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Brain Gains

New book helps parents understand their children's developing mind

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LEARNING TO LEARN  As a boy, David Sortino didn’t do well in school. He has made a career of figuring out - why he and other kids have had trouble learning.
  • LEARNING TO LEARN As a boy, David Sortino didn’t do well in school. He has made a career of figuring out why he and other kids have had trouble learning.

David Sortino has spent the last four decades becoming an expert in how young minds learn and grow. So it may come as a surprise when he says he had troubles in school himself.

"I didn't do well, and I was always interested in why," says Sortino. "Basically, I've always been interested in why kids can't learn in our schools."

After a lifetime of research and observation, Sortino collects his wealth of knowledge into the new book, A Guide to How Your Child Learns: Understanding the Brain from Infancy to Young Adulthood, that offers readers a step-by-step breakdown of the brain's development and gives practical, research-backed advice on how to maximize your child's learning poential.

Raised in Connecticut, Sortino earned a master's degree in child development from Harvard and a doctorate in clinical psychology from Saybrook University before moving to Santa Barbara in 1974.

In 1989, Sortino and his wife relocated to Sonoma County. "I was interviewing for a job at El Molino High School [in Forestville], and when I drove Highway 116, it reminded me a lot of Connecticut with the apple orchards," he says.

Since then, he has taught at Santa Rosa city schools and the Santa Rosa Junior College, served as a consultant to state and county programs for at-risk and special needs children, and worked directly with individuals and families through his private business, the Neurofeedback Institute in Graton.

Neurofeedback is a brain-training program, supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics, in which Sortino observes brain function through sensors attached to the scalp that monitor brainwaves. Sortino can assess anxiety, attention deficit and behavioral disorders, and offer patients mental exercises to train their brains to function more efficiently without medication.

In the last decade, Sortino has also written extensively on learning on his blog, neurofeedbackinstitute.blogspot.com. Many of those are collected in his new book.

"It's not theoretical; the research supports what I'm trying to say," says Sortino. "I'm not reinventing the wheel. I'm just telling you what works and what doesn't."

A Guide to How Your Child Learns is the first in a series of three books that Sortino is calling the Brain Smart Series. "I'm giving the reader an idea, and they can take it from there."

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