Interview with the Child Decoded authors
Excerpt from the San Francisco Book Review, May of 2017
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.