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Understanding between humans does not always come easily. Take, for example, the sometimes fraught relationship between parent and child – especially when the child is struggling at school.

As a parent, are you able to relate to this? Does your child seem incapable of performing what you deem to be essential tasks, such as:

  • cleaning their room
  • doing basic math
  • writing legible 
  • or remembering instructions? 

There are numerous possible explanations for why your child cannot accomplish these tasks, and one of them is learning disabilities. The child’s brain is not naturally suited to the task. But, in many cases, neither child nor parent knows that yet, and some will never know.

The Negative Impact of Children with Learning Disabilities on Family Dynamics 

This is typically when labels are applied. The parent may think the child is “lazy,” and that’s why the room stays messy. Or the child is “inattentive at school,” and that’s why the arithmetic won’t sink in. The child is “careless,” so the handwriting is scrawled. Or the child “lacks focus,” and thus a list of things to do “goes in one ear and out the other.”

Given those labels, it’s often difficult for you as a parent to have compassion and empathy for your own child. Frustration builds on both sides, leading to conflict and impacting the entire family. 

Worse, the child themself starts to believe the labels, yet is powerless to change their behaviour – no matter how hard they try and no matter how smart they are in other ways. Everyone in the family is suffering.

To repeat: there is a very real possibility that the child’s brain is wired in such a way that any or all of the aforementioned tasks are exceedingly difficult, even impossible, for that child. The child no doubt has cognitive strengths, but also particular cognitive weaknesses. Everyone on the planet has those, for every brain of every human is a unique combination of cognitive strengths and weaknesses.

So what are the options for that parent and that child?

Before answering that, anyone reading this should understand two key concepts: neuroplasticity and cognitive learning profile.

What is Neuroplasticity? 

Neuroplasticity simply means the ability of the brain to change. For almost four decades, Arrowsmith Program founder Barbara Arrowsmith Young has argued that when the brain is stimulated in precise ways, its physiology and function change and cognitive deficits can be addressed. 

Barbara’s own life story (told in her bestselling book, The Woman Who Changed Her Brain) is ample evidence of this, for she overcame her own quite severe learning disabilities by applying those principles to herself and devising – and, over decades, revising - specific, targeted brain exercises.

Interested in learning more about neuroplasticity? Check out our guide to everything you need to know about neuroplasticity

What is a Cognitive Learning Profile? 

Cognitive learning profile refers to how an individual learns, or, in some cases, fails to learn — owing to that individual’s brain strengths and weaknesses. On the Arrowsmith website is a questionnaire that anyone can fill out to get an approximation of one’s cognitive profile.

Take the questionnaire today to learn more about how your child’s brain works. 

Discover Your Cognitive Profile

But the first question here is not, is my child right for Arrowsmith? The first question – and here lies the road to empathy – is this one: Should I as a parent be trying to acquire a fuller picture of my child’s cognitive profile?

For a deeper look at what the cognitive learning profile is, check out our blog - Looking at Behaviour Through a Cognitive Lens.

Following on from Arrowsmith’s Questionnaire is the Arrowsmith Cognitive Assessment, where our team measures the underlying cognitive capacities that are responsible for learning. From this, we are able to understand the unique cognitive profile of the student - learning about the areas of strengths and weaknesses within their cognitive capacity, and explaining the ‘why’ behind their behaviours and struggles. 

Typically, the first response on seeing the extensive written report and on hearing the Arrowsmith team go over the results verbally is relief – for both the parents and the child. There is this eureka moment when the parents come to realize two things: one, that the child’s troubling behaviour owes nothing to laziness or inattentiveness or carelessness and two, that the principles of neuroplasticity can be harnessed to address the issue.

Learn more about the Assessment

Real-Life Stories on the Benefits of Learning Your Child’s Cognitive Profile

One child assessed several years ago in the Toronto Arrowsmith School had this to say about the assessment briefing: 

“This lady was inside my head.” A member of the Arrowsmith team, a professional who is specifically trained for this work, was saying to the child, “I’ll bet when you play tennis, it goes like this…. Or when you call a friend, the conversation unfolds like this  . . . And if I read a poem to you, you can’t picture it, am I right?” All these failings at school and in society were quite predictable – given the picture that emerged from the testing. But no one had ever offered that child what amounts to a user guide to his own unique brain.

Another child put it this way: “I got to see for the first time what rocked my block.” Finally, these children (and their parents) had an explanation for their inability to learn like other children – along with a path forward that held out the very real possibility of strengthening the brain weaknesses that are the heart of the problem.

Arrowsmith teachers, regular classroom teachers and parents find the Arrowsmith cognitive profiles – which offer an explanation of each student’s cognitive, academic and social differences - easy to understand. 

For the first time, many of these parents grasp their child’s behaviours, strengths, and weaknesses, and this understanding leads them to increase their patience, support and advocacy for that child. As one parent said, “It explains so much why she is the way she is – or used to be.”

Understanding your child’s cognitive profile is the first step in identifying their challenges. With that information in mind, a specifically targeted cognitive enhancement program can then help build a stronger brain that addresses your child’s specific challenges

Interested in learning more? Get in touch with the Arrowsmith team of brain-change experts today. 



Barbara Arrowsmith-Young
Post by Barbara Arrowsmith-Young
March 19, 2024
Barbara Arrowsmith-Young is the international best-selling author of The Woman Who Changed her Brain, and a pioneer in using neuroplasticity to change the brain, cognition, learning and social-emotional well-being of learners worldwide. Though she began life with severe learning disabilities, she built herself a better brain and developed the Arrowsmith Program, which has helped thousands to increase their capacity to learn.