Saturday, 2 May 2015

Why not everyone is enthusiastic about the Arrowsmith Program

Recent media reports such as this one in The Age have again drawn attention to the Canadian-based Arrowsmith Program for addressing the needs of struggling learners.


What could possibly be wrong with a program that

"....is founded on neuroscience research and over 30 years of experience demonstrating that it is possible for students to strengthen the weak cognitive capacities underlying their learning dysfunctions through a program of specific cognitive exercises"?

What parent or teacher would not want children to be able to strengthen "weak cognitive capacities", particularly if this occurs via a program of "specific cognitive exercises"? This sounds a bit like the process undertaken in pathology labs, where microbes in a particular bacterial infection are isolated under a microscope, so that antibiotic sensitivities can be ascertained, and targeted drug therapy can be prescribed.

If only that was how learning worked!

The Arrowsmith program makes liberal use of the kinds of words that are designed to hook parents and teachers and get them believing that this is a rigorous, scientifically-based intervention, offering something unique over and above what can be offered in a well-organised, evidence-based classroom curriculum.

Have a look at the Arrowsmith website, and put a dollar on the table every time one of the following terms appears:

  • cognitive
  • neuro
  • brain-based
  • neuronal
  • synaptic
  • neural sciences
  • cognitive-curricular research
  • brain imaging
  • targeted cognitive exercises
  • neuroplasticity

You'll certainly be a lot poorer at the end of this exercise! But perhaps you're not yet convinced of a need to activate your inner sceptic? Well have a listen to the videoclip interview with Dr. Lara Boyd, discussing neuroimaging studies of children and controls undergoing the Arrowsmith program (see homepage link above). Dr Boyd describes what sounds like a rigorous scientific study into the "changed brains" of children who have undergone Arrowsmith training, compared to those who have not (the control group).

What's the problem here?

The problem is that the good folk behind the Arrowsmith program have reduced an incredibly complex (and to a large extent, poorly understood) phenomenon (human cognition and its representation in the cerebral cortex) to a highly over-simplified narrative that mums and dads can "understand". It's a narrative that has strong face appeal, and encourages those without specialist knowledge or training to make a link between supposedly "known" activity in the brain and certain learning exercises.

If you were a parent of a child with learning difficulties, what would best motivate you to enrol your child in an expensive 3-4 year intervention (yes, that's right, 3-4 years)? Would it be the expectation that s/he would be performing at expected levels across the curriculum, or the reassurance (irrespective of academic outcomes), that s/he now has a thicker cerebral cortex and/or more myelinated neural pathways? I know what I'd be wanting as a parent.

To the best of my knowledge, the "evidence" in support of Arrowsmith comprises in-house research reports, conference poster-presentations, and satisfied client testimonials. Studies "in process" (as at 2014) include Effects of the Arrowsmith Program on Academic Performance: A Pilot Study - University of Calgary. One would have to wonder why a program that has existed for some 30 years, is only now at the point of collecting pilot data - yet it has been charging parents thousands of dollars over three decades, in the absence of robust, independent empirical data.

It is also notable that the first-listed publication at the link above is described as a "case study". Case studies are useful tools in elucidating the impact of a condition and also the response of a small number of individuals  ("cases") to an intervention.  Case studies are often an attractive marketing tool, as they are typically devoid of pesky statistics and other "dense" concepts that reduce their accessibility to lay readers.

In this case, clicking on the case study link reveals a PhD dissertation, which looked at 5 students, and concluded:

"Four of the five students experienced large and significant increases in cognitive, academic, emotional, and/or interpersonal functioning following their participation in the LDAS Arrowsmith program. One of the five students had much smaller gains in cognitive and academic functioning and experienced difficulties with emotional and interpersonal functioning following participation in the program".

So notwithstanding the very small sample size (not in itself inappropriate in case-study methodology), we have a scenario in which 20% of the sample not only failed to derive a benefit, but may have been adversely affected.

It should be stressed that case studies, though accepted in the scientific and academic communities as a form of evidence, are regarded as "weak" alongside other readily available, more robust methodologies that enable to us to accept or reject an intervention with far greater confidence, e.g., cross-sectional studies, randomized controlled trials, systematic reviews of well-controlled studies, etc. (See
this link for a quick summary of the evidence hierarchy). Case studies are a useful starting point, and need to be followed by larger, more rigorous, and independent evaluations. Unfortunately, it does not appear that this has occurred in the case of the Arrowsmith program.

What needs to happen?

