The Fast ForWord program is the brainchild of four neuroscientists who set out to accomplish one important mission. Their goal was to create a program that is not only based upon sound neuroscience principles but is also effective in terms of its implementation and the results seen in students. By doing what scientists do best, they have accumulated a large body of research on the Fast ForWord program which stands as a testament to its efficacy across a wide range of educational difficulties and disorders.
In 1997, Drs M. Merzenich and P. Tallal together published their first combined research article outlining a revolutionary educational program which advances both cognitive skills and language skills through a series of specialised exercises. The program would be the first to employ Dr Merzenich’s research on brain plasticity in educational therapy. Brain plasticity is essentially the known ability of the brain to grow and change throughout one’s life. The strategic and specialised nature of the Fast ForWord exercises builds new neural connections so that the student can improve their brain’s ability to perform a certain skill.
Dr. Tallal’s research proposed that slowing down certain speech sounds may assist students with Auditory Processing Disorders in developing their ability to process and distinguish between different speech sounds or phonemes. She theorised that if the students could practice processing the sounds when they slowed down, they would be able to gradually build the neural pathways necessary to accurately distinguish between these sounds when processing normal speed. Unfortunately, certain speech sounds cannot be slowed down in normal speech. To this end the patented Acoustically Modified Speech Technology is included as part of the Fast ForWord program.
Through the work of Dr. Merzenich and Dr. William Jenkins, it was discovered that brain plasticity is not employed optimally by simply presenting the exercises to the student. Other conditions also had to be met in order to maximize the reorganisation of the brain. Training had to take place frequently and be adapted to the student’s level of functioning. It would also be more effective for several skills to be stimulated simultaneously and for corrective action to be reinforced almost immediately. Fast ForWord students take part in intensive, individualised training either three or five days per week in order to meet the prerequisites for the optimal utilisation of brain plasticity.
A national field trial was held to test the first program in the Fast ForWord series. The study involved almost 500 children and came to a number of astonishing conclusions. The children showed gains in language equivalent to one and a half years of growth in language skills after only four weeks of training. Since then ten more Fast ForWord programs have been developed all indicating equally astonishing results.