Education and the Environment

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So, I’ve been sitting here wondering what I might have that would be interesting to write about when it occurred to me that the big thing going on in my life might be relevant to lots of people.

18 years ago my daughter was born 4 months (yes, months!) early.  Who knows why my body had such problems, but I know many women my age and younger have had a lot of issues with pregnancy.  I never took drugs or drank, nor was it a genetic problem.  That probably leaves environment…have you heard that we have so many toxins in our systems that breast milk can often be classified as toxic waste?  But I don’t want to go there today.  I want to talk about my little girl, who was so tiny and fragile when she was born that the doctors couldn’t promise she’d survive, and warned us that she could have all sorts of problems like cerebral palsy.  They did tell me that if she survived, she would be a fighter and to be ready! 🙂

Truly, one miracle after another later, our Peanut survived and eventually, thrived.  Thank God.  She does, however, have some learning disabilities, and I want to share with you what I’ve learned about this.

In school their response was to just keep passing her along, telling us it was all ok, maybe we should buy her shoes with velcro and put her on meds for ADD.  WELL!  By 8th grade graduation, she had virtually zero math skills, could not write legibly, and had endured years of shaming from teachers and cruelty from her peers.  I listened carefully at parent-teacher conferences and read whatever I could find, but the general “wisdom” said that the brain was hard-wired by a very young age and our very bright little girl was looking at a very dim future.

All along, though, I felt this was wrong.  My gut told me the brain can create new neural pathways even when they weren’t formed through normal development.  I kept reading, kept searching, and just a couple of weeks ago I found a book called, “The Woman Who Changed Her Brain”, by Barbara Arrowsmith-Young.  This woman suffered terrible anguish all through school because of a number of cognitive deficits.  She went on to study the brain, and began to find that there is plasticity in it’s function.  She could trace different learning disabilities to specific areas of the brain, and she figured that exercises could be developed that would activate that area.  She tried it, systematically, on herself.  The book is a thrilling read for anyone whose child struggles to learn because she describes how the fog lifted for her and never came back.  She has developed the Arrowsmith School in Toronto.  Every year teachers attend workshops so that her methods can be implemented in schools all over the US.

If you know anyone whose child has been diagnosed with ADD, LD, or a variety of other problems, let them know there is real help.  If you know or are a teacher, please consider how you treat students who may seem to be problems.  Please know that a harsh note written in red on their assignments hurts way more than you think.