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What has been the biggest challenge in putting together this book?
The biggest challenge was trying to squeeze the complexity of child development into a book that was comprehensive, relatable, and manageable for parents. The sheer size of it was a bigger challenge than any of us anticipated. We had constant debates about what was necessary to include, what was too much, too clinical, needed more explanation, and so on. Then there was the challenge that there were more than 20 authors involved because many chapters are written by a different expert. We always seemed to have at least five chapters floating around at any given time. Add in the little individual points we threw in from other practitioners and all the personal stories throughout the book… the logistics were insane.
Serving as the editor of any multi-faceted material, coupled with personal narrative, is always an incredibly great responsibility, so were there any fears/inhibitions on the table at the onset of drafting Child Decoded?
This wasn’t really an issue. We all had enough personal and professional experience with this population that we had a great number of people to contact for our stories. We explained the project, had them tell or write their stories, got them to sign a permission form, and voila! We almost always changed the names, and often changed a few non-essential details of the story to keep people’s identity from being too easy to figure out. As long as we were willing to do that, people were pretty amenable.
Were factors, like the current state of the book market, prospective audience/readers of this subject matter, and circulation, relevant when preparing to publish?
No, we wanted a book to refer to clients. None existed that included everything we wanted, so we made one. There is an extremely clear need for this type of resource.
What has been the most revolutionary turning point in your careers–either from conducting research or from experiences with clients, which drastically informed the direction of Child Decoded?
There was no “revolution,” just slow and steady revelation. We spent years working with kids, giving lectures, and watching the evolution in educational demands, as well as the evolution of unusual learning needs (the explosion of children with autism being just one example). Then, parenting our own kids helped bring it all together.
All three of us had personal and professional experiences that led us to dig deeper than the symptoms, a phrase we use constantly when discussing this book. Both Ms. Gangwish and Dr. McEvoy (the practitioners of the team) realized early on that there was much more going on than the academic or behavioral struggles you can see on the surface. They both cultivated relationships with other practitioners, who address other aspects of health–from digestion and nutrition to sensory processing basics. Over the years, they developed a network of professionals that address the whole child, not just his/her symptoms. It took longer to put the whole picture together, but parents could then create a much more comprehensive and effective plan. These experiences led Gangwish and McEvoy to create the approach that serves as the philosophical foundation of the book.
Sometimes people hear about this “larger picture” philosophy and get overwhelmed just thinking about it. Understandable. But for parents whose children have complicated combinations of issues or whose supposedly “straightforward” issues are resisting treatment, looking deeper is the only place left to go. And, in our experience, parents in this position are relieved to find out that there is another way to look at the picture so that they get more comprehensive answers.
What do you predict will be the status of education in the next 5 to 10 years, with the availability of specific resources in low-income communities?
We are not “education policy” specialists. We focus on identifying and treating learning challenges. Our goal is to help empower parents to understand their own children, thereby enabling them to fight their own unique fight more effectively. We hope that educational policy-makers will be more responsive to individual families, especially considering the increase in learning challenges, and the fact that even neurotypical learners are becoming more and more diverse. If the government wants an educated populace, this is what they will need to deal with. This is, most likely, a change that will need to come from the ground up.
Education in America continues to evolve, often with a few steps forward and then a step back. We are better now at educating diverse learners than we ever were in the past, and still there is much work to be done. Children disadvantaged due to low income, learning disabilities, mental health needs or any combination of challenges require specialized resources.
Ever since the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, the federal government has tried to find ways of ensuring all students are given equitable opportunities for learning. The No Child Left Behind Act and, more recently, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) are updates to try to represent the current needs of our students and our society. While ESSA actually decreased the federal oversight of education in many ways (to ease demands on schools), there is still a focus on accountability to all students. Schools must show evidence that they are meeting the needs of students, particularly those with special challenges such as poverty. However, the Trump administration has delayed implementation of some parts of ESSA when they delayed implementation of pending regulations enacted during the Obama administration. We will have to see what sort of progress is made in the next few years.
On the bright side, in another branch of government, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that schools may not settle for minimal educational progress for students with disabilities. This ruling stemmed from a lawsuit in our home state of Colorado. For years, many school districts here had argued successfully for a standard of little more than “de minimis” for students with disabilities. These students merely had to make some minimal progress each year in their academic goals. In a unanimous ruling that will have implications across the country, the Supreme Court rejected the de minimis standard. Students with disabilities are entitled to a “free appropriate public education” (FAPE). Given this, minimal academic gains were not found to fall within the domain of appropriate.
Do you think that the parents of twice-exceptional (2e) children should focus on either the gifted or the disability first or try and blend both those issues together in working with their child?
Absolutely address both simultaneously. A child with gifts and learning challenges needs supports in both areas to avoid daily frustration. With 2e kids, it is important to remember three things – enrichment, accommodation, and remediation. For example, a gifted child with a reading disability will need reading remediation but will be discouraged and bored plowing through early readers. Luckily, there are videos, documentaries and field trips to keep him enriched It may take a little juggling to get all the pieces in place, but a comprehensive program that serves both sides is the way to go.
The topic of special schooling has posed a considerable division between various professionals in the field of education, so what do you advise will be the next wave of institutional learning?
We hope the next wave will actually offer more flexible models of learning. We are a fan of both charter schools and accountability. There are more diverse learners than ever, even in groups of children who would never meet criteria for “disability.” Schools are beginning to embrace this, rather than require that all children conform to a particular model and sequence of learning. We think project-based learning and team-based learning are emerging as strategies for developing skills needed in the new workforce. We also love the new models that integrate the mind with the body through incorporating nutrition and exercise.
There is no single type of learner. We need diversity in research, diversity in educational models, constructive arguments and informed parents for education to grow with the needs of our society.
For all the stakeholders invested in the process of evaluation and/or diagnosing, how do you all feel about labeling placed on children with learning disabilities?
This is something that many parents struggle with. They want a diagnosis that will bring some clarity and structure to the problems their child is facing, but they don’t want their child to deal with the stigma of a label or perception of disability.
Occasionally, a label is really not the most helpful thing. Some children defy categorization, and to put a label (or several) on that child can actually muddy the waters. In those situations, it might be more effective to describe the child’s personal strengths and weaknesses and work from there.
However, whether a child experiences a diagnosis as ‘stigmatizing’ often depends largely on how the parents and school handle the situation. It can be empowering for children to know what their issues are and be able to advocate for themselves. It’s not like they don’t know they have issues. They’re acutely aware of them every single day. Assuming it is a realistic goal for a child, they might as well learn how to explain their needs. It is a skill they will need to learn at some point anyway.
As far as the school goes, we believe that the more information any teacher has on a child, the more effectively they can teach. If a teacher does not seem to understand a child’s issues or how to deal with them or seems to make negative assumptions based on a diagnosis, it’s time to get in there and explain things again. And that may or may not work. But, again, if the child has issues, it’s not like the teacher isn’t going to notice. You stand a better chance of success with transparency.
If given the opportunity, would you all go back and change something from the manuscript process that made it to publication?
Nope, so far so good. I’m sure things will come up, but right now we’re just happy to have gotten it done!
What are some follow-up big plans to Child Decoded?
We are already scheduling talks at conferences and for groups, where we will discuss the underlying philosophy of the book (dig deeper than the symptoms and sequence matters). We hope that, by helping people understand the importance of creating a larger picture, we can prevent more families from having to wander around for years looking for answers. We will also be doing a series of webinars and hope to present at conferences for special-needs children.