The Woman Who Changed Her Brain: Barbara Arrowsmith-Young at TEDxToronto


Translator: Agata Dziadul
Reviewer: Helena Bedalli I want to share a little secret, which I hope will not be a secret
by the end of the talk. I am truly, madly, deeply passionate
about the human brain. Science has taught us
that our brain shapes us, that it makes us uniquely who we are. And if we think about our brain,
it has 200 billion neurons. Think about the world’s population:
that’s a mere 7 billion. And we have hundreds of trillions
of connections in our brain. If we imagine all the stars
in the Milky Way Galaxy, there are more connections in our brain,
than all of those stars combined. So, this incredibly complex organ
that we carry with us everywhere we go,
it does shape who we are. It is a filter,
it filters our perceptions and our understanding of ourselves,
of others, of our world, and of our place in that world. And, what is incredibly amazing is no two brains are exactly alike. If you look at the person next to you, and you note
all the physical differences between you: the shape of your nose,
the color of your eyes, your height, there are more differences
between your two brains than all of those physical differences
in combination. So, our brain does make us uniquely us. And I am here today
to share with you my story, and it’s a story of how I came to learn that not only does our brain shape us, but that we can actually shape our brain. My story began in Grade 1, and in Grade 1 I was identified
as having a mental block. I was told I had a defect. And I was told I would never learn
like other children. And really, the message at that time
was loud and clear. I was told I needed to learn to live
with those limitations. And this was 1957, and it was the time
of the unchangeable brain. And childhood was
a profound struggle for me. I couldn’t tell time.
I couldn’t understand the relationship between an hour hand
and a minute hand on a clock. I couldn’t understand language.
Most of what I read, or heard, was really as intelligible
as the ‘Jabberwocky’. I could understand concrete things. If somebody said to me,
“The man is wearing a black coat”, I could paint the picture in my head,
and I could understand that. But what I couldn’t do was understand
concepts, or ideas, or relationships. So, lots of things were confusing. I pondered, how could my aunt also
be my mother’s sister? And what did that fraction,
1/4, really mean? Any kind of abstract concept
was hard for me. Irony and jokes: that was impossible. So, I learned to laugh
when other people did. Cause and effect:
it did not exist in my world. There were no reasons
behind why things happened. My world was a series of disconnected
bits and pieces of unrelated fragments. And eventually,
my fragmented view of the world ended up causing
a very fragmented sense of myself. And that wasn’t all:
this whole left side of my body was like an alien being,
unconnected to the rest of me. I would bang and bump into things
on the left side of my body. If I picked up anything in this left hand,
I would drop it. If I put this left hand on the hot burner,
I would feel pain, but I had no idea
where it was coming from. I was truly a danger to myself. My mother, she was convinced
I would be dead by the age of 5. And then, if that wasn’t enough,
I had a spatial problem. I couldn’t imagine
three-dimensional space. I couldn’t create maps in my head. I would constantly get lost,
even in my friend’s house. Crossing the street instilled terror. I could not judge
how far away was that car. Geometry was a nightmare. I felt incredible shame. I felt there was something horribly,
horribly wrong with me. And in my child’s mind,
when I’d heard that diagnosis, of having a mental block,
I actually thought I had a wooden cube in my head
that made learning difficult. And I didn’t have a piece of wood
in my head, but I wasn’t far wrong. I had blockages, as I was later to learn, in very critical parts of my brain. And I tried all the traditional approaches,
they were all about compensation, and about working around the problem, finding a strength to support a weakness. They were not about trying to address
the source of the problem, and they took heroic effort,
and led to rather limited results for me. Then, Grade 8. I hit the wall. I could not imagine
how I could go on to high school, and handle more complex curriculum. The only option I could see
was ending my life. So, I decided to end the pain. And the next morning, when I woke up
after my failed suicide attempt, I berated myself for not even being able
to get that right. So, I soldiered on. And part of what kept me going was
an attitude that I learned from my father. He was an inventor, and he was passionate
about the creative process. He taught me that if there’s a problem,
and there’s no solution, you go out and create a solution. And the other thing he taught me was that before you can solve a problem,
you have to identify its nature. So I continued my hunt.
I went on to study psychology, to try to understand
what was wrong with me, what was the source of my problem. And then, in the summer of 1977,
something life-altering happened. I met a mind like my own, A Russian soldier, Lev Zasetsky,
