Changing the way we think about learning disabilities in children

"When I was diagnosed with dyslexia in the seventies, I was teased relentlessly. I was the boy who couldn't read,” says Howard Eaton, founder and director of Eaton Arrowsmith School (EA).

Eaton has a BA in psychology from the University of British Columbia (UBC) and a M.Ed. in special education from Boston University, but getting those degrees wasn’t easy for him.

When he was growing up, there was no Arrowsmith Program. Even in university, he was taught that the brain was fixed and couldn’t change. People born with learning disabilities were thought to have them for life.

Eaton started his career by working as an Orton-Gillingham tutor, a specialist in teaching the structure of the English language and sound-symbol connections to children with dyslexia.

"I taught children how to read and spell," he says. "But they still struggled in school because of underlying neurological frustrations."

Some of these frustrations included weaknesses in the executive function of the brain, which affects our ability to plan and organize and grasp conceptual information.

Then, in the late 1990s, Eaton met Barbara Arrowsmith-Young, creator of the Arrowsmith Program, and his understanding of the human brain and his students’ neurological frustrations started to shift. 

"The Arrowsmith Program changes how we think about learning disabilities. It takes a holistic approach to understanding what causes them,” Eaton says. “I've learned in my professional life that there's much more going on neurologically than just reading and writing problems."

Traditionally, children with learning difficulties have been given tools, like technology, and extra assistance to help them cope with their weaknesses and survive in school.

“After I came across the Arrowsmith Program, I realized we could do so much more for kids who are struggling with learning disabilities,” Eaton says.

Operating on the principle of neuroplasticity, or the brain's ability to be strengthened over time with targeted exercises, EA works with children to address the cognitive weaknesses that cause their specific learning disabilities.

"Once they start the exercises, some kids jump in and just enjoy them right away,” Eaton says. “They see the success and, around the three-month mark, behavioural changes too. They can focus and understand better."

According to Eaton, other students wish cognitive improvements were faster. But all children are different and progress at their own pace.

"Working on cognitive strengthening takes effort and focus,” Eaton says. “But like training for a marathon, the results are very rewarding.”

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.

© Delta Optimist