The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that more than 60,000 children and adolescents are hospitalized annually in the United States after sustaining moderate to severe brain injuries from motor vehicle crashes, falls, sports and physical abuse.
Children with Unidentified TBI Miss Special Ed Services
Damage from a TBI may be subtle and often goes undetected. If an injury occurred in infancy or before a child reaches school age, parents may not realize there could be a connection with the injury and learning and behavioral problems when the child enters school. When the information about an injury does not follow a child through his or her educational career, as frequently happens when a child moves from school-to-school, the child either does not receive special education services at all or receives services for a disability other than TBI.
Brain Check Survey Detects Hidden TBI
Because neither a parent nor doctor can tell the full extent of an injury at the time of the injury, school personnel must know how to look for subtle and longer-term effects on any student who has suffered a traumatic brain injury. In a case when there are symptoms but no known TBI, the school must be able to identify the injury to properly place the student in special education services.
Researchers Pat Sample and David Greene, both faculty in Colorado State University’s Department of Occupational Therapy, have developed a screening tool, called a Brain Check Survey, to detect a past TBI in school age children. Donna Detmar-Hanna, occupational therapist for the Poudre School District in Colorado reports that, to date, the Brain Check Survey has been used to screen around 10 to 12 students, and has been helpful in connecting past brain injury with present symptoms and behaviors.
Previously, a student needed to present an official documentation of a medical TBI diagnosis to be placed into special education with a TBI categorization. Now a few states will accept evidence of credible TBI history instead of medical diagnosis, which may be absent, and the results from Sample and Green’s Brain Check Survey can be offered as evidence of a past TBI.
Schools Best to Identify TBI and Follow Student Progress
The seriousness of a brain injury can best be determined by the effect it has on physical health, learning, behavior, and social development, and schools can watch these children for years and decades.
Schools need to:
- Be aware of a brain injury when disclosed by a parent or medical professional.
- Watch for changes in learning, behavior or social skill development.
- Be able to assess and identify appropriate educational options individualized for the student.
A student with a brain injury may have problems in school that look the same as children with other disabilities, such as Attention-Deficit Disorder, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, or Emotional and Behavioral Disturbance. Because interventions that work for these disorders may be ineffective for a child with a brain injury, a teacher must be able to identify and understand the true cause of a problem to help the child.