the only difference being his mind was shaped by a bullet, and mine had been that way since birth. I met Zasestky on the pages of a book,
‘The Man With a Shattered World’, wrtitten by the brilliant Russian
neuropsychologist, Alexander Luria. As I read Zasetsky’s story, he couldn’t tell time,
he described living in a dense fog. All he got was fragments, bits and pieces. This man was living my life. So now, at the age of 25, in 1977, I knew the source of my problem. It was a part of my brain, in the left
hemisphere, that wasn’t working. And then I came across the work
of Mark Rosenzweig, and he showed me a solution. Rosenzweig was working with rats, and he found that rats in an enriched
and stimulating environment were better learners. And then he went
and looked at their brains: their brains had changed physiologically
to support that learning. And this was neuroplasticity in action. Neuroplasticity, simply put,
the brain’s ability to change physiologically and functionally,
as the result of stimulation. So now I knew what I had to do. I had to find a way to work,
to exercise my brain, to strengthen those weak parts. And this was the beginning of
my transformation and of my life’s work. And I had to believe that humans must have
at least as much neuroplasticity, and hopefully more, than rats. So, I went on to create my first exercise. And I used clocks, because clocks
are form of relationship, and I had never been able to tell time. So I started with the two-handed clock, to force my brain
to process relationships, and then I added a third hand,
and then a fourth hand, because I wanted to make my brain
to work harder, and harder, and harder, to pull together concepts
and understand their connection. And about three to four months in, I knew something significant had changed. I’d always wanted to read philosophy,
and had never been able to understand it. And I just happened to have access
to a philosophy library. So I went in,
and I pulled a book off the shelf, and I opened it to a page at random, and I read that page,
and I understood it as I was reading it. This had never happened in my entire life. And then I thought, maybe it’s a fluke,
maybe that was just an easy book. So I pulled another book off the shelf,
opened it, read it, and understood it. And by the time I was finished, I was
surrounded by a pile of a hundred books, and I had been able to read
and understand each page. So I knew that something had changed. (Applause) Thank you. My experiment had worked. The human brain was capable of change. And then I decided to create an exercise for that alien part of my body, and for that I knew I had to work
on an area in the right hemisphere, the somatosensory cortex
that registers sensation. I created an exercise for that
and I am no longer a danger to myself. And then I decided, that spatial problem, because I was really tired
of getting lost, and so I created
another exercise for that, and I don’t get lost, I can actually
read maps — I don’t like GPS’s, because I like to read maps now,
because I can. (Laughter) So, I knew now, the brain could change. I was living proof
of human neuroplasticity. And what really breaks my heart is that I still meet people today, children, individuals, that are struggling
with learning problems, and they’re still being told
what I was told in 1957, that they need to learn to live
with their limitations, they don’t dare to dream. And what I learned since 1977, when I met Zasetsky and Luria,
and Rosenzweig, is that, yes, our brain does shape us, it impacts how we can engage,
and participate, and be in the world, and every single one of us has our own unique profile
of cognitive strengths and weaknesses. And if there’s a limitation,
we don’t necessarily have to live with it. We now know about neuroplasticity, and we can harness
the brain’s changeable characteristics, to create programs to actually strengthen
and stimulate and change our brain. And in 1966, Rosenzweig
threw down the gauntlet. He said, his challenge was:
“Let’s take what he’d learned with rats, and apply it to human learning.” And we need to embrace that challenge, we need to also challenge
current practices that are still operating out of
that paradigm of the unchangeable brain. We need to work together to take
what we know now about neuroplasticity, and develop programs
that actually shape our brains, to change the future of learning. My vision is of a world that we create, in which no child has to live with the ongoing struggle and pain
of a learning disability. My vision is that cognitive exercises
become just a normal part of curriculum. My vision is that school becomes a place
that we go to strengthen our brain, to become really efficient
and effective learners, engaged in a learning process, where not only, as learners,
can we dare to dream, but we can realize our dream. And to me, this is the perfect marriage
between neuroscience and education. Thank you. (Applause)

100 thoughts on “The Woman Who Changed Her Brain: Barbara Arrowsmith-Young at TEDxToronto”

  1. Barbara has written a book that will explain how she changed her brain – beautifully written – You will be inspired.

  2. Great achievement by Barbara. Her life changed by the self invented solution namely , " Teaching the brain to work. " Congratulations!.

