Building advocacy networks for people

so that they have a good life even after their parents are no longer here to stand up for them

Building advocacy networks for people

so that their families have peace of mind about the future

Building advocacy networks for people

so that they are empowered to realise their aspirations and contribute to their community

Building advocacy networks for people

so that they form intentional friendships that broaden and enrich their lives

Building advocacy networks for people

so that they develop stronger links in the wider community

Building advocacy networks for people

so that they are as fulfilled and happy as they can be

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July 2015

This is an exciting time to be alive. One of the most encouraging findings of recent research is that our brains are more malleable than was previously thought. Neuroplasticity is a relatively new word meaning the brain's ability to change in response to learning and experience – potentially adapting throughout life, forming new neural pathways and changing existing ones in response to new information. As some people put it, we can rewire our brains.

Why is ACSYL so excited about neuroplasticity? Because it opens up so many possibilities for anyone who likes the idea of lifelong learning and growth. Neuroplasticity means that none of us need to be defined by the past. Old assumptions and beliefs that no longer serve us can be identified, challenged and replaced by more helpful, life-affirming beliefs.

This is especially important for people who have come to believe that there is a ceiling on their ability. Many of us have been socialised in such a way as to have unnecessarily low expectations. As Dr Cordelia Fine puts it, "the social context influences who you are, how you think and what you do. And these thoughts, attitudes and behaviours of yours, in turn, become part of the social context."1

The people ACSYL supports could benefit enormously from this research. For instance, many people with learning disabilities are acutely aware of social norms, and desperate to fit in. Lacking the confidence and skills to be assertive, they often settle reluctantly for a life on other people's terms. Yet they have great potential to shine in ways that may never have been encouraged before.

Neuroplasticity can broaden everyone's horizons. Scientists used to believe that changes in the brain could only occur during early childhood, and once a person was past those formative years, their brain's physical structure was set for life. The first seven years of life were widely thought to be especially important for this reason. However, as Professor Elaine Fox notes, "With the discovery of neuroplasticity, we can see that the human brain is capable of far more flexibility than previously thought. Our brains never cease responding to new things, continuing to learn and change from the moment we are born to the day we die."2 Professor Fox goes on to say that there is mounting evidence for neural plasticity in adults: "it has been discovered that brand-new brain cells can be produced even when we are old."3

Here are two snippets from Dr Louann Brizendine's work: "The more you do something, the more cells the brain assigns to that task."4 "The brain's architecture […] continues to change throughout life. Rather than being immutable, our brains are much more plastic and changeable than scientists believed a decade ago. The human brain is also the most talented learning machine we know. So our culture and how we are taught to behave play a big part in shaping and reshaping our brains."5

The body of literature about brain plasticity is growing apace. Dr Martin Rossman tells us, "You may not have realised that […] you can change mental habits. The most effective way […] is by developing a new habit that, when practised, takes the place of the old habit, eventually grooving new pathways in the brain."6

ACSYL envisions a world where more and more people believe they can transcend the limitations of their past, choosing instead to embrace their vast potential for learning, discovery and growth.

  1. Cordelia Fine, Delusions of Gender: The Real Science Behind Sex Differences (2010), p. xxvi ↩︎

  2. Elaine Fox, Rainy Brain, Sunny Brain: The New Science of Optimism and Pessimism (2012), p. 129 ↩︎

  3. Elaine Fox, p. 137 ↩︎

  4. Louann Brizendine, The Female Brain (2007), p.133 ↩︎

  5. Louann Brizendine, The Male Brain (2010), p.29 ↩︎

  6. Martin Rossman, The Worry Solution (2011), p.214 ↩︎