The genesis of the Arrowsmith methodology lies in its’ founder’s, Barbara Arrowsmith Young, journey of discovery and innovation to overcome her own severe learning disabilities, a detailed description of which appears in her book, “The Woman Who Changed Her Brain.”

Barbara Arrowsmith Young holds both a B.A.Sc. in Child Studies from the University of Guelph, and a Master’s degree in School Psychology from the University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (O.I.S.E.). After her undergraduate studies were completed Barbara worked as the Head Teacher in the lab preschool at the University of Guelph for two years where she began to observe learning differences in preschool children.

Barbara Arrowsmith Young’s Master’s thesis, entitled, A Follow Up Study of a Clinic Sample (1982), followed 62 students who had been assessed at the O.I.S.E. psycho-educational clinic nine months to five years prior to the start of the study. Interviews at follow up were conducted with a parent and the student’s current teacher and ratings were obtained on social, emotional, behavioral and academic variables. Children who were achieving below their age expected grade level on academic tests administered during their initial assessment at the O.I.S.E. clinic (mathematics, word recognition, spelling and reading comprehension) continued to perform poorly in the same subject areas in relation to their peers based on their teachers’ achievement ratings at follow-up. Further it was found that the amount of intervening educational remedial intervention (hours, months, intensity) was not related to change in the children’s academic problems or performance. Interestingly, it was found that students who received more than the median intensity of intervention (more than 10 hours/month) were achieving even more poorly at follow up than those receiving less intervention. These results confirmed Barbara Arrowsmith Young’s own experience with the limitations of academic remedial work in addressing a range of specific learning difficulties.

It was during this time while completing her graduate work at O.I.S.E. that she became aware of the two lines of research that led her to the development of the Arrowsmith Program methodology: that of Russian neuropsychologist, A.R. Luria and that of an American psychologist, Mark Rosenzweig.

A. R. Luria started his main investigations into the functioning of the brain during World War II and continued until his death in 1978. The work of A.R. Luria established that different areas of the brain working together are responsible for complex mental activities, such as reading or writing or numeracy, and that each brain area has a very specific and critical role to play in the learning process and that a problem in one area can affect a number of different learning processes.

In 1978 an article published in Scientific American using brain scan technology confirmed that higher mental processes involve specific functional systems comprised of particular groups of brain areas working together. This fact was confirmed by measuring the changes in blood flow to specific brain areas when a person was engaged in different tasks. An increase in blood flow directly relates to an increase in cortical activity. These researchers stated, “The analysis of cortical activation during reading illustrates that a complex task is carried out by several circumscribed cortical regions brought into action in a specific pattern. …. In general our results confirm a conclusion reached by the late A. R. Luria of Moscow State University on the basis of his neuropsychological analyses of patients with brain damage: ‘Complex behavioral processes are in fact not localized but are distributed in the brain, and the contribution of each cortical zone to the entire functional system is very specific'” (p. 70; Lassen, N. A., Ingvar, D.H. & Skinhoj, E. (1978). Brain function and blood flow. Scientific American, 239 (4), 62 – 71).