  3. Thank You …. I fully agree no child should have to live with something they do not have to live with. Love & Peace to All

  4. Being a person who has had a brain injury the tools I used to get better were increasing the amount of difficult things I did to challenge my mind. I think that builds back brain function. Never giving up on the hope I would be better. I short getting tough on my brain to let it know I will not succumb to a mediocre life when I know I am so much more.
    The greatest part of the human condition is the ability to change if desired.

  5. Ok this is amazing but what did she actually do? All she talked about was enriching her environment… talked about adding hands to a clock and then 4 months later she’s reading philosophy books. What did she actually do??!! What “exercises” did she do? “I created exercises for this, for that…” what were the exercises? I’m a teacher this would help me teach my students tremendously

  6. Psycho brain. Only 2 types, healthy brain, psycho brain. America = too many psycho brains. Psycho brains trying to understand other psycho brains. Never figure it out, just give up.

  7. An important talk, though long-winded and including unnecessary information, so here's the TL;DR:

    Woman is born with the inability to conceptually understand relations (cause/effect for example), was told to find workaround solutions with marginal benefits. Instead she researched neuroplasticity and came up with her own exercises to remedy the problem, which worked extremely well and within three months. The advice she had been given was wrong.

    Conclusion is that learning disabilities should be remedied through neuroplasticity training, and that we should stop telling children with learning disabilities that they'll be that way for life, because they don't have to be.

  8. We shared the same childhood dysfunctions, we both had fathers that changed our way of thinking – our only difference she knew her diagnosis, I only learnt of mine 2 years ago and I am now 60. This woman has so inspired me – my father taught me all those games she herself used, I still do them to this day and I am sure that is why I made it thus far. This talk brought me the validation of me. I cannot thank you enough xx

  9. A great talk, thank you. Many so-called 'special needs ' children today suffer from the stigma and humiliation of being unable to undertake basic tasks through a lack of cognitive stretch. Many average children however also find maths and clocks challenging.

    I would like to have been given even one example of the exercises she devised – did she have help in devising them? In other words, did she understand the process by which she could repair her brain or did she simply rote learn how to read a clock?

    Did she know that conquering one challenge would have exponential benefits in other cognitive challenges?

    There is a lot more to be known and understood about her recovery process.

  10. Easily the most useless ted talk I've ever seen. She talks about a process,exercises, a procedure all very vague and not helpful.Most of the other ted talks I watch summarize the main ideas and provides example or real life procedures on what they did.If you want to read the book for those ted talks sure why not always aim for self improvement.This on the other hand leaves me with no idea on how to do what she did.Inspiring story sure useful not really

  11. My own issues (in first grade) pale in comparison, yet I believed sentenced me to a limited and lonely life. After 50 years of following that incorrect default program, I started to question it. In finding new and True answers, I am regaining the confidence that was long ago lost. My current belief system is reshaping my innermost thoughts toward social connection and success. It has taken me a decade to reach the point where rapid improvement is mine. I believe that my adaptable brain is increasingly on board with realigning itself to my new belief system. Constant fear and worry are giving way to excited exploration of new possibilities. At 11:12 it breaks my heart too…to have lost so very much of my life's potential…and to feel such anger that current understanding is not universally applied. I have no such anger for my childhood 'directors', for they did what they thought best without malice. To ignore better ways is malicious, contemptible, and must be addressed. Thanks for this very inspiring talk.

