Learning After Cancer Treatment

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).

Our next steps seem to be getting some academic assessment tests and a 504 plan and/or IEP. I’m also giving Jack’s teacher the free copy of Educating The Child With Cancer that I got from the ACCO.

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!

6 thoughts on “Learning After Cancer Treatment”

  1. dear crystal. I’m glad they are getting him some assessments, they will help him get the help he needs. this can be overwhelming so take it ONE step at a time. It’s actually good the school is being proactive and not just thinking it’s all in your head. It sounds like you have a great teacher who is really watching out for him. that is a gift. unfortunately not every teacher is like that… 🙁

    1. Yeah I purposely didn’t give the teacher too much info about the possible cancer-related issues that might come up in his learning – I wanted to see what her assessment was going to be without coloring it. I was very impressed by her observations and very happy that she is looking out for Jack. This school environment works for him so much better than Sutro did on so many levels!

  2. Crystal, as a former teacher, I would say to stop thinking of the teacher as an authority figure and look to her as a partner in educating your child. I never considered myself as an authority figure to parents. I wanted them as my partner in helping their child learn to the best of their child’s ability. If there are problems caused by his treatment, the teacher will need to recognize this and work with you and Jack to overcome them. Some of this could be due to attending only 1/2 of kindergarden. Jack may need more time and support to acclimate himself to classroom routine. He is also beginning the year late. TIme may help with some of the behaviors he is showing but you are being proactive in asking for him to be evaluated and given an IEP. I wish all of you good luck!

    1. His teacher (both of them – he has a separate math teacher) are both being very helpful and collaborative with me so I think I’ll get over my nervousness. I know it’s a personal issue I have! I’m learning to be more assertive with teachers, doctors, etc.

      I sent her some information about ALL and side effects and I’m getting that book to her tomorrow. She said this will be her first 504 student so she definitely wants to do the reading. I’m VERY thankful we have her involved in this process. School has gotten the short end of the stick during treatment. 🙁

      Thank you for the input!! I appreciate it!

  3. Sigh. I imagine it has to all be so challenging. I couldn’t even imagine where to begin. I hope you (and the teachers) find the best way to help him learn throughout the rest of the school year!

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