Students and TBI


Students and TBIStudents’ least favorite time of year is upon us: the end of summer. While the back-to-school jitters are in full swing for most, students with traumatic brain injuries (TBI) may be returning to school with many cognitive problems, such as memory and information processing, which will make classroom learning more difficult. As a result, these students, along with their parents, may have an extra set of concerns to contend with as they get ready to face the new school year.

Overall, children who have sustained a brain injury often experience changes in how they think, act, and feel. From a physical standpoint, they may regularly deal with things like fatigue, headaches, dizziness, and vision problems. Like all brain-injured patients, students with TBI can also experience a range of emotional changes as a result of their injury. In fact, behavioral changes may cause some of the most difficulties for children, their families, their teachers, and their peers. Brain-injured students can get upset easily and act out for reasons that aren’t entirely clear to those around them; they may also act aggressively or impulsively without realizing the consequences of their behavior, which can sometimes alienate them from their peers. As a result, they may experience anger, depression, anxiety, and/or social withdrawal.

Additionally, the Disability Law Center of Alaska (DLCAK) reports that students who have brain injuries often have problems in four major areas in the classroom:

  • Attention and concentration—Students may have trouble focusing for long periods of time or doing two things at once (e.g., taking notes while listening).
  • Information processing—Students may appear to be resisting instruction, but it may just take them a little longer to process directions.
  • Memory—Students may have difficulty learning, storing, and retrieving new information.
  • Executive functions—Students may have issues with organization, planning, and problem solving.

However, there are ways to address brain-injured students’ needs so that they can thrive in their learning environment. General strategies for working with students with TBI can include things like home schooling until the student is ready to return to the classroom, and educating teachers and peers on the effects of TBI. Technology-related strategies, like large print books, computer assisted programs, tape lectures, and memory aids can also be helpful. In terms of specific teaching strategies, some of the following approaches may be useful:

  • Schedule modifications (shorter days, rest periods, etc.)
  • Simplified verbal and written instructions
  • Extra time when introducing new concepts and vocabulary
  • A student “buddy” to help with instructions and assignments
  • Assistance coping with the physical school environment
  • Help to build memory skills
  • Assistance with socially acceptable behaviors

(More detailed information on these strategies can be found here.)

Of course, each student’s situation is unique, so be sure to work with your child’s school to make sure his or her education plan is tailored to fit any specific needs. Additionally, patience and support from parents is critical for students with TBI. Don’t be afraid to stand up for your child in order to make sure he or she is getting the necessary help. Remember that under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), your child has rights to a “free appropriate public education” in the “least restrictive environment.” There is even a special category for traumatic brain injuries that recognizes the unique needs of students with brain injuries so that they can be addressed appropriately in a school setting.

About Rolf Gainer Ph.D.

Dr. Rolf Gainer is the founder of the Neurologic Rehabilitation Institute at Brookhaven Hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma as well as the Neurological Rehabilitation Institute of Ontario, in Toronto, Canada. Dr. Gainer is a psychologist with more than twenty-five years of experience in the treatment and rehabilitation of individuals with brain injuries and a dual diagnosis. Dr. Gainer has designed and operated innovative rehabilitation programs in the United States and Canada for individuals who have been regarded as difficult to serve. He is currently involved in conducting two outcome studies related to the long-term issues faced by individuals with brain injuries and a dual diagnosis. He has presented papers throughout the United States and Canada in many professional conferences and educational forums.

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