  12. This is so interesting. As a retired teacher and later lecturer in education l have had to try and change my brain to be able to help my young grandson who is on the autistic spectrum, to shape his brain and also, learn to speak. I am still learning but he is now helping me though he does not speak yet, by wanting to communicate what his needs are to me.

  13. I read about her story in a brilliant book "The brain that changes itself". Nice to hear it from Miss Arrowsmith herself

  14. She is amazing person!I am admire so brave and persistent people!This performance get hope for future

  15. I really wish that the speaker would have gone into detail about her strategies. I think more professional developments in school need to educate staff about neuroscience and strategies that students could use in terms of life skills and cognitive exercise. It should be toward all learners and levels in k-12. It’s sad that it’s all about performance and not personal growth per child.

  16. Excellent Experts changing world in Harmony and Happiness. CEO SLARC Academy Prof Anand Shukla Sims India 91-9990081788, 9350228959, 7836877777
    Thanks Vinesh Lakhaini Estonia Mind Valley.

  17. So how to learn if you have problems learning (which I had my whole life)? Not even a glimpse? C'mon. Am I the only here to feel like I've wasted 14 minutes of my life during which I could learn something important that actually works?

  18. The way she describes her early thinking has a lot of over lap with common characteristics of people exposed to alcohol in the womb. Not saying that was her problem, just raising awareness. There's no known safe amount of alcohol consume while pregnant, don't risk it.

  19. What an incredible woman, person, overcomer I am speechless as to how amazing you are Barbara Aarowsmith -Young!! I learned a lifetime of explanations in this video you have shared with us and me personally.. Thank you beyond words, beyond dyslexia, beyond learning "disabilities" Thank you soo much.. Time has always been an issue and I suppose as long as were here on earth it will be lol The human brain what a beautiful entity, creation potential limitless!! Thank you… God bless all your efforts to educate and communicate new ways to harness and conquer and improve our brains hence living a much more functional life! Grateful that you decided to be transparent with all of us even about your most sensitive past learning and educational struggles.. Thank you for sharing that there IS hope, you were never alone after all and they did NOT define you !!

  20. Really touched my heart. I suffer from depression and wish to use the concept of neuroplasticity to change my brain.

  21. This is a wonderful talk. I am currently working on rewiring my brain through a process called Dynamic Neural Retraining System, based on the work of Annie Hopper. Like Ms. Arrowsmith-Young, Annie studied, read, and developed herself the strategies to re-wire her brain while dealing with a significant brain impairment. It is sad to me to read some of the comments where people see Ms. Arrowsmith-Young as withholding when she does attempt to tell people how to do something it took her years of hard work and research to develop during an 18 min. TED talk. Rather than focusing on the hope she extends they resent not being passively FED the answers. Instead of complaining about her presentation, go read her book, look for a brain changing program. There are ones like Annie Hopper's that you can do at home through the use of CDs. Yes, you will have to put some skin in the game. You will need to spend some money and then devote the time, energy and commitment it takes to change your brain but you CAN do it!

  22. She just touches the surface of her accomplishments in this video. She works with kids who need to reconnect various parts of their brains that have, for whatever reason, failed to connect naturally. The methods she uses for hyperactive kids with very short attention spans was the most impressive I've ever read. Please look up her institute and whatever youtube vids of her therapies if you know someone who is struggling.

  23. Love to her your story of life! I have just begin training my brain with DNRS and after only two months I already can Do things I couldent before!!! I am changing my brain! It can be done!

  24. Amazing story. I felt like I had concrete poured into my brain until I recovered from Still's Disease.

  25. I have short memory due to which people are taking enormous benefits in office as well as in personal life. The relative of no use to us always haunt as and demotivate and suppress in life because of short memory.