In order for academics in education, developmental (neuro)psychology, speech-language pathology etc to be able to give unbiased, accurate advice to parents, schools, and policy-makers, peer-reviewed research is needed that controls for the fact that children in programs such as Arrowsmith receive a great deal of intensive, 1:1 time. That in itself should result in improved knowledge and skills.  Well-conducted studies that control for variables such as socio-economic status, comorbidities, and prior instructional environment are needed. It is important that gains made are tracked over time to see if they are maintained, or are an initial halo-effect. Bear in mind that when a child is significantly behind academically, interventions need to accelerate their progress relative to their typically-developing peers. Otherwise they will never catch up, let alone maintain their gains in the face of an ever-more demanding academic curriculum. We also need studies in which those carrying out outcome assessments are "blind" to which study arm a child was in. Not ensuring this opens the findings up to a range of overt and covert biases.

In the absence of such empirical data that people such as myself can draw on, it is disappointing and worrying that two Victorian education sectors have succumbed to (understandable but regrettable) consumer pressure to countenance an introduction of the Arrowsmith Program in a small number of schools (at this stage in only one of the sectors as far as I am aware).

Consumers should expect providers to go to the market with already-tested, replicated, and high-level evidence before they ask people to sign-up to an expensive intervention. We don't expect cancer patients to organise their own randomised controlled trials of new treatments, so why should it be left to schools (who don't typically have the appropriate expertise on staff) to stumble around and try to work out whether an education intervention is an appropriate investment above and beyond what they are already doing
(or could be doing)?

So - how will it be determined that the adoption of Arrowsmith mentioned above (and others that are popping up here and there) has been successful (or not)? What pre-determined criteria will be applied? Will there be any evaluations by independent and appropriately qualified researchers, or is this yet another education-intervention cul-de-sac?

Postscript, September  4, 2015: Interested readers should also check this blog post about the Arrowsmith Program by Professor Dorothy Bishop (University of Oxford).

(c) Pamela Snow 2015

58 comments:

  1. All of this is fine and well but the fact of the matter is, the program works. I hope the research catches up soon so this program will be widely available.

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    1. If something "works", that's a position that should be supported by independent, empirically verifiable evidence. People should not be profiting from parental anxiety and the capacity of some parents to pay enormous amounts of money on the strength of biased testimonials. We would not accept this in medicine and nor should we in education.

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    2. Parachutes work. Show me a randomised double-blinded research project that supports this.

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    3. That's an anti-intellectual, straw man unfortunately "Unknown". Parachutes "work" until someone proposes something better, which will no doubt be subjected to rigorous scientific scrutiny before it is made widely available and promoted for mass use - as it should be. This is what I advocate in relation to the welfare of struggling students too.

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    4. Okay. It works. That's all? What else can you say about it? How come only the maker of the Arrowsmith program talks, and nobody else is?

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  2. PS Would you please update the link to Prof. D Bishop's post, I can't find it at the site you have given. Thank you.

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    1. So sorry about my very tardy reply - but I have updated the link. You might like to have a look at some of Prof Bishop's other posts while you are on her site.

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  3. having attended this school, and I am stretching that word to its limits for the sake of inclusion, I must say that it is a year I will never get back.

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    1. Interesting comment - would you care to elaborate? I am sure readers would like to know more.

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    2. I would like to know more.

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    3. A different Anonymous : I can tell by unknowns one sentence comment above, that they would never have been to the school. The simple fact that theyve found your site, had to have read your content, understood it and then replied in the correct section, and in such a well structured and concise single sentence which involves a high degree of articulation and comprehension of the english language is undeniable evidence that they dont have a learning disability, or processing disorder. Probably never have. Just a troll attempting to muddy the waters.

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    4. That's absolutely ridiculous that you think that the person who wrote the original anonymous comment is lying because someone with a learning disability is unable to read and reply to a comment, I went to that school for two years and saw no gains. The person the recommended it to me initially also saw no gains and would later tell me that he thought the testing process at the end of the year that evaluates improvements was rigged. Even the most disabled children at the school would be capable of reading and responding to a simple blogpost that is easily found by Google searching "arrowsmith scam" which you inevitably do if you spend around 50,000 ➕ thousand dollars and two years of your life on something that was promised to be life changing but instead left you in debt and untrusting of businesses that operate under the guise of education systems.

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    5. I attended the program for over three years and I find your post extremely insulting and ignorant. I would have been able write a detailed review of the program before and after attending (because I personally didn’t see any noticeable gains after attending). Most of the people attending especially in the adult classes would be able to write an articulate well thought out review of the program . Your post seems to indicate that you are under the impression that students who attend the program lack basic understanding of the English language and writing skills which couldn’t be more untrue. I don’t know why you would imply that someone would write a false negative review on a blog post, what do you think a person would receive from that. Maybe I’m wrong but I assume that the majority of the negative reviews are from people like myself ; who invested a lot of time and money into the program under the false pretenses that it would change their lives for the better only to be left in debt and feeling conned.

