A few years ago I read a book by Normon Doidge ‘The Brain That Changes Itself’. I was incredibly inspired as it validated my past reading on the subject of neuroplasticity. This is based on the fact that the brain is not a finite level of development capability as thought in the past and the fact that it can recover and improve therefore is ‘plastic’ in its capability to learn with the right inputs. This means there is the ability for kids like Oscar to improve by creating new neural pathways and forgoing some of the ones that were faulty for them. That especially important when CP is finite impact on the brain and is one they can continue to improve upon and is not a degenerative issue.
In Normon Doidge’s book there were two key programmes of interest to me. Firstly, Barbara Arrowsmith who has created an amazing training/education programme and which was available in New Zealand via a couple of School’s but not where we were. It was topical as at the time one of the NZ documentaries ran a programme on her approach in the US/Canada.
Secondly, a programme from the US sold to NZ via an Australian company with a programme called ‘Fast ForWord’ developed by neuroscientists in San Francisco. That was a programme that we could do and as our oldest son was having a few issues at school as well I enrolled by Oscar and Louis in it. They had to do 30 minutes on the iPad or laptop a day for 5 days a week. It is not a cheap programme AUD$843 for 3 months and at 30 minutes a day versus the 45 or 60 minute option per day you can’t get through the course in that time.
However, I felt like we were proactively doing something to help Oscar beyond the normal education system. The programmed worked wonders with Louis and really boosted his reading age in about 4 months from age 8 to up to 11+ and he was 9 at the time.
With Oscar it provided insights into some of the areas he was having issues with such as phonological awareness. There were some tasks that he struggled with and sequential instructions such as locating an image of 4 where ‘the big girl pulls the small boy in the red trolley’ threw him. We got improvements but he also got a bit antsy about it so we moved to doing it at school but we couldn’t always achieve it. We’ve stopped for now but it is something I may come back to with him next year.
Why is Nueroplasticity as a concept important? Because it validates that if an adult stroke brain is capable of relearning tasks they knew before their stroke in an ageing brain why on earth are our CP kids not capable of the same? Logic dictates a young brain has greater potential to learn than an older degenerating one. However, the approach in New Zealand seems to have vastly different outcomes. In NZ we provide intense therapy for stroke victims and put expectations on recovery. Our CP kids though, once they turn five do not get the same treatment.
Normon Doidge has a new book out that I have just downloaded to read ‘The Brain’s Way of Healing’. I would encourage other families of CP kids to get copy of these books to help you understand what the brain is capable of and why would shouldn’t accept a mediocre outcome for our kids.