how well they might be doing. This is something else completely – this is getting you to understand how to do the cognitive exercises and how hard it is to do them by doing them yourself. You, the parent, have to do the work that your child (whatever their age) is doing on a daily basis for hours on end, being taught by your child! They are your teacher for the evening!
Simon went through his day with me, talking me through the cognitive exercises, one by one. He explained which area of the brain is being used and what is improved by each of the exercises, for example, reading, writing, speaking more clearly, reading body language and facial expressions or the ability to remember all the instructions you are given when they are given all at once (by a bossy Mum, said Simon!).
I tried each of Simon’s exercises, at a lower level than that at which he is working, for around 10 minutes per exercise as compared to a period of 40 minutes. At the end of 2 hours I have to admit to my brain feeling quite frazzled. It is no wonder that Simon, and the other students, have an aching brain by the end of most days! I have a much greater understanding and a new level of respect for what these students have to do for themselves as they work to improve their cognitive abilities. It is truly remarkable and I am awed by their dedication and also the commitment of their fabulous, always cheerful and encouraging teachers to help them to achieve their best and to realise their potential and their dreams. The photo is me having done an exercise which makes the act of writing easier and more fluent. I did one page and my hand was tired, Simon does six pages of the same combinations and usually three sets of six pages each period! Exhausting! image
I leave you first with the words of Barbara Arrowsmith Young from her book “The Woman Who Changed Her Brain”:
My vision is of a world in which no child ever struggles with a learning disability, no child is ever stigmatised as having one, and no child experiences the ongoing emotional pain of living with a learning disability.
That people with learning difficulties don’t dare to dream breaks my heart. We now have the tools to address these problems, strengthen and rewire and improve their brains, and avoid a tremendous amount of needless suffering
And finally the words of Norman Doidge, psychiatrist and author of “The Brain That Changes Itself” in which I first read of the Arrowsmith Program:
The stigma associated with having a learning disability will ease when we all understand that we can accomplish what was once thought impossible: we can change, fundamentally and profoundly, our capacity to learn.

Back on board but sadly not on the Orient Express!

Just a quick post to say a post will be written tomorrow (sorry Richard!), we are finally home after our amazing trip. We are getting sorted and settled, albeit  we are only here until early September when Simon heads back to Arrowsmith for his third year in Peterborough, changing his brain further and surviving another Canadian winter. For the moment we are enjoying the Australian winter, it was a heady 23C sunny day in Sydney today!

Wildlife on the way to Arrowsmith!

imageNot only does Simon have to contend with defensive parent geese protecting their goslings but snapping turtles too! Actually, she was just off the path having crossed the road to find somewhere to lay her eggs! Such a treat to see al this wildlife on the way in the mornings! 

What a good few days. We went to The Keg for dinner with some of Simon’s classmates one night this week. The Landsdowne Shopping Mall, in which The Keg is situated, doesn’t have quite the same ambience of The Keg overlooking Niagara Falls but the food was equally as good. Great cheesy garlic bread to start with followed by a variety of steaks and ribs, all of which were delicious and perfectly cooked! A so called mini brownie was not mini at all, horrifyingly big in fact and caused us mums to regret ordering it!

Yesterday we joined Lynette, Zac and friends at our first ever lacrosse game, as spectators of course! Lacrosse is comsidered the National Game of Canada, silly me, I thought that was ice hockey!  It was strange to see the ice in the Peteborough Memorial Centre no longer present and a green pitch there instead! lacrosse is a fast and furious game, so fast sometimes that it is hard to follow the ball, but we enjoyed it nonetheless. I think it is almost as rough as ice hockey, with much belting of opposition players with sticks! I am happy to report that the Lakers won by 15 to 10, according to the helpful man sitting next to me, who gave me an informed running commentary, that is an unusually high score!

Happy weekend, everyone! Simon is out at Friday night, I am at Andrea’s but she is in Ottawa so no Friday night for me, hence time to update the blog! Sorry Richard!

An Arrowsmith update

It is high time for an update about the Arrowsmith program! I am thrilled to be able to report that there are currently more than 1700 students enrolled in the program with 73 educational organizations in four countries offering the Arrowsmith Program. There are 25 sites in Canada, 32 sites in the United States, 11 sites in Australia and 5 sites in New Zealand.

The reach of the Arrowsmith program is extending and I know that all of those students will be benefitting in ways which are hard to describe adequately, we parents watch with joy as our children (whatever their age!) blossom with this program. I have seen, in Simon’s case, a previously unimaginable growth in his confidence and his self esteem as well as in his academic and social abilities. This time last year we could never have conceived of him living in a student Hall of Residence with me being here in Sydney leaving him for weeks on end. He is not only managing but thriving with his new-found independence – it is so exciting to see!