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  4. As an adult I experienced no gains after one year of rigorous work at AS. I wonder how many other mature students share my sentiments? I envy those that benefited from the program. I wonder ,though, if they are deluding themselves??

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    1. I am an adult who has been contemplating attending the six week summer program that they offer. It will be a financial burden and I really don't have the time to take off work for 6 weeks, however I'm desperately hopeful, but wise enough to know that because I'm an adult I may not benefit as much as younger people with more malleable brains. I'm trying to gather as much into as possible to make an informed choice before I make the leap. Might you be willing to discuss over email? I would so appreciate any insights you may have. Thank you

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    2. Yes of course - happy to discuss in a general sense, but of course I can't provide individualized advice. My email is p.snow@latrobe.edu.au
      Can you p[lease put "Arrowsmith Program" in the subject line so I don't miss it?
      Thanks :-)
      Pam

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    3. Did you see it work for others?

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  5. Interesting comment - thank you. It is always helpful and illuminating to hear from people you have had direct experience of programs such as these, but without the gains described in the promotional hype. One of the problems with over-reliance on testimonials is that the voices of dissatisfied consumers are never included.
    Thanks for joining in on the discussion.

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  6. I also attended for years and very much share that sentiment...I saw quite a few people in the program make what seemed to be improvement, however I also saw the teachers coaching the students and telling them that they improved when it was time to write responses on the program ect
    . It seemed to have worked for some but those people are also devote followers and very much exhibit cult like behaviour (one student had the creators writing tattooed on her foot ).

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  7. I couldn't find 'Dr Lara Boyd' on the Arrowsmith site. How do you get to it, please?

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  8. I am "anonymous" for the sake of my son who attended an Arrowsmith School and wishes to remain anonymous. However I would like to ask where the randomised, peer reviewed studies are that prove that children should be grouped by age and sit all day long in the name of "education"? And yet it is generally accepted as the way to educate children. My son has benefitted hugely from the program and has gone from needing significant support in terms of extra tutoring and speech and language therapy - none of which made any difference to the underlying learning difficulties, to needing no support at all. He had a huge spread in his psych-ed assessment and every professional that dealt with him said he had a very unusual profile in having very "high highs" and very "low lows". Now in his recent Allwell testing, he achieved high average or above average across every test and in one of the tests, he had previously been in the 5th-7th percentile (on more than one occasion before you suggest it was testing error). A few months in (after leaving the program), he is managing high school with no support or interventions whatsoever and has already closed academic gaps, achieving above average for his age and grade. Sending him was not without its sacrifices and challenges - not least because he missed a big chunk of regular school during that time but I am writing as I feel saddened that more children will not have the opportunities that my son had - especially more so with the naysayers in the professional world saying it can't work. It does. Maybe not for every child - and perhaps that's where the focus on the studies should go instead of wasting time and money investigating whether neuroplasticity works or not - when there is already a lot of evidence to suggest that it does.

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  9. Hello and thank you for contributing to the discussion. First of all, I am sorry that you and your family have had a difficult journey and of course I am pleased that you seem to have found something that appears to work - that is after all, every parent's aim. I agree with you that there is a great deal (too much) in fact that goes on in education that is not evidence-based, though it could be argued that there are some broad developmental principles that underpin the way schools are organised, and of course many schools deal flexibly with this by having multi-age/composite classsrooms for at least part of the day.
    My main point in this post is that the Arrowsmith Program has been around for more than THREE DECADES and yet has not played ball with the scientific method, whilst charging parents thousands of dollars. It may well do some (or even a great deal of) good for some children - but wouldn't it be wonderful if we could find out how many, which ones, under what circumstances, at what treatment intensity, and maybe even why? That is what scientific research is all about - serving the greater good, and not just a fortunate few. Those children who are not going to benefit from this approach should be spending their time and family resources elsewhere. As with all testimonial-based approaches, the voices of the unsuccessful are rarely, if ever heard.

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    1. You're misleading your readers by making it sound like they are deliberately avoiding research. They need funding and sponsorship to conduct research - it doesn't come free. It's a much more complex issue than the way you're presenting it. Frankly you sound biased against them.

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    2. Hi Anonymous
      What I think is misleading is people making commercial gain from untested approaches that are the basis of a profit-making business model. Would you accept this in cancer treatment, or would you expect the government to step in and introduce some regulations to protect the public?
      As an academic I am well aware that research is not done for free; it’s the responsibility though of the folk with the clever idea to get someone to fund the research - like it or not, that’s how the system works. It’s designed to protect the public from unscrupulous players at worst, evangelical optimists at best, and everything in between.

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  10. Maybe just not going to school and failing day in and day out makes these children happier and so their cognitive profile gets a healthier shine. Anxiety will affect concentration, memory and processing speed.

