Dear Doctor, 

Our 6-year-old daughter has been diagnosed as “cognitively impaired.” We know this is the new word used for “retarded.” You have written about the brain and how it can change. We don’t know, but is there hope for someone like our precious daughter?


Dear Hopeful,

What you are referring to is “neuroplasticity,” the current word for how the brain, at any age, has the power to change. It is a living and highly responsive organ.

The degree and extent of impairment is a factor. However, in my years as a clinician, I have worked with two individuals who were diagnosed as “retarded” who graduated from college. Their diagnoses was correct at the time it was made, but both individuals changed as they experienced remarkable attention.

Not all individuals are the same, and I am not saying every person has this potential, but let me make certain suggestions to you.

First, identify strengths, something which your daughter may be capable, a special talent. It might be a skill with numbers, music and so on. Push and enhance that skill, the earlier the better.

Second, do not accept an underestimating of your daughter’s capabilities. Expose her to stimulation in various areas of endeavor. A diagnosis should never become a destiny.

Third, find an optimistic and positive life coach or therapist to be her advocate, especially within the educational system.

Finally, allow me to recommend a book, “The Brain that Changes Itself,” by Dr. Norman Doidge. It is readable and consists of stories of neuroplasticity in action.

Dr. Larry Larsen is an Andover psychologist. If you would like to ask a question, or respond to one, email him at


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