Neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to reorganize and restructure itself both physically and functionally, is now known to be possible at any age. Although young brains seem to be the most capable of gross reorganization, a growing body of research is showing that the brain continues to be plastic throughout life.
An informative, as well as entertaining and very readable, discussion of neuroplasticity and new discoveries surrounding the topic is presented in Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain, by Sharon Begley. Begley, a science writer for Newsweek, and before that, the Wall Street Journal, presents some of the new research and discoveries about neuroscience. The data is presented against the backdrop of Dharamsala, India and the 2004 Mind and Life meeting between Western researchers and the Dalai Lama. Begley explains numerous examples of how animal and human brains are impacted and changed, both in function and structurally, through our experiences, sensations and even thoughts.
When I work with young adults and college students with autism and Asperger’s, I’m continually reminded of this concept. I think parents sometimes worry that their high school age children aren’t on track for transitioning to adult independence. Certainly, in some cases, that’s true, but so often, these young adults are continuing to make rapid advances in their social skills, executive functioning and emotional management. Kids who aren’t ready for a job or college right after high school can continue to mature and learn and be ready a few years later. As Grandin and Begley both illustrate so clearly, the key to this growth is continued exposure to new experiences, new challenges and the opportunity to keep learning.