    As a special education therapist, I have never seen a child with a non spiky profile. They are all 'unusual' but no matter, with research-based non-sensational treatment they can learn reading, writing and maths.

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  11. I work as a special Needs teacher and am also considering the arrowsmith program for my son because it will be a huge financial burden for our family. I just wanted to say that while I believe Arrowsmith to be extremely mercenary- evidenced clearly by how closely guarded all her methodologies are for a price; I can not swallow the sanctimony of defenders of our evidence based education system. My experience of our education system despite my love of children and learning and all the joys that that entails is one of a massive hierarchy of box tickers. We complete the testing to get the data to make the claims that blah blah blah blah blah. We have a system that is riddled with human frailty- data collected by one teacher can vary widely compared with data collected by the next. Students are taught how to take Naplan tests and students likely to bring test score averages down are happily distributed information about 'your right to refuse Naplan testing' because school administrators are terrified of the impact on enrolments. I agree with the previous respondents comments. There are hundreds - thousands of kids who would do better if education was about them and not about testing and comparing them. I am deeply saddened by what I have witnessed over 20 years in the education system and that is a real decline in the pursuit of better education, more empowered teachers and real child centered learning in favour of evidence based teaching which is as fallible as the human beings at whichever stage they maybe in their evolution as an educator, that conduct it.

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  12. The "regular" education system is not designed for the greater good. There are very few studies done supporting it, yet we accept it as better than the Arrowsmith program simply because it's free ?

    Maybe if we supported schools like Arrowsmith there would be subsidy provided for families that feel the need to have their child learn in a tailored environment.

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  13. Thanks for your comment "Unknown". I agree that mainstream education needs to be more evidence-informed. If you read other posts on my blog, you will see many examples to that effect. However lack of research evidence in the mainstream does not justify or excuse the entry of a new player that lacks an evidence base AND charges thousands of dollars AND requires parents to sign confidentiality agreements. In my opinion, such a combination is simply unethical.

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  14. My 9 yo son just completed his first year of AS. So far, I have seen so many improvements that we to signed him up for a second year. He himself has observed that he is capable of understanding things differently than he used to. I have noticed that he is more confident, more self-motivated, and he is able to perceive things more clearly. And yes, his academics have improved. I appreciate that you would like more peer reviewed scientific evidence - I would too. Might I point out that your article was heavily based on your opinion, and not based on science, which is somewhat ironic to me.
    As someone who works in a scientific field, I understand that it costs a lot of money to thoroughly research a topic. Usually, there has to be a financial interest in funding the research. Perhaps that will come in time, but until then, as far as I can tell you don't have any peer-reviewed science that can disprove the methods of the program. So that begs me to ask: Why such a critical article about something that is helping children, such as my son? Have you considered the harm you might be causing the families who choose not to enroll their children based on this article? Parents who are going through this do not need a bunch of pseudo-facts, such as this article, to come up as the first item in their Google search. This article raises lots of questions, but does not provide any real answers. In my experience there are two types of people in the world: people who see a problem and fix it, and people who see a problem and cause more problems. Which one is is Barbara Arrowsmith Young? Which one are you? Based on the condescending tone of this article, I think we have our answer.
    I for one encourage anyone considering Arrowsmith to give it a shot for a year. In our experience it has been the best thing we could have done for our son.

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    1. Could you be more specific in how it worked?

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    2. This was a brilliantly collated and succinct account! The plethora of anecdotal evidence which exists supporting positive results in students outcomes post Arrowsmith intervention is significant in itself. There is a valuable study to be undertaken! Our son, is 9 yrs old, and has been working through 2 cognitive areas for the past year. He does not enjoy it I must say-however, significant improvements in his academia are being achieved. I echo the above concerns as to the condescending tone of Pamela Snow.

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  15. Dear Anonymous
    Thanks for contributing to the discussion. I am pleased that you have found something that seems to be producing gains for your son. I would encourage you though, to read over my responses to some similar posts above. If the AP is beneficial to some children, as evidenced by robust (ideally independent) research, then I will be happy to share that information via my blog. You ask me what evidence I have that it is not effective, but that is the precisely the problem - there is no scientific evidence about this program one way or the other.

    You are fortunate to be in a position to pay the not inconsiderable sums of money to engage with this program, but what of the parents who are not able to bankroll this commitment? They are left feeling guilty and wondering, but in reality the program may not be a panacea at all. I reiterate that this program has been around for over 30 years, but has not played ball with the scientific method.

    I don't think it's ethical to charge money and play on parents' hopes, for something that has plenty of time to be validated or dismissed. Confidentiality agreements prevent us from hearing the "testimonials" from parents whose children have not benefitted from the program.

    I could not agree more that we need better research funding in this space, but I don't see how that legitimises three decades of a successful business model without an empirical basis.

