Beyond the Label: A Guide to Unlocking a Child's Educational Potential is a slim 200-page handbook written for parents who are contemplating, anticipating, or in the process of assessing of their child to address educational challenges. Although written for parents, it may also be a nice resource for teachers. The book is divided into three sections. It starts with a short tutorial regarding the law and learning disability. The middle section settles in for a longer discussion of several common types of functioning deficits, including attention and concentration, memory, executive functions, language, visual perception, speed, achievement, social, and emotional development. Each topic is handled with case illustration from the initial diagnosis to the development of an individualized education plan. Finally, the third section of the book offers a small recapitulation of important points to remember, a success story, and appendixes containing lists of accommodations and resources.
Most likely, parents will first open the book to the deficit chapter that most resembles their concern for their child. When they do, they will find that these chapters are laid out logically and consistently. Each of the chapters covers a single broad neuropsychological function and includes a very brief case description of symptoms, followed by narratives of how the parent, teacher, and/or child might be experiencing the situation. Terms that the parent might encounter are defined in accessible language and concrete examples followed by a rationale for assessment, specific accommodations relevant to the problem, and thoughts about how to manage the hurdles of high-stakes testing and post-secondary education planning. Interspersed are the continuing narratives of the parents and children as they move through the process of assessment, planning, and implementation of interventions, and accommodations.
One of the strengths of the book is that there is a concerted effort to educate parents about the level of severity and persistence in symptoms that would elevate them to cause for concern. A subsection of each deficit chapter includes a discussion of the difference between symptoms that are typical and those that are “frequent, pervasive, and severe” under the subheading, “When is the problem a big problem?” The issue of functional significance is then emphasized in the final section of the book, which attempts to broadly restate important global points discussed in detail during previous chapters. The frequent repetition of this important message should be soothing to parents who are over-concerned and validating to those who are appropriately worried about their child.
A strong message of the book is that assessment offers the best pathway to understanding one's child, and that it leads to targeted interventions and accommodations that can result in optimizing educational and academic outcomes for children with learning and psychosocial challenges. The authors provide copious illustrations of assessment-driven outcomes in the voices of parents and children alike. Although they are careful to indicate that the road is hard, and the going can be tough, the sense of optimism conveyed felt a little excessive to this reader. However, given the negative messages given to children and parents when learning and social adjustment is not going well, the voices in this book may provide motivation to parents who are discouraged and uncertain of how to proceed.
The first section of the book, which addresses education law, various types of assessment (e.g., educational, neurological, neuropsychological), and assembling an advocacy team for the child, raises very important issues but lands short of providing the kind of depth this reader would have wished for. For example, IEP plans and 504 accommodations are briefly covered, but information as to how parents might approach the process of implementing plans, common roadblocks, and what to expect along the way are absent, despite careful attention to these details for the middle chapters of the book. Similar care in the initial chapters would have helped parents orient to the long process they will be engaged in, of which assessment is only one step.
Although Beyond the Label very strongly and effectively advocates for comprehensive assessment of children with learning and psychosocial challenges, this reader wonders at what point a pediatric neuropsychologist might suggest it to a parent. In some ways, this is the book we want parents to read before we meet them. In fact, it is likely to be a resource that brings them to us. If the neuropsychologist performs her job well, she will cover the salient contents of Beyond the Label, and more, by way of feedback, recommendations, and a solidly-written comprehensible report. Thus, the book can be most helpful as a guide to parents who are not sure whether to pursue assessment, but for some, it may also offer support during the ongoing process of child advocacy in the years that follow one.
Overall, the message of the book is important, and it is written in way that is very accessible, encouraging, and validating for parents who are coming to realize that their children require additional support in their educational environment. Because of the breath of chapters on specific functional deficits, this book would be a great resource for teachers as well. Parents are most likely to find only one or two of the chapters to be relevant to their child, but teachers may use the full breath of the book over the course of their careers to find guidance for whether a referral for assessment is appropriate.