Helping Children with TBI Succeed in School by Janet Tyler, PhD
Parents can Help Children Succeed
While children and adolescents with traumatic brain injury (TBI) are often faced with many cognitive, academic, and behavioral challenges after their injury, parents can employ many strategies to help ensure that their child has the best possible chance of succeeding in school. First and foremost, following a TBI a child should be referred to the school system for a comprehensive evaluation for special education services.
Parents should make the request for an initial evaluation in writing to their child’s school principal or special education director. If identified, a child with TBI can receive an array of supports to address individual needs through either an Individual Education Plan (IEP) under The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA) or a 504 Plan under the Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
Services offered under IDEA include, but are not limited to, specially designed instruction, occupational therapy, speech-language therapy, physical therapy, recreation therapy, psychological services, counseling services, and social work services. A 504 Plan generally includes accommodations such as extended time to complete assignments and tests, provision of notes for class lectures, preferential seating in the classroom, and special materials such as large print books.
Develop a Relationship with Teachers
Research has shown that a critical factor influencing school success for children with TBI is the degree of collaboration between the child’s parents and educators. Once a child is back in school following a TBI, parents will want to develop and maintain a non-adversarial working relationship with their child’s teachers. Parents may find it helpful to research tips for being a proactive advocate for their child and to practice effective communication skills when working with their child’s school team, such as using “I” statements.
At the beginning of each school year parents should seek to establish a system of ongoing communication with their child’s teachers, one that will keep both parties abreast of day-to-day happenings and alert all to any minor problems before they become major crises. Parents and teachers should decide together on the easiest form of communication for all parties, whether it is checklists, notes, emails, phone calls, or brief meetings, and agree to a schedule for the interactions.
Learn About Brain Injury to Inform Teachers
It is also essential for parents to gain as much knowledge as they can about the effects of TBI in children, and for them to understand that their child’s teacher may or may not have had training or experience working with students with TBI, as many teachers do not.
Since parents of students with TBI hold a wealth of information about their child’s unique needs, it is extremely helpful for the parents to meet with teachers at the beginning of the school year and provide them with a short overview of their child’s injury, course of recovery, current needs, and behavior and learning strategies that have proven helpful in the past. The parent could have the child start with a minor role in the presentation and then each year take on a greater role in the presentation. This is a great way for students to learn to identify their needs and practice self-advocacy skills, while conveying the necessary information to the teachers.
Good Parenting Skills Help at Home
Additionally, parents can help their child succeed in school by carrying out good parenting skills at home. Setting clear boundaries and expectations, and being consistent in enforcing rules and offering praise has been shown to help children with TBI have better adaptive functioning and social competence. Practices such as having a written set of rules for expected behaviors and a list of chores are beneficial for children as well as adolescents. Designated homework times help with organization, and set schedules for bed times are necessary to deal with fatigue and sleep issues following TBI.
Tutoring Can Help
Lastly, students with TBI may benefit greatly from having someone tutor them after school and during the summer. Children and adolescents generally need extra time and practice to master much of their academic work. A tutor can help the child with specific homework or practice needed skills such as reading and math. Parents have so many additional roles after their child receives a brain injury, this could be one place where they could let someone else take responsibility. Often, a child responds better to someone other than the parent when being asked to do a non-preferred activity, and having a tutor gives the parent a little time off. Options for tutors are not just limited to paid tutors—say, teachers or college students–but could include after-school tutoring programs offered by school districts, or non-paid tutors like high school or college students in volunteer programs, friends, or relatives.
Parents wanting to learn more about TBI in school-aged children are encourage to visit the following websites:
DePompei, R., Blosser, J., Savage, R., & Lash, M. (2011). Special educational IEP checklist for a student with a brain injury. Wake Forest, NC: Lash & Associates Publishing/Training Inc.
Glang, A., Ettel, D., Tyler, J.S., & Todis, B. (2013). Educational issues and school reentry for students with traumatic brain injury. In N.D. Zasler, D.I. Katz, & R.D. Zafonte (Eds.), Brain Injury Medicine: Principles and Practice (2nd ed.) (pp. 602-620). New York: Demos.
Tyler, J., & Wilkerson, L. (2007). Section 504 plan checklist for a student with a brain injury. Wake Forest, NC: Lash & Associates Publishing/Training Inc.
About the author
As a special educator, Dr. Janet Tyler has not only worked directly with students with TBI, but she also trained educators to serve those students. For 23 years, she directed an innovative statewide program in Kansas that provided training and consultation to educators serving students with TBI and their families. She is now in private practice providing educational consultation and training services to school districts, lawyers, medical personnel, and parents of children with TBI. Dr. Tyler can be reached http://www.kstbi.org/