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    1. You did not respond to the very well known fact that peer reviewed, independent research costs a lot of money, and there has to be a financial interest in gathering that knowledge.
      And as far as being able to pay for the program, I don't see it as being any different from any other medical issue. It's honestly none of your business how we paid for it, though I can assure you that we did not have that money sitting in the bank. But being a parent means making sacrifices and that's something that I'm proud of. In my opinion, had it not worked, then we would have pulled him out of the program. A successful life is all about taking chances and hard work - a good lesson for any child in my opinion.
      Your article goes beyond "raising questions." You are flat out warning people to not join the program. I'm still wondering what your motivation is. As far as things not working for everyone, nothing ever does. So I don't see why you are expecting this program to.

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    2. Your comments are based on your personal opinion and inflammatory. As someone who has both worked in academia and been an adult participant in her program, I'd suggest you get curious and listen to people who have benefited rather than lecturing them from up on top of your high horse.

      The poster here succinctly explained the complexity of getting a new vein of study researched. You're accusing a school of fraud for taking action rather than doing nothing. You're making claims that they are ripping people off with zero evidence to back up that claim. What you're doing is irresponsible and helping no one.

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    3. Hi Anonymous
      I’d like nothing more than to be able to comment on the basis of peer-reviewed published research, but unless I am mistaken there is still none. My comments are hence based on my professional assessment of the little that is known, not my personal opinion. I am extremely curious about this program, hence my post. Of course it’s complex to get research going but I think 30 years is plenty of time to do so. Not doing so is what is irresponsible in my view. I don’t think schools who engage in this program are fraudulent, but I do think they are naive, and their naïveté can be exploited for commercial gain.

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  16. I believe that Arrowsmith has survived over 30+ years with the pioneer's hard work , struggle, courage and believe. I wish Arrowsmith to be successful in business, then more kids can be supported through and beneficial. I decided to put my kid in to count on.

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  17. As someone who is considering putting their child in the Arrowsmith Program, I would so like to see studies to either support or not support this program. I have scoured the internet, and find nothing regarding studies or negative reviews. And even most positive reviews are so general in nature. I've seen parents boast about their child's ability to read a clock. That's not enough for me considering they spend hours doing that exact thing. I've read about increased confidence many times. My daughter went from mainstream classroom and then to special day class and her confidence and happiness were drastically improved because she was able to work at her own speed, and was not the lost kid who didn't understand anything anymore. So improved confidence could just mean not being in a mainstream classroom and being lost anymore. And I hear parents say it's helped dramatically, but no detailed information. How has it helped? Will my daughter improve her speech after years of speech pathology? Will she be understood? Will she be able to do math afterwards? I don't care about testing. I want to know how it's changed things in the real world. Do they fit in with the mainstream kids now? Or are they still out of the loop? Sometimes I see two pieces of writing where one is improved, but after two to three years of schooling, wouldn't it be improved anyway? So my dilemma is do I take her out of a school she loves with art and music and some friends, a small classroom setting where she's doing better but far behind her peers or forego all of that and spend the money and see what happens? It's a question that keeps me up nights.

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    1. Read Dr. Norman Doidge's book ( The brain that changes itself) on neuroplasticity and make up your own mind.

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  18. To the readers:
    Why are you relying on bloggers that have no science background or understanding of neuroplasticity?
    And why are you criticizing the program on its cost?
    The cost of the program in Australia is nothing compared to the thousands of dollars we spent over 7 years ( $150- 200 per hour per session) seeing psychologists, speech pathologists, occupational therapists, paeditricians and tutors with no real gain or benefit but immense stress and heartache to our family and our beautiful intelligent boy.
    In the Arrowsmith program for the fist time we are seeing real results with our son and it's only being a year. I can't wait to see what happens in the next 2!!!



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    1. I am pleased you have found something that appears to work for your child, however that does not detract from my concerns about the program's lack of empirical research evidence.
      To set the record straight, I do in fact have a background in neuroscience. I have a Bachelor of Applied Science in Speech Pathology, a Graduate Diploma in Communication Disorders (Neuropsychology and Aphasia) and completed a PhD on acquired brain injury. I am also a registered psychologist.

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  19. All excellent questions! I hope the Arrowsmith machine can answer them for you soon - with independent empirical research, not testimonials.

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  20. As a parent who went to Toronto to try the Arrowsmith program for 6 weeks and stayed for a year, I would like to say we like other parents have spent thousands of dollars with all the 'recommended' specialists and told our child would never talk, handwrite, go to a normal school and should be put on medication. Not just once, but for 9 years!

