I find in my work with Complex Learners that the more I know, the more I need to learn. There are so many disciplines that hold a piece of the puzzle, and each plays a part in understanding how children who learn and interact differently, can unlock their potential.
That’s why at The Wolf School, we initiated an annual Complex Learners conference. While there are many trainings and conferences that address specific diagnoses or treatments, we wanted to bring together experts in their field who could speak across multiple diagnoses, addressing how we better understand and work with the Complex Learner. We had an ambitious agenda, including two exceptional speakers, an amazing panel discussion, and breakout sessions putting it into practice by offering strategies for school and home.
I hoped for a good turnout, an informative day, and an energizing experience. I was not disappointed!
There’s so much to talk about, to share with you, and certainly to learn more about. But for the sake of keeping this the length of a blog post and not a book, here is one thing from each speaker and the panel presentation that really stayed with me.
- Our first speaker, psychiatrist Todd Levine, MD, almost always sees families after they have tried other therapeutic interventions that haven’t worked. But he emphasized the key to responsible diagnosing and prescribing is paying attention to pervasiveness. For example, in treating anxiety, a 5-year-old boy who is hyper-focused on dinosaur facts and looks anxious when talking about other things, is not the same as a 7-year-old boy who constantly worries about what event comes next. Breaking down when and how often behaviors occur is critical.
- Neuropsychologist Allison Evans, PhD, spoke about the importance of translating neuropsychological evaluations, as the score on a test doesn’t tell the whole story. A child may know a lot, but may not be able to pull it out quickly or efficiently. In fact, two children may have the same score, but come to it in very different ways. Getting as much information as possible, including family history, current interventions, classroom environment, and behavioral observations, makes a significant difference in understanding Complex Learners and being able to make recommendations tailored to their needs.
- Our panelists, including Dr. Levine, Dr. Evans, Speech and Language Pathologist Rosaline Granoff and Occupational Therapist Lise Gerard Faulise, all felt that a diagnosis might be a good jumping off point, but that most children they saw had several diagnoses and intervention needed to happen by peeling back the layers, treating one or two symptoms and making adjustments along the way. A multi-disciplinary approach is critical when working with Complex Learners.
Thanks to our incredible speakers, panelists and presenters, we have expanded our understanding of Complex Learners and the bridge between assessment and treatment. We hope to continue the conversation, whether it’s through articles, blog posts, trainings or conferences, and we encourage you to do the same.
Anna Johnson, Head of School at The Wolf School, is a devoted, passionate educator with more than 17 years of classroom and leadership experience. She holds a BA and MAT from Brown University, and speaks locally and nationally on topics related to Complex Learners.