I am sharing the words Matt wrote to Simon at the end of his latest report as they reflect, to me, what Arrowsmith is all about, full of encouragement but challenging at the same time.

Simon: This progress report represents the culmination of a very successful year. Some of the highlights from this past month include putting in a big effort in your Broca’s exercise to ensure that you met Benchmark expectations and a dramatic increase in your Predicative Speech scores. In your Predicative Speech exercise you went from falling below expectations last month to exceeding expectations in April!  Your efforts behind your Broca’s and Predicative Speech accomplishments do not go unnoticed. The people around you value hard work and it resulted in you earning the most recent Brass Hammer award! You have worked hard and challenged yourself, and it has paid off with the discovery of new abilities.  As we enter into the end of the year, it will be important to stay focused on the big picture. It has been a long and productive year, and now is your opportunity to think about putting your new strengths into practice. You have new powers—remember to use them. When you leave for the break, don’t undersell yourself. You are capable of a lot. Be brave. Use your courage to try new things, and work hard to become better at the things you need and want to be better at. Don’t sell yourself short and don’t fall back into old habits. You have a good sense of how much progress you have made and how far you have truly come.  Put a lot of energy into everything you do—it will always pay off and help you to build good habits. We are looking forward to a strong finish to the year, and we also know that you are looking forward to a well-deserved break in June.

It is almost the end of the academic year with the two week assessment period starting next week, after a long weekend. Simon is off to Ottawa with one of his fellow students and looking forward to spending a weekend in a family home, a change from Argyle. Whilst he is not exactly looking forward to testing, he is keen to have a measure of how far he has come in this last two years. We are keen to see his results too but we don’t really need them as we can see for ourselves the immense gains he has made. He is no longer in the no man’s land, floundering somewhere between special ed and the mainstream, where he was overwhelmed by fast flowing conversations amongst his peers or by too many instructions, unable to remember the names of his fellow workers on his work experience days. Excitingly, he is reading and has been reading every day for over 100 days now! There is so much more I could mention but that is enough from me for now! If you would like to find out more about our Arrowsmith experience please email me – wise words 3

And perhaps in my next post I will tell you what I have been up to (sorry Richard!).


imageI spent yesterday in Toowoomba, visiting the recently started full time Arrowsmith programme at the Darling Downs Christian school. Theirs is currently the only full time adult programme in Australia. It is early days for them with most students still training in order to do the exercises perfectly, a prerequisite to maximise cognitive improvement. It had the same quiet, determined air as I see each time I go into the West classroom in Peterborough. And again, the dedication of the teachers is palpable, so encouraging and positive. In addition to the adult class there are two classrooms for school aged students and the demand for the Arrowsmith programme is growing. At the recent teacher training programme in Toronto there were teachers from Australia and New Zealand who will all go back to expand the programmes already running in their schools but even as they expand the numbers of students seeking out the Arrowsmith programme is increasing! Barbara’s dream of helping as many students as possible to reach their potential is coming true, though having a programme in every school is still someway away, I am sure that it will happen and sooner rather than later.

Lea-Anne picked me up after my schol visit and we went out to lunch at Wrays, a beautiful organic cafe and shop. The food reminded me of The Food Forest in Peterborough though, as Lea-Anne pointed it, it didn’t have the same cosy atmosphere. She took me on a tour of Toowoomba, a bustling town with beautiful walks from Picnic Point, though we ran out of time to go too far afield. We picked Kayle up from school, whilst she went to a music lesson, we went onto Lea-Anne’s office at the Airport Flyer, which makes travelling back and forth to either Wellcamp or Brisbane airport so easy with their friendly drivers and efficient service, then to meet her sister and her family. We spent the evening chatting and when Col got back from work we continued  reminiscing about our Arrowsmith days, all our special friends, good times and good restaurants! It was really lovely to spend time together, making that special connection instantly only found with good friends. Thanks for a great day Lea-Anne, Col and Kaylee! See you again soon before too long.

Barbara Arrowsmith Young’s moving article about Learning Disabilities and Mental Health

Barbara explains so well how it feels to be living with a learning difficulty – please click on the link and read it. And how fortunate are we that she wasn’t successful in her suicide attempts and went on to develop the cognitive improvement exercises that allow Simon and the many other Arrowsmith students to become the people they were meant to be. They can overcome their learning difficulties and all the issues associated with them thanks to Barbara.



In honour of Bell Let’s Talk Day today, intended to open up the communication channels for people struggling with mental health challenges, we’re reposting Barbara Arrowsmith Young’s article linking learning disabilities to mental health difficulties.…/canadian-mental-health-week_…

Our discussion of learning disabilities is a mental health issue. I was born with severe learning disabilities. By my twenties I had tried to commit suicide more…