What Jenna Taught Me (Post by Leigh Scanlon)

When we receive shocking news, we all remember where we were and who was with us. I remember where I was and who I was with when news arrived that the Space Shuttle was struck with disaster, or when the Twin Towers collapsed. These kinds of stories are part of the universal experience that unites us all. As a community we followed these stories as they unfolded and grieved for the suffering of the victims. We found resolve in a time of uncertainty and grew closer. We loved our loved ones a little harder and thy neighbor a little deeper. We asked why did this happen? What went wrong? How do I move forward?

On the day I received the news that my daughter had a language disorder, I felt as if the rug had been ripped out from under me. That was five years ago, but I can still remember vividly where I was standing, what I was wearing, and what I was feeling at that moment. It wasn't that it was entirely shocking or surprising; I had certainly noticed that my daughter’s speech and language were delayed compared to her peers. On several occasions, Jenna's teachers and other professionals had even alerted me to Jenna’s speech delay. I also knew in my gut, as mothers do, that something was not right. But no matter what had been previously discussed, it did not prepare me for what I saw written in black and white. The results of the evaluation became real and raw when spoken by a professional giving a diagnosis. All I could think was, "Why did this happen? What does this mean for my child?" I was devastated. Of course, this is not on the scale of the world tragedies like the Space Shuttle crash or 9/11, but for me and my child…. our course had changed. Things would not unfold as I had envisioned.

If you have a child who has been diagnosed with a learning difference, you know how I felt. It's those feelings of uncertainty for our children's futures, where the plans we had for our children suddenly seem turned upside down. It's that gut-wrenching feeling of not knowing where to turn, who to listen to, or what steps to take next. It's those days when we refrained from telling a friend or neighbor about any of it, for fear that our children would be judged or misunderstood. It's this day we grieved, suffered, and were left with questions. We felt alone and will remember this day when a doctor, therapist, or a diagnostician told us the story that changed our children's paths, and also changed us.

For me… Jenna’s diagnosis gave me a bigger purpose in life. At the time, I was teaching in a private preschool that I adored. I began to see my role as a teacher in a different light, and became an advocate for children who were not meeting their educational milestones. I felt a new sense of responsibility to communicate with parents honestly about their children, and to share concerns from the classroom. I also decided to take my career in a new direction. I wanted to learn more about how to work with a child with learning differences. Not only did I want to help Jenna become a better reader and writer, but I also wanted to help other children who would need the focused, intentional learning that children with learning differences require. After much research, I decided to train as an Academic Language Therapist, through The Academic Language Therapy Association and the International Multisensory Structured Language Education Council. Today, I am so happy to be an advocate, not just for my child, but for other children who struggle as well. Through Jenna’s story, I found my people, my passion, and the joy that comes when we help kids find and see their true potential.

Today, Jenna is a bright, spunky eight-year-old who always wears a smile. And yes, she has a learning difference, and her brain is “wired” differently. With the right support and interventions, Jenna (like all children with learning differences) can do well in school and grow into a successful adult. Yes, her journey may be different. My journey is different, too, and most days I'm really grateful for that.

I can remember my wise grandmother telling me, "Through pain comes triumph." As a teenager, this sounded odd to me. Why must we experience pain to feel or do good in this world? I didn’t understand then, but now as an adult, I do. Beautiful and wonderful things can appear out of tragic times. It doesn't necessarily take away the pain, but goodness can be found.

It is my hope that wherever you are in your child’s story ... a new diagnosis, or one you've know about for years ... that you will share that journey to help other parents. I invite you to subscribe to our blog so that we can share here. There's no judgment here. In our community, you are not alone and many of us have learned to see the beauty in our children’s personal stories.

Here in the pages of our Story Stage blog we hope that you will find a sense of community, guidance, resource and direction. We hope to help you and your child navigate their story.