  26. This video helped me rise out of my bed easier this morning. I too have been noticing a decline in my memory and mental processing time from depression and anxiety. I try to keep doing things within environments that keep me intellectually enriched but I don't see an improvement. I have heard of the theory of neuroplasticity but have never heard of any personal stories about how someone was able to improve their cogitive functioning, until now. I feel more hopeful and so would like to plug my brain away to the exersizes that will strengthen my individualized cognitive needs. But like I said, what I was doing before was not working? Any suggestions that actually works for people in my shoes?? The arrowsmith school looks like it is just for kids

  27. What a great SINCERE and HONEST speaker and "teacher". Bless her heart-took allot of SELF-ESTEME AND CONFIDENCE to get out and tell others of her experiences. She reminds me of my friend Karen, whom, because of her poor eyesight, her parents put her into a school for the (then referred to as) Retarded-i.e., handicapped! Karen persevered, and by high school was playing classical piano with two microscopes planted in front of her eyes! Goggles we called them! And she became a CHAMPION CHESS PLAYER competing with all the top players in Hollywood-and held it, for years! What part of Barbara's brain WAS questioning and self-conscious enough to persevere-Kudos Barbara! What a sweetheart of a speaker you've become! I shall also think of Barbara whenever I relay the story (again-told it many times), of the taxi i driver, who was listening to his GPS advice, pulls into an exit he's told was an entrance! I KNEW the "entrance" the "next right" was NOT an entrance- as I could easily picture it in MY mind-and saved a couple of lives that night! (They're still trying to fix that GPS lady!) Barbara gives new meaning to "Think FOR yourself", I'd say, and she's speaking it so eloquently too! May God Bless you Barbara-and give you the energy and OPPORTUNITY to explain YOUR story to many many others! YOU GO GIRL! I am WONDERING, If you aren't ALSO involving yourself in some "natural, preventative health" advise too? Did your DIET play a part in your experiences at all ? I'd love to hear that lecture! Thank you Barbara!

  28. This is an inspirational video, Barbara discovered the plasticity and power of her brain and turned her life around. I was also a slow learner but nothing like what Barbara went through. My turning point came when I discovered how powerful our brains are and how they can be moulded through brain plasticity.
    My learning problem was nothing compared to my anxiety and panic attack problem. My anxiety and panic attacks almost had me beat. Over my lifetime I had moulded my brain into a negative fearful brain. When I discovered that I could reshape it into a positive brain that could turn around my panic and anxiety I did.
    Now Im very pleased with my level of intelligence and I am over the moon with not having panic attacks, and the anxiety is 99% gone. And now I love my brain, I treat my brain with love and respect. Which is something I didn't do in the old anxiety and panic days.
    Thanks Barbara , cheers from Paul Ianni

  29. how do we help kids who are not motivated to improve? I work with many special need children and some show great progress following my programs and others will not engage no matter what motivation is given. They are are either combative or uninterested in cognitive exercises even if I include their favourite things. Anyone have advice?

  30. This was heart-touching. Thank you for this. I believe this and I am happy it is here and there are countless people who know this.

  31. While her story was interesting, in the end it is an advertisement for her school/program, rather than a talk to share her ideas–the purpose of Ted Talks. Plasticity is not a new concept–butbmsybe four years ago, more so. "I created this exercise and this one, but you have to purchase my program/attend my school to access my knowledge" is of no benefit to the listener. I'm surprised this talk was accepted as-is. An insight into the thought process that led her to approach brain development in her unique way, that led to her profound changes, should have been required.

  32. Welcome to living with ADHD! School was and still is a place of harm. But, like this women, in the end we are stronger!

  33. Why is it that TEDx speakers only tell the WHAT and never the HOW !!!
    THAT is what i hate about such talks and they are a time waste !
    Come to the point and explain neuroplasticity . Enough of telling your struggles in tedX !!!

  34. How did she have a friend, while she did not understand relationships? How did she learned anything from her father, and how did she study psychology, while she was unable to understand concepts and anything abstract?? I wish it was true, but it doesn't sound like it is.

  35. Hope is often all that people are clinging to and the cruel words of – sometimes  professionals – of: "…live with it!" are not helping anyone.  Your message brings hope and hope is where all good starts.Thank you for a brilliant presentation.

  36. The courage, will and determination this lady has is awesome. KUDOS to you.
    (Makes me especially happy because I obtained my BA at the U of Guelph.)