    We had tried everything we were recommended by the specialists and I have never once asked any of the specialists we saw for peer reviews or research backing it. Nothing worked, we were desperate as were half of the students that went to the summer school were from Australia. We saw the most incredible results that we stayed a year to access the program because all the schools that offer it were full. My child now handwrites, has in a year gone from not being able to count to passing Year 6 Maths (after one year in the program and being told they would never do Maths) and will be going into Grade 7 next year and I feel confident she is going to excel academically. Which 2 years ago was so far from reality!

    I find it incredible to understand why knock it when all parents want is to help their child. Let people try it and see if themselves. We were so much poorer after following the normal route more so than doing the Arrowsmith program. You can have all the research you want but in the end, it is just research and it is the results that I was after and the Arrowsmith program proved it 100% more than other programs that has been researched, peer reviewed that we had tried.

    I ask all specialists have a heart for these kids ( and the parents who are just wanting to help their children) and not knock something you that you truly don't know about. I ask do you have a child with learning difficulties? Or is it just a profession and job?

    It is different being the parent with your child who you are desperate to want to help because you see they are bright and it just seems like it is locked in there and the Arrowsmith program unlocks it! There is research and brain scanning happening but it all takes time and money.

    It should be about helping these children overcome their learning difficulties and working together in this industry, not saying what you do is better because it has more research. If it works for some children celebrate that. Just let parents try! People thought we were crazy but now, they are amazed at the transformation and I get asked at least twice a week about the program because like us, nothing else had worked.

    The Arrowsmith program was life changing for our child and our whole family and I whole heartedly recommend it. We moved to Canada for it (and would do it again) and that is why hundreds of other families are moving even within Australia to access it. Research or not, it is outcomes we were and we got it! I am eternally grateful to Barbara Arrowsmith and thank God she was brave enough to stand up against the nay-sayers because she has changed so many kids lives and continues to do so.

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  21. I think I have replied to most of the points here previously. The key one is that if people are going to spend thousands of dollars (that in many cases they don't actually have) then it seems only fair for there to be some independent evidence that it has a better than maybe's chance of working, and that it works for reasons that are above and beyond the level of intensity and the optimism surrounding the child and family - both of which are important, but we should be able to provide them in standard classrooms, (especially if they turn out to be the active ingredients for those children for whom it produces results).

    If you read my other posts on this blog, you will see that I call for this evidence-based approach in relation to many other interventions as well, not just Arrowsmith. My line of thinking is also borne out in greater detail in this 2017 book for parents, co-authored by Caroline Bowen and me: http://www.jr-press.co.uk/making-sense-of-interventions-for-childrens-developmental-disorders.html

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  22. I think this should speak for itself: http://scholarworks.gsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1137&context=eps_diss

    You won't find a more reliable level of analysis.

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  23. (a different anonymous here.) In my research, I just called the teachers running the program on the telephone and asked them straight out. Does it work or not.? Seems you've stopped short of doing that Pamela. If you had done, your second question could be: Are the parents happy with the cost ? Your third question could be: Is there a screening process to determine if a student is suitable for the program.? Pamela, its easy to give an opinion under the pretense of concern, based on internet research, and scare people off. But the world is bigger than your computer. I think i will go with my own method of research, talking directly to people, and sourcing parents of children who have done the program to question, and attending seminars about the Arrowmsith Program. From my research, Confidentiality clauses have only applied to the details of the exercises (thats protected I.P.in Australia anyway). Any parents, are of course able to speak openly about the results their child experienced, no one can stop a parent talking about their own child. As also, any parent can do their own due diligence before they spend any money. I would suggest politely and a little tongue in cheek, that your opinion has not travelled beyond your keyboard. I think all parents considering the program for their child with learning difficulties should put this at the top of their list to look into beyond opinions. I found no negative reports once I got into it. You just need to ask the questions about who it suits and how they work it out. If its been going in Canada for thirty plus years with hundreds or thousands ? of students, and theres no public outcry against it, then poo-pooing from your desk because its not in a journal doesnt rate with me. After several personal phone calls speaking directly with families whos lives its changed, and talking to teachers of the program, the lack of a journal publication or peer review is nullified in my mind. The massive numbers of people not complaining and everyday parents taking their time to support it speaks volumes more. If i were you i would make a few direct phone calls and you might find the answers very positive and exciting for people with learning difficulties.

