Meeting the Needs of Students with a Traumatic Brain Injury

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Meeting the Needs of Students with a Traumatic Brain Injury

Traumatic brain injuries (TBI) are a leading cause of death and disability among children and adolescents, with an annual incidence estimated at 180 cases per 100,000 children between the ages of 1 and 15 in the United States (Yeates,2005).Traumatic brain injuries (TBI) are defined in the special education law in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 1990) as being an “injury to the brain caused by an external physical force, resulting in total or partial functional disability or psychosocial impairment” that affects a child's educational performance (Cave,2004). Knowing that, students learning needs are different from students with other exceptionalities (Spear,2005). General and special education teachers need to use a variety of specific strategies based on learning styles and certain resources, with students who have experienced a TBI, to promote learning in all subject areas.

A TBI alters a child’s mind and changes the way he or she thinks. Teachers must be aware of this and know how to adapt in order to accommodate their needs in the classroom. TBI’s change cognition and behavior in students and no two students with traumatic brain injury will display the same characteristics (Spear,2005). Students who have sustained a head injury may experience problems in physical, cognitive, and psychosocial areas. Physical effects

With regard to physical deficits, individuals with TBI may have an array of problems ranging from sensory deficits to difficulty with mobility. Headaches and fatigue are common, especially during the early stages of recovery (Bullock,2005). Their muscles may be “weak, hypotonic, or spastic,” which could interfere with learning activities such as writing and keyboarding. They may also experience seizures. In general, schools are more proficient at making physical accommodations for students. Cognitive Effects

Cognitive difficulties are common following a brain injury and some may seem quite baffling to educators unfamiliar with TBI (New York State Education Dept. ,1997). For example, children with TBI may have short-term memory problems, yet, may be able to easily recall information learned prior to their injury. This has significant implications for assessment purposes. Furthermore, it is possible for a student to perform well on “some widely used standard assessments” using his or her prior knowledge. Such a “false indication” of the student's current level of functioning may prevent the individual from receiving the proper services. To avoid this drawback, several different methods of assessment should be used when attempting to determine the needs of a student recovering from TBI.

Memory is only one aspect of cognition that is affected by TBI. It also commonly affects a student’s ability to attend to “instruction, mental processing speed, and thought formulation and reasoning”. These are only a few of the hardships faced by students who are affected by TBI and educators must be aware of these problems. Psychosocial Effects

Difficulties that result from changes in the student's social, emotional, and behavioral functioning are known as psychosocial effects (Bullock,2005). The changes in the brain resulting from the injury, along with stress and anxiety brought on by rehabilitation and recovery, may cause children with TBI to exhibit unusual emotional states, such as dramatic mood swings. This emotional state can bring negative reactions from peers and teachers and makes it difficult to maintain positive relationships. When children with TBI return to school, their educational and emotional needs are often very different than before the injury. Remembering how they were prior to the brain injury may make injured students feel “embarrassed, ashamed, or frustrated” about their change in performance in the classroom (Bullock,2005). Of the various types of difficulties resulting from brain injury, the psychosocial...
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