  37. Bravo Barbara..u did it..u changed ur world..how exciting!! I pray ur vision comes to fruation in our lifetime. .🐝🐳🌝

  38. The only problem with this was her ending statement. She wants a world where schools teach us to strengthen our abilities and become smart independent thinkers. No government wants that, they want obedient workers. They don't want independent thinkers capable of critical thinking. They want you dependent on the failed system that we all live in.

  39. Pay me, and I'll tell you how to improve yourself. Pay me, and I'll solve the world's problems. Pay me, and I'll make you well. IF ALL THESE FOLKS WERE SO CONCERNED ABOUT SOCIETY — then…well, there wouldn't be the "pay me" part.

  40. Wow!!! Thank you for sharing!!! Wish I could see your tool! I though because I’m getting older, 53 yo, and having multiple general surgeries that I am too limited in learning but you’re right. We/I can still re-train my brain and excel as a neonatal nurse! Thank you so much for this very amazing and encouraging message.

  41. She talks about her not being able to understand any abstract constructs but went to university to study psychology? How does that work?

  42. I just want ask Barbara Arrowsmith why when we are stuck and have no field to construct own life , still The brain wish to help others ???

  43. That is one of the most important talks l have seen this year.

    Since a child l have always had the thought "If only l could reprogrammed my brain". I was diagnosed with manic depression in my twenties. That l haven't had the diagnosis upgraded to bi polar is an indication of my lack of engagement with mental health services. Mainly because l see my condition as beneficial to me for at least 50% of the time. But l have battled with sever depression, both seeing it as a consequence of my brain experiencing extreme high and rapid and supercharged thinking (which is real fun). And something that is a laboratory experiement to find a way of resolving the depression parts.

    The different mental condition l have is very probabily a family trait, and l inherited a tool box of aids to deal with it. Good healthy eating, appreciation of natural beauty (my grandfather was a farmer's son), walking exercise, and a love of engineering and science to engage and excite the mind. But l have always wanted to discover a cure to help others overcome depression. That neuroplasticity is the key not only to change ability, but inner dialogue that undermines happiness, and blocks fulfilling lives. To walk in darkness is to desire to develop light for others on the pathways.

    The rise in childhood depression is of great concern. The increase on childhood medication for depression and anxiety is just unbelievable. And unless we provide kids with a tool kit to good mental health, we will inherit a society of people who cannot attain their potential, and a society stymied by lack of creativity. We have to celebrate difference, and guide people to understand that their life is created by their thoughts, and they ultimately are the master of their own minds.

  44. I wish I heard this talk in the 70's when I was a kid I had to teach myself nearly everything I know is self-taught and often people assume I have been to college however I am a high school dropout yet I am more tech savvy than the average.

  45. In other words: "Thank you for paying a ludicrous amount of money to sit here and listen to my BS. Now, go pay some more money to buy my idiotic book which won't help you, as you obviously already lack anything above your brainstem."

  46. I have dyscalculia and need to study math to get my grades up but sometimes my brain gets so shattered and won't cooperate with me, I just can't seem to grasp what I was able to solve the day before! Any tips on how I could practice my brain to be open to learning and memorizing algebra? It would mean a lot if this handicap could just go away..

  47. If you want to know HOW she learned some exercises, there . are two essential books that you must read. Anyone can change their brain. You can even take control of your pain using neural rewiring techniques (Dynamic Neural Rewiring System is one but there are others). This is NOT about memorization. The brain is much like a three-year-old waiting to be taught. It clings to new information. It gets lazy and loops over and over again all that it has been accustomed to. Your thoughts, beliefs, actions, disorders, etc. are wired in the brain. To get neurons to un fire and rewire takes a simple methodical and constantly practiced training that reaps huge almost magical rewards. For anyone. SOFT WIRED, and THE BRAIN THAT CHANGES ITSELF are the two books, she used some of the info there. And there is an excellent website POSIT and Brain HQ for those who are seriously interested. Neuroplasticity is just beginning to get noticed and its research, development, and implementations will be a large part of the future of our species. I am not a scientist. I am a regular person who had chronic pain and memory issues and this has been empowering and life-changing! Go for it!

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