Special in Every Way

“I think we need to put Ian in special education.” Ian’s teacher was saying something about the anomalies in his learning abilities, but my breath caught in my throat, and I only pieced together what I heard after “special education.”

Ian’s miracle status now has a black mark on it. He is no longer the boy who defied all odds. My fears over the last few years have been confirmed: Ian has learning disabilities.

And truthfully, how could Ian not have problems with learning? The surgery—the radiation—they created severe brain injuries for my son. Add to that the fact that Ian has an empty space where the tumor used to be; his brain hasn’t filled in that void yet. Of course learning issues are a reality for Ian. I just wanted the miracle of Ian’s recovery to encompass learning as well.

Even though I’ve noticed how he’s struggled with reading and math, I’ve been hopeful that Ian was just a struggling “normal” student. But now we know it is more than that. On a diagnostic test his class recently took, students who scored a 7 are considered struggling; most students have 9s or 10s as average students. Ian scored a 1.

His reading and writing are far below average. Ian is not making any significant advances, even though to talk to him, a person would never know anything was wrong. In conversations he communicates like a little man; yet he struggles with reading and writing basic words—words that he’s had since kindergarten. He can’t remember his math facts either. No amount of repetition is helping him retain the information.

I’ve been a mess. I cry every time I think about my sweet little boy struggling with reading and math, knowing that he sees his classmates easily accomplishing the tasks, while Ian stumbles over every concept and directive. I’ve been working with him, trying to get him caught up, but he takes just as many steps backwards as he does forwards. None of us can get things to stick in his brain.

We are now waiting to get an appointment for his neurological/psychological exam; the tests should tell us what exactly we are dealing with and how best to help Ian with his learning disabilities. In the meantime, his wonderful teachers are working with him one-on-one or in small group settings to support him the best they can. I am so thankful for these dedicated women who paid enough attention to Ian to realize that his struggles were anomalies. We can now move forward to get Ian the help he needs.

As sad as I am that Ian will have this label, I am thankful that I can add caring professionals to his village. As hopeful as I am that we will be able to remove the “special ed” label from his transcripts in the next few years, I am also painfully aware of the cruelty of other children—children who might laugh at his inadequacies.

How will this affect his self-confidence? Will this change his dreams? What if he stops dreaming because the world becomes an inaccessible, confusing place for him?

My fears have controlled me the last week, so much so that it’s been difficult to share Ian’s situation with family and friends. As soon as the thought of telling someone what Ian is going through comes up, my tears flow. I’m feeling better since talking to his teachers, but I know this is just the beginning of his journey. I need to focus on making the best case scenario for Ian; I know I need to stay positive for his sake.

As has become my habit when life throws me a curveball, I have decided to count my blessings with Ian:

I am thankful that Ian is alive.

I am thankful that Cancer is a distant (and quite faded) memory for him.

I am thankful that Ian can run and jump and play like a normal little boy and is not in a wheelchair like the doctors thought he would be.

I am thankful that Ian is a happy child with many things that bring him joy. Almost every day he says, “This is the best day ever!”

I am thankful that even though school is hard for him, his teachers say Ian is a hard worker and never gives up, no matter how many times he has to do something.

I am thankful for all the wonderful people and friends he has in his life that love him and will support him through every trial.

I am thankful that he was recently cleared of any possibility of hearing loss because of the radiation treatments.

And I am thankful that even now, Ian is special in every way possible.

Life After Cancer Blog

12 thoughts on “Special in Every Way

  1. Wow, what a week you’ve had. It has to be hard to hear those words from a teacher. Ian is so articulate, polite and fun that I would’ve never guessed this was a hurdle you’d all have to jump. Let me know if we can help. We need to talk and figure out a way to talk to the kids about it in the future. I will not tolerate any child belittling him for this, especially mine, so figuring out how to tell them would be better than them finding out from some ratty kid at school. You are all in my thoughts and prayers, but know that Ian IS happy, healthy and a very typical 2nd grade boy when he’s over here!!!!

  2. Stay positive, Pauline. All children don’t learn the same. This may take time. He has a great support and is truly loved. Kisses and hugs babe

  3. Where we see disabilities or roadblocks, God sees opportunities and possibilities. Ian is a special, unique boy with a special, unique mom. Ian was created for a special purpose that only he can fill – post cancer, and with and “learning disabled” label. What amazing and wonderful things he’ll do in his life, and how much better the world is because he – and you – are in it.

  4. Pauline – reading this brought tears to my eyes as memories of hearing that Justin would need to be in Special Education came rushing back. I agree, it is one of the hardest things I have ever heard.

    Now it is time to focus on what you and the teachers can do as you partner to help Ian. He is an amazing, intellegent, and sweet young man with a positive light on life.

    My only advice is really go with your gut at all times and partner with the teachers to help him to succeed. These two things have served us well as we have navigated elementary and middle school for Justin. He has faced setbacks at times, however for every setback, he has had 10 leaps forward. If not for going with our gut instincts and working with the schools, I don’t think Justin would be where he is today mainstreamed back into High School.

    You and Dave are great parents doing all the right things for Ian. If you ever need an ear, let me know.

  5. Pauline, think of how many students you’ve had in high school that should have been classified but never were. Ian is going to get the extra help he needs and deserves, and by the time he gets to high school, I am certain he will be all caught up and on the same level as his classmates. He is still such a miracle and success story! I love you!

    1. Thanks, Jamie! I know this is what he needs; but like any change, it is a little scary. I know above all, I will be Ian’s biggest advocate and support. Love and miss you, dear friend!

  6. Pauline – I wish I had some words of wisdom for you – but I don’t. Wait I just thought of a blog post I wrote earlier this year about my niece who has a learning disability. You might like that story.

    In any event, you are blessed with a now healthy child who has a great disposition. Ian saying “This is the best day ever!” reminds me of my grandmother who had dementia. When ever she was served almost anything to eat, she would say “Wow, is it my birthday?”

    The joy of positive people brings happiness to everyone they touch. Keep up the great work with his teachers.

    This is the link to the post you may like


    1. Thank you, Michele! I am so happy that your niece was able to pass her practice test. That is giving me a lot of confidence in the special services Ian will be receiving. I’m thankful that getting extra help will allow him to catch up. On a positive note, writing about my fears has been cathartic; I have now made room for the blessings to take over my thoughts!
      I am thankful for the cyber friendship we have developed!
      Blessings to you and your family 🙂

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