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Prepping for Cognitive Boot Camp

We're headed to a national park today in celebration of two things: the gradual easing of CoVid-19 restrictions that mean the park is open to vehicles, and the beginning of something new and exciting for teenaged "Calvin." But Calvin's words are different. He says it's the end of his freedom.

It's not just that Spring Break is over on Monday. It's that Calvin is starting an intense 8-week program of cognitive training aimed at helping him overcome his learning disability. When I say "intense" I mean that the admissions director warned me that he is going to be wiped out and will be needing to eat extra food. What does this intense cognitive training program look like? Apparently, he's going to be spending 4 hours a day learning how to read clocks, eventually with up to ten hands.

This is the Arrowsmith program. Designed by Barbara Arrowsmith Young to help her overcome her own learning disabilities in the late 1970s, it has been changing lives for over 40 years. I heard about it from a friend who recommended the founder's book,The Woman Who Changed Her Brain. At first, I thought the story sounded too good to be true. But Arrowsmith Young's premise rings true to me. And the book, with its many stories of weaknesses being turned into strengths and the resulting transformation in lives of those who dared to challenge themselves, brought me to tears. This means hope for so many people. It means hope for some of my own children.

Arrowsmith Young's premise is that many learning disabilities are a result of weakness or damage in specific areas of the brain. But the brain is not hard-wired. New neural pathways can be grown. And targeted exercises that stimulate the area of weakness cause neural growth. That's why Calvin is going to be wiped out and extra hungry, because he's going to be growing new neural connections and literally changing the structure and function of the networks in his brain. That takes a lot of effort and energy. But it translates into becoming capable of intellectual tasks that used to seem impossible. If you're interested, you can learn more about it here on Arrowsmith Young'sTED Talk.

It was over a year ago when Calvin said, "Mom, I think there's something wrong with me." He's bright. Very bright. Enough that he's been pretty much a straight A student for the last couple of years, which is something, considering that it takes him hours to read what I can in minutes. When he listens to an audiobook, he keeps rewinding sections, repeatedly, because he didn't catch it the first time. When we watch a movie together, he occasionally has to pause it and clarify what's going on. When he takes a test at school, it takes him 4 to 5 times as long as his classmates to just complete the exam. That's not checking over his work. That's just getting every question answered. He'll get one of the top grades in the class. But we're grateful for teachers who are willing to let him stay behind well after everyone else has left the school.

I called the school and asked for a psycho-educational assessment. They told me no. Anyone who is pulling grades as good as Calvin's just isn't high enough on the priority list for an assessment. But Calvin has his sights set on BYU-Provo. And that means the ACT - a gruelling 3-hour test that most students can't complete. Even if he were to get accommodations with extra time, with his current capabilities, Calvin wouldn't come close to completing it. And how would he ever read everything he'd need to in order to make it through a university program?

He doesn't have a diagnosis. We think he has ADHD. We were talking about trying meds. But first, I readThe Woman Who Changed Her Brain,and Arrowsmith sounds like so much a better deal. I inquired at the nearest school that offers cognitive training and they told me that they only work with children in the primary grades. But they referred me toEaton Arrowsmithin Vancouver. And Eaton Arrowsmith has launched an online program because of CoVid19. So, one week and $5000 later, Calvin is ready for cognitive boot camp. Yes, five thousand dollars... from his education savings account. Because Calvin has so much he can offer the world and something in the way. And if it works...ah... if it works. Look out world!

(Originally published May 2, 2020)

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