Using cognitive intervention to help with learning disabilities

"Research has shown that learning disabilities are connected to a child's cognitive abilities," says Luciana Holmes, the head cognitive teacher at Eaton Arrowsmith School (EA). "At EA, we recognize that these abilities are a combination of both strengths and weaknesses. It's the weaknesses that present stumbling blocks and make life more difficult than it has to be."

EA uses the Arrowsmith Program, which is a series of targeted exercises that strengthen the cognitive weaknesses that cause students’ learning disabilities. It has schools in Vancouver, White Rock, and Redmond, Washington.

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Many learning intervention schools offer what Holmes calls "cognitive crutches", or work-around solutions, for learning disabilities. A child who has difficulty writing, for example, may be given a keyboard or more time to write tests.

"However, we know that if you don't use it, you lose it,” Holmes says. “When students are given work-arounds, weaker areas of the brain become even weaker and weaker."

Arrowsmith Program exercises are designed to isolate and strengthen weak areas of the brain. They're also designed to prevent other parts of the brain from jumping in to compensate.

"That's why we use a teaching model, rather than online modules at EA," Holmes explains. "The brain will always try to get the job done in the easiest way possible. It will make up for a weakness in one area by using the strength of another. Teachers help prevent these compensations and keep students focused."

The exercises at Eaton Arrowsmith work because they are repetitive and require concentration and effort.

"Targeted repetition helps strengthen the brain,” Holmes says.

Teachers at EA also motivate students as they master the different exercises.

"We have individual rewards for reaching goals and we have whole class motivations,” Holmes explains. “We also use mindfulness training to help students become more self-aware in their thoughts.”

For many students, feeling understood and accepted helps to motivate them.

"This is the school where you CAN. You can do stuff and you don't feel bad anymore," Holmes remembers one student telling her.

For more information about Eaton Arrowsmith School or the Arrowsmith Program, call 604.538.1710, email, visit the website at, or take an interactive tour of one of our schools. Eaton Arrowsmith can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

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