by Kellie Pokrifka
Pursuing education is a deeply personal and individualized matter. The journey of every single student is unique. Following a brain injury, these differences are even more pronounced. Learning to accept your journey without comparison to others is critical. If we can achieve this, we become our own advocates versus just another obstacle.
Here are a few ways we can be our own best advocates to help us succeed in returning to school after brain injury:
Get an IEP in place before returning to school – About 1 million children sustain a TBI each year. Only 438, or .25% (less than one percent!) of these kids will receive an IEP, or special education plan. This lack of identification and accommodation leads to drastic inequalities and disadvantages. The dropout rate of those with learning disabilities, including those resulting from brain injury, is triple that of the average student. Not only do you morally deserve accommodations, you legally deserve them. It is your legal right to have equal access to public education.
Complete neuropsychological testing – Neuropsychologists can help identify specific learning deficits and can provide a wide range of strategies to help offset these difficulties. Identifying specific difficulties helps to identify specific solutions. This added help can drastically pay off. Consider your neuropsychologist your coach for going back to school.
Utilize computer-assisted learning – Take advantage of what technology has to offer. Textbooks can be converted with text-to-speech software. Lectures can be recorded. PowerPoint slides can be printed off prior to that lecture. All of these steps can help decrease the possibility of overstimulation and depletion of our cognitive reserve.
Implement the Pomodoro Technique – This strategy is also used to prevent neurofatigue and overstimulation. It uses timed intervals to give “brain breaks.” The standard protocol states that for every 20 minutes spent studying, a 5-minute resting period is required. However, these numbers will need to be individualized for each student.
Schedule classes appropriately – Many schools tend to adopt strict attendance policies. However, these policies are not designed for students with disabilities. Work closely with the school (disabilities office, guidance counselor, principal, teacher, etc.) to design a policy that will actually benefit the student. Consider your specific needs. Are your symptoms worse in the mornings? Schedule afternoon classes. Can classes be scheduled every other day so that there is ample time off for rest and doctors’ appointments? Education is difficult enough without having to fight against our own bodies.
Be confident in your advocacy – Brain injury really forces you to learn how to advocate for yourself. We need to advocate to our doctors to take our health seriously. We need to advocate to society to treat us with respect. And we certainly need to advocate to our schools to support us and provide proper accessibility. This process is extremely challenging. It can be a disheartening and demoralizing process. Keep your confidence throughout this process. Remember that regardless of how your message is received, you deserve these accommodations. You deserve this respect. Nothing is more important than your health, and nobody knows your own needs better than you do.
Kellie is a TBI survivor and works as an intermediary between the experts and the patients with brain injuries.