Jack’s dad and I met with his teacher yesterday for a parent/teacher conference. I was a little apprehensive going in – not only do I have a slight issue with authority figures but I also worried about what we would learn about where Jack is academically.
On the positive side, Jack is in the top third of his class for his language and reading skills. He’s made a few friends and he’s already showing improvement in how he interacts with his peers compared to a month ago. And, of course, he’s quite the artist. He’s a good kid and sweet as can be.
There are some concerns, and Jack’s teacher is having the same difficulty we are in determining what the full story is on the issues that are cropping up. It’s really difficult to tell what is a side effect of current treatment and what might be permanent damage done to his brain from the intrathecal chemotherapy (that is chemo administered into the spinal cord). We’ve thus far gone with the “wait and see” approach. We’ve been given novels on the possible negative impacts from cancer treatment, but no one can tell us for sure what – if anything – will happen to Jack. Beyond that, probably due to his age and the fact that he only attended half a year of kindergarten, it’s difficult to tell if the issue is related to the cancer (and therefore accommodations need to be made) and what is something he just needs some help to master. He may just need time, or he may need special services.
We’ve learned that Jack is having trouble with internalizing the class routine. Even after a month, he doesn’t know which line he is supposed to be in when the kids split up to go to their math class or what group of kids he’s supposed to work on projects with. Worse, he doesn’t ask for help or direction and doesn’t seem to notice that, for instance, he’s alone sitting on the reading rug while everyone else is going to their project stations. The teacher needs to keep an eye on him and ask him specifically if he knows what he should be doing because he doesn’t look for hints or direction – he doesn’t even look up to the projector for instructions. It may just require some additional time for him to get the hang of things considering all he is going through, but it’s something we’ll need to watch because many of the treatments Jack has received can have cognitive effects that would affect planning and organizing, concentration skills, information processing, and attention span.
Math is another area of concern. The school splits first graders into three groups based upon their level of math knowledge. Jack is in the bottom third and within that group, he is still struggling to keep up with the class. Before he got sick he could count to 20 without difficulty. Now he is shaky above 10. Part of this is that he needs practice, but also he is having trouble seeing the patterns in math and lacks conservation skills. Between his parents and teachers, we need to figure out the best strategy to help him in this area. AND a way to get him to try things that he feels less than confident about. He is the type of kid who refuses to try something that he knows he can’t do perfectly…
A minor thing is that Jack’s handwriting seems labored, so he has poor penmanship. He hasn’t complained but when asked he did say that writing hurts his hands. This is not surprising considering that both Leukemia and some of the treatments can cause various aches and pains. He has also complained of blurry vision, but his eye exams have been fine, so we need to look into what that’s all about. I’m thinking it may be that it’s happening in the hour or so before he takes the medication that controls his spinal fluid pressure (which, when it increases, can put pressure on his eyes).
So now I need to get over my fatigue and fear related to reading anything related to cancer after-effects so that I can do some research and be more proactive about helping Jack in school. I can’t ignore the fact that my kid has special needs, however much I may want to!