Traumatic Brain Injuries among children and teens are a leading cause of death and disability, with nearly 30,000 children a year sustaining a brain injury that will cause permanent damage to their brains. Researchers claim that due to unreported concussions and other sports-related injuries, this number could be even higher.
Students who sustain traumatic brain injuries will often have trouble reintegrating into the academic system, and it’s critical to understand the continued deficits they may struggle with and the compensatory strategies that could benefit the student. It can help to know the background on traumatic brain injuries as well as the physical, emotional, cognitive, and social challenges that can appear as a result of the trauma. Supporting your child through this difficult period can be daunting and overwhelming, so it can also help to know what options exist for additional academic and emotional support following a traumatic brain injury.
Traumatic Brain Injuries and their causes and symptoms
A traumatic brain injury is caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head that disrupts the normal function of the brain, and not all bumps to the head will result in a TBI. TBI’s can range from mild where the person will experience a brief change in mental status or consciousness to severe where the person will experience an extended period of unconsciousness or memory loss following the injury. The most common types of traumatic brain injuries include concussions, contusions, and skull fractures.
Traumatic brain injuries can be caused by a range of triggers, with the most common cause being falling, as almost half of all TBI-related emergency room visits were caused by falls. Other common causes include being struck by or against an object, being in a motor vehicle accident, child abuse, and concussions sustained from sport-related activities. Teenage boys are at a greater risk for sustaining a TBI as research indicates boys at this age are nearly twice as likely to experience a head injury as teenage girls.
Symptoms of traumatic brain injuries can appear differently in each child and will vary depending on how severe the injury is. There are some common symptoms you can look for including a raised, swollen area from a bump or bruise, a small shallow cut in the scalp, headaches, sensitivity to noise and light, irritability or abnormal behavior, confusion, lightheadedness or dizziness, problems with balance, nausea, struggling to remember or concentrate, disrupted sleeping patterns, blurred vision, ringing in the ears, changes in taste, and a lack of energy. If the head injury is more severe, the child could also experience a loss of consciousness, repeated vomiting, loss of short-term memory, slurred speech, trouble walking, seizures, and loss of thinking and awareness of surroundings.
Following a head injury, there are several tests your doctor will complete to assess the injury and the severity of your son’s condition such as blood tests, X-rays, an MRI, a CT scan, and an EEG. Depending on the severity of the injury, there may be a delay in when your child is able to return to school, and even once he is, he could face a host of academic issues related to his head trauma.
Academic issues associated with Traumatic Brain Injuries
Parental involvement and early intervention are essential when reintegrating your son into the school system following a TBI. Parents have the most up-to-date information regarding their child’s condition and they can serve as advocates for their child to ensure all necessary supports are in place to ease the transition. Even with these supports, there are some academic challenges associated with traumatic brain injuries.
For some teens, the academic effects of a TBI might not appear immediately, but over time as thinking and social activities at school increase. Teens are likely to experience physical challenges related to the school environment such as extreme tiredness, headaches, awkward movements, and a heightened sensitivity to light and noise. All of these factors can impact your child’s ability to complete full school days, so slow reintegration is essential.
Children can also experience cognitive difficulties in the classroom related to forgetfulness, difficulty learning and processing new material, word-finding difficulties, problems with organizing materials and information, and struggling to concentrate and focus on tasks for long periods of time. These difficulties are often paired with emotional challenges such as struggling to deal with minor changes in their daily routine or depression to these new challenges they are facing.
Lastly, children can experience myriad behavioral challenges in the classroom due to triggers associated with their head trauma. Students with TBI can become over-stimulated very easily from noisy hallways and crowded classrooms and this can cause them to experience emotional distress. Physical and cognitive activities at school may also overwhelm the student, prompting emotional outbursts, particularly as the student fatigues throughout the day.
To help mitigate these challenges, school personnel should be contacted immediately following your child’s brain injury so that together you can come up with a plan for the student’s return to school. School systems are required to have special services in place to help students with disabilities return to school, but not all schools and programs may be familiar with the specific needs of students following TBIs. Working with a neuropsychologist can help bridge this gap by evaluating the student’s current strengths and abilities and recommending possible supports in and out of the classroom, such as what classes the student should be placed in and what modifications they may need inside the classroom.
Following a TBI, children and teens returning to school will be placed in one of 4 types of classrooms: inclusion class, resource room, self-contained class, or an out-of-district placement. Those in inclusion classrooms will be in a regular class with a special education teacher available to adjust the curriculum to the student’s abilities. This allows the student to be in class with his peers but may not provide the intensive help some students need. A resource room is for students who need intensive help to keep up with grade-level work on certain subjects where a special education teacher works with only a small group of students. A self-contained class means the student is taught in a small, controlled setting with a special education teacher all day that offers structure, routine and specialized instruction. Lastly, an out-of-district placement may be suggested if your child is unable to thrive in his typical school environment. These placements are usually specialized schools specifically designed to address special learning or behavioral needs. If your son needs specialized instruction and support following a traumatic brain injury, New Focus Academy can help.
How New Focus Academy can help support your son
New Focus Academy is a residential treatment center for boys ages 12-18 who struggle with autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders such as traumatic brain injuries. We believe all teens deserve the chance to lead productive, independent lives, and our goal is to help prepare students who have struggled with executive functioning for problems they may face in the real world.
At our school for neurodevelopmental disorders, students’ unique learning abilities and challenges are addressed through individualized education programs. As students work toward graduation, they also learn valuable life and vocational skills to prepare them for employment and an independent life. Our mission in the classroom is to take students who have been frustrated by the traditional classroom setting and provide them with differentiated instruction in a supportive environment that promotes self-determination, resilience, and excellence in learning. We utilize small class sizes and hands-on real-world instruction to accelerate independence and relational skills.
We understand that students with social-cognitive deficits process information differently than their peers, so we use evidence-based practices to help our uniquely abled students succeed at learning self determination. New Focus Academy teaches Utah Common Core Curriculum with a focus on the essential elements, which provide ways for students to learn life skills, functional math and language skills, community based living skills, and social-emotional skills. Below is a breakdown of some of our academics:
Life Skills: self-assessment, critical thinking, problem solving, decision making
Functional Math: using calendars, counting money, budgeting, measuring
Functional Language Arts: reading instructions, identifying important information, reading schedules, using adaptive tools
Community-Based Living: using public transportation, shopping, time-management, planning for emergencies
Social-Emotional Learning: emotional regulation, social and physical boundaries, internet safety, job specific social skills
Each week, our students will participate in a structured schedule that allows for a safe, predictable atmosphere with designated school, therapy group, and study hours. Students will work with dedicated coaches and therapists to build their skill set and practice these skills in everyday scenarios to gain fluency. Our students also have ample opportunities each week to connect with peers in a support community to embrace their learned skills and make meaningful connections. Students’ weekly schedule also includes a focus on wellness including physical and mental health, in which we teach students about nutrition and empower them to participate in every step of the meal planning process.
Call (435) 383-4369 for more information on how New Focus Academy can help.