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  24. We have attended a 6 week intensive AS program and are looking into what we can do next for our son. I'm looking at all avenues. The problem I see with our son, and this is also information I have gathered from talking to other parents, which I realise, from your point, is completely invalid, is that our children are not A-typical and do not fit into a diagnosis. We are left to wander around the fringe of trying to find something that helps them. Every child presents with generally similar problems but to various extremes and no two profiles are the same. It is an expensive exercise but so is one on one tutoring and so are my school fees, as I choose to pay for my sons education and any interventions that are needed. I HAVE to fund these as I don't qualify for any subsidy as he doesn't have a diagnosis that will enable financial help as he does not fall into a category of mainstream disability. I can't even explain his difficulties to our friends or therapists as they try to categorise him. It is so much more than just a reading problem - in fact he doesn't have a reading problem, quite the opposite. He just doesn't comprehend most of what he reads or remembers it or can't put it into context. Anyway I digress. I don't worry about my child getting through school, although that will be a difficult experience for all of us, but I do worry about his outcomes after school. About his left path after school. Yes I understand your sceptacisim. There always has to be a devils advocate to make us look at all aspects and not just grab a rope as the ship sinks. What I don't see here is a true understanding of the children and the problems they experience. I wonder if you have taken the time to research the parents of children with learning difficulties. Surely you understand that there is not one fix that works for all and my take is that most parents I have spoken to - and there are many - that have tried everything, expensive and not so expensive. I am wondering what you suggest we do for our children. I see your criticism of the program. I don't see any other constructive suggestions. Also you mention on a number of occasions, that we, the parents that have attended an Arrowsmith program, have signed confidentiality agreements. Perhaps you need to research this as well as, quite the opposite, we are told, tell the world about your experience, positive or negative. I was asked to not talk about research that had not been completed as yet as it has not been completed. Free speech is encouraged. Please don't make AS sound like a cult. I don't know if it works for everyone but then I don't think there is anything out there that ticks all of those boxes. I just know that the curriculum, other interventions and school learning support are not working either.

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    1. I have read all the posts here as I ponder what to do with my ADHD child. He is in the public school system and is being bullied by the administration of his public school in Toronto. I attended an orientation with the school last year and coming form a double degree background in Psychology myself, I was not impressed with the administration and their ability to sell me on the system. I asked for metrics and for a few references I could speak with and nothing was given to me of any value. With that said, no one so far has give me any alternatives and I am desperate to find one (just one). MY child is border line ADHD with reading LD's and needs emotional support as well as physical exercise for him to engage. I even started an after school and camp program to address the fact that many schools punish children with ADHD and behavioral challenges instead of emotionally support them. The school system is comprised of teachers who want children to adapt their methodology rather than the other way around. Even without empirical evidence I would rather my child receive the understanding and support of a group of people who understand the condition and use proper positive reinforcement techniques to clear the negative cobwebs and allow some available brain power to be utilized toward engagement and therefore learning. I am not sure if Arrowsmith is the place for this - I sure wish I knew because I am DESPERATE for a solution. But I have to say if it is the only alternative to the public system my child has endure for 9 years - then I would beg borrow and steal to place him there. If anyone has a better alternative I sincerely hope you will help me by sharing as I need to make a decision soon! Thank you!!

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  25. What are your thoughts on programs such as Cogmed. Seems to be a similar concept to Arrowsmith.

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  26. Unfortunately the evidence does not bear up on CogMed, in spite of its face appeal and vigorous marketing. This is covered by Caroline Bowen and me in our recent book: http://www.jr-press.co.uk/making-sense-of-interventions-for-childrens-developmental-disorders.html

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  27. A comprehensive examination of the Arrowsmith program from Georgia state university https://scholarworks.gsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://www.ecosia.org/&httpsredir=1&article=1137&context=eps_diss

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  28. Thanks for sharing this. I note that it is a dissertation, so technically not peer-reviewed, but the findings sound a cautionary note for schools considering this program:

    "Although this study focused on a small sector of students at one private school, several conclusions were drawn. First of all, there was not enough evidence to claim the Arrowsmith Program had a major impact on the students in the program. Actually, the study revealed areas where the Arrowsmith Program actually appeared to have a negative impact on the students (i.e. reading).Secondly, implementing Arrowsmith into a college-prep school was problematic.It wasdifficult to merge Arrowsmith with the high expectations of the school in this study. The conc lusion was drawn that a program like Arrowsmith would be better in a setting of its own. Thirdly, this study indicated that caution should be taken when implementing programs like Arrowsmith or other brain-training programs. More efficacious research appeared to be needed in the field of brain-training programs and the promises made by them".

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  29. Fred Middleton1 March 2018 at 12:54

    Here's a link to a collection of all Arrowsmith research reports, compiled by Arrowsmith them selves.
    https://arrowsmithschool.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/Arrowsmith-Program-Research-Summary-2017b.pdf?utm_source=Arrowsmith+Program+Newsletter&utm_campaign=84a8c03b3b-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2018_02_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_84a57661a9-84a8c03b3b-139779705#page=14&zoom=250,44,787

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  30. Thanks Fred. Still nothing in the peer-reviewed literature, and I reiterate that changes on brain imaging are not the point - changes in functional skills are all that matter. We have not needed expensive, intrusive neuro-imaging techniques to show those in the past and we don’t need them now.

