In this interview, you'll find some tips for taking a "whole child" approach to helping your children or students.
Click on the book cover to learn more about the book and view sample pages.
A: We were inspired by our “telephone time.” Kim Gangwish and I were talking to so many parents who were feeling stuck. We saw that there was an incredible need for a resource that helped parents sort through possibilities and options. Either parents did not know where to start in their quest to support their children or they had tried things that did not feel effective or comprehensive enough. When a child has any challenge, it is difficult, but some children are more quirky or complex. We were talking to a lot of parents who were feeling overwhelmed by unexpected or persistent challenges.
As so many parents know, it is hard to find guidance that considers multiple options and how they fit your child’s needs. There would never be enough “telephone time,” so we decided to embark on Child Decoded. This book was designed to help parents sort through their options and create the unique path their child needs to thrive.
Q: When a child is experiencing challenges with behavior, attention, or learning, what are the best things for parents to do when deciding how to help their child?
A: Start by looking at the whole child. This includes the child’s physical health, medical rhistory, even family history. For example, Research is emerging daily on the relationship between gut health and the brain, between gut health and the immune system, between the immune system and the brain. It just goes on and on. It is important to gather all the pieces of the puzzle together. Sometimes you don’t find one big piece of the puzzle, but there are several smaller pieces making a bigger hole in the picture.
We included chapters about how to pursue a good comprehensive evaluation. The checklist in the book is also a good starting place for considering the major areas of development, as well as medical issues, diet or life events that may contribute to challenges. If a parent or practitioner starts working on symptoms (for example, irritability and inattention) without considering the cause (sensory processing disorder? chronic congestion disrupting sleep? poor diet?), the intervention will likely not be effective. We hope Child Decoded acts as a reminder that we need to look at a child’s challenges through a holistic lens.
Q: The book describes lots of treatments and interventions that may help children. How you would you suggest that parents determine which interventions might be helpful for their child? How can parents have confidence that interventions they might try are effective or are supported by research for any specific diagnosis?
A: Nothing can drain your confidence quite like parenting can, particularly when a child is not developing or progressing “the way they are supposed to.” The book has a lot of information, but is organized in such a way that parents can pick and choose what is most relevant to their child’s needs.
- The checklist helps sort out possible starting points or new areas that may be useful.
- Individual chapters outline various challenges and the standard-of-care treatments (which usually have more research behind them), as well as complimentary and alternative medical (CAM) approaches (which can be so useful in some situations).
- These chapters then describe the practitioners for individual treatments and the required training or credentialing to inquire about.
- We (and the various chapter authors) also developed questions to ask potential providers (including questions about when to expect results from any treatment or therapy).
- We list books and websites for additional reading as well.
With the chapter information, the credentialing information, the questions and the book lists, we hope to instill some confidence in a very practical way.
Q: One of my favorite things in the book was the section that discussed neuroplasticity and neurodiversity. Can you talk a little about these, and what parents should know about them?
A: Neuroplasticity and Neurodiversity are very different things, but are both really important concepts. Neuroplasticity is our reminder that the brain does interact with the environment in ways that will change the actual wiring of the brain. The work that parents, teachers and therapists do is important. This is why we have to be cautious when considering taking a “wait and see” approach. But it is also the reason we can be optimistic if you feel you are getting a late start. The brain can grow and change at any age. (It is not always easy though.) In addition, some therapies or therapists will have more impact than others, but neuroplasticity give us every reason to be optimistic.
Neurodiversity is more of a movement. It is the recognition that there can be a wide range of “normal.” Diversity makes us stronger and ultimately more adaptable. Neurodiversity is the idea that our children, who are not developing in the “typical” ways, are not necessarily disabled or broken. They are a different type of “normal.” We have to help schools and other institutions adapt to this diversity instead of always forcing our children to adapt to a narrow range of “approved” behaviors, actions or topics.
Q: Do you have any suggestions for teachers, educators, or other service providers for students with autism? Would this book be helpful for professionals?
A: Although Kim and I work daily with children who have unique needs, it is not the same as trying to herd a diverse group of children through some specific hoops. We have great respect for teachers and educators who are “in the trenches.” However, we feel it is important to take a step back every once in a while from the very specific skills that are being taught to look at the child as a whole. We hope Child Decoded will be a way to take a “big picture” look at any given child.
We also worked hard to make the book easy to read and to make each chapter stand somewhat independently. It is not necessary to read the whole book to get value from it. We have already heard from educators who have said there were many things in the book that they were not aware of, but that were extremely helpful in their daily work. We think teachers, pediatricians, paraprofessionals, therapists, social workers, and psychologists will all find the book helpful.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to share about the book?
A: This was a labor of love. This book was six years in the making. We (particularly our great developmental editor, Marijke Jones) put a tremendous effort into making the book easy to read. We put in lots of stories and examples to help readers flow through the book in a friendly way. Feel free to check our website, www.childdecoded.com, to see the extra chapters that simply did not fit into the book. They are not core chapters, but do give a sense of the style. We want the book to spark change, not only in supporting challenges in a holistic way, but in recognizing and honoring the unique and wonderful differences in the world.