Until he was 10, Sam Bones didn't understand that an hour was longer than 10 minutes. Somehow his brain just couldn't get it.
He struggled to read.
"Sometimes when I'm going down something [on a page], I'd go back up, because there were so many words on the page and I'd get muddled up," he says.
His mum, Leanne Pratt, couldn't help him learn his times tables.
"I couldn't get him to understand multiplication," she says. "He was sort of okay on addition, and almost there with subtraction, but multiplication was like a foreign language."
He was labelled "dyslexic" and "dyspraxic". The family tried physical therapies. They tried a Danks Davis dyslexia tutor, who helped him "a little bit" with his reading, but could make no headway on whatever was blocking other things in his brain.
"She spent quite a bit of time trying to explain time to him," his mum says.
But in the past year Sam's life has turned around. His parents heard about a new school that claims to "change people's brains", inspired by a Canadian woman who had the same problems as Sam until she developed exercises which changed her own brain when she was 26.
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He started on the first brain exercise that Arrowsmith-Young invented 42 years ago - learning to tell the time on a clock over and over again.
"I started just drawing clocks," Arrowsmith-Young told Sam yesterday.
"We didn't have computers at that time, so I used to draw a clock face, and draw another clock face. I had to have somebody help me because I was pretty pathetic at the activity."
These days the exercise is computerised. Sam started last year with a three-handed clock, writing in time after time the positions of the hour hand, the minute hand and the second hand.
"I couldn't tell the time when I started. Now I can. It took me about a week," he says.
Then he graduated to clocks with four hands, then five and now six - month, day, hour, minute, second and fraction of a second. Arrowsmith-Young says she learnt to tell the time with three hands, then realised that she needed to make her brain work even harder to actually understand the world.
"It was the idea of processing four relationships simultaneously, and it was after mastering that level that I knew there was human neuroplasticity," she says.
"My world changed. It was like the fog lifted. It was like being blind and now I could see."
Sam's mum says her son suddenly understood what time meant.
"He actually understood, 'We have 10 minutes to do this or an hour to do that.' He just didn't get that before," she says.
"Now he learns maths and he gets it and he can do his times tables."
Sam rates his old school 60 out of 100.
"Here it's probably like 1000 out of 100," he says. "I have fun here, and I'm not the only kid in my class who has this problem, and I don't get left behind."
Kate Gilligan, 8, was tracing letter-like shapes on paper when Arrowsmith-Young visited. She had different brain-wiring issues from Sam which affected her writing until she started at A1 Student last year.
"My handwriting became easier because I used to not be able to write that well," she says.
But her mum Rachael Gilligan says the brain exercises have had much wider effects.
"There was just this curiosity that hadn't been there before," she says.
"'But why did the dinosaurs die out?' So we would google it and there would be this comprehension of the answer. Up to that point it was more waiting for an adult to explain it."
A1 Student is a private school in St Heliers with 35 students aged 7 to 17, charging fulltimers $21,850 a year and part-timers $7475.
• Barbara Arrowsmith-Young ends her NZ visit with a public meeting at 7pm tonightat the Village Community Centre, 365A Ilam Rd, Christchurch.