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  31. I don't doubt that many parents believe Arrowsmith did work for their kids. I don't doubt that Arrowsmith did work for their kids. However, I have questions. For instance, is the problem you have with your young person simply a young person growing up? Many young people struggle socially. Is the problem you have with your young person not doing their homework? Many young people don't do their homework. If homework is the issue, have you sat down with your child each night to do their homework with them (not do it for them, but seeing to it that they are doing it)? If it's how to act in public, have you put your child in extracurriculars? Especially some like the martial arts and dance, they can focus directly on the young person developing respect for themselves and others. Have you put your kid in only private schools and not the entity that is best equipped to deal with learning difficulties, public schools?

    In reading what Arrowsmith has on the research they have on their website, it leaves a lot to question. Most directly, where are the control groups? To show that it was the Arrowsmith process where these improvements showed, there needs to be control groups. Taking that out, when I look at some of the results, they are results that any normal student would/should have, like improving one grade in one year of school. Another had decent improvements, in a three year period. During that period, it could be that the student simply had 1 or more good teachers.

    Then, also, I've heard that Arrowsmith "cures" learning difficulties. Well, I know one person who has been through the program, and they are still doing "training exercises". If their learning difficulties were cured, I would think there would be no need for this.

    Again, I don't doubt that many parents believe Arrowsmith did work for their kids. I don't doubt that Arrowsmith did work for their kids. However, at what cost? Have the parents done everything they can before Arrowsmith? Not that Arrowsmith is a "last resort". If it is convenient enough, like a typical neighborhood school, then sure, I would understand attending it. And, I could understand putting it in the "list of things to try" for your child. But, to say its some kind of "cure-all", I can't help thinking that's simply wrong.

    It looks like to me, I compare it to someone who's fat. The Arrowsmith site talks of how some "traditional methods" use "work arounds" to assist the student. With fat people, that means finding bigger clothing, sitting in more open spaces, etc. Being Arrowsmith-like, fat people should attack the fat more directly, with diets and training. And, a vast, vast, vast majority of people would take off the weight. However, if they don't keep it up, a vast, vast, vast majority of people will put the weight back on. Why? It's simply in their genetics. It's simply who they are. They have to keep up the "Arrowsmith training" to keep the weight off, like I've heard some Arrowsmith kids need to do. Therefore, Arrowsmith again becomes a "work around" itself as well, only in a different sense. The fat people, they either continually have to get large clothes and sit in spacious places or continue the dieting and training. It's just a tool.

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  32. The Arrowsmith program may be effective for a select few.
    However In my personal experience from my 3+ years there, I observed staff preying on naive parents desperate for a miracle.
    The students are primarily young impressionable people who have suffered from learning disabilities their entire lives. They provide a false sense of comfort and essentially manipulate them to promote their program and recruit new clients.

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    1. I absolutely agree with this! You should not have to heavily market a program that truly works, pressure parents for testimonials and then threaten them with allegations of slander if they say anything about their experience that is not favorable.

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  33. Every brain learns differently. Having achieved a master’s degree, and now with kids in primary school, I see so many flaws in the academy and teacher instruction and classroom management and curriculum development and lack of services for special needs. I don’t have much trust in public education and its ability to serve atypical-neuro-learners nor do I have hope for public education to break free of neo-con policy approaches to starve-out public education. Arrowsmith is more than just its cognitive exercises; it is a place for kids who are wounded by experiences in public schools to experience a positive classroom environment that supports cognitive behavioural changes. The teachers believe deeply that a child needs to know they are safe before they can learn, and the classes become extended families and communities that care. Arrowsmith bashing by academy-elitists is just that—theory disconnected from on-the-ground practice. Dyslexia and the science of reading are scientifically proven and documented and yet university teacher training programs still don’t teach teachers about dyslexia. Until public education, from teacher training to public funding to the classrooms finds its way to the real world of children struggling, I give thanks for programs like Arrowsmith that continue offering space for those who find that the program and its cognitive approach is the best for their family.

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  34. Sorry, Anonymous, but it is simply incorrect to state that "every brain learns differently". There are more similarities than differences between human brains, as with kidneys, lungs, hearts etc. That doesn't mean that there are not some important differences between children (not brains - we teach children, after all) that need to be taken into account, but if all 7.5 billion brains on this planet learned differently, the job of teachers would be completely impossible.

    I agree with you that not nearly enough is taught to pre-service teachers about dyslexia and other learning difficulties, and I also agree that schools could do a lot more to assist and support struggling students, so that they receive the support they need. But 2+2 does not equal 5 - the answer to such problems is not more non evidence-based approaches such as Arrowsmith.

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