This podcast is part of a series that highlights adjustments that can be made in the classroom to enable students with disability to access and participate in education on the same basis as their peers.
In this episode, we talk about potential adjustments teachers can make in the classroom to support students with acquired brain injury (ABI). Unlike a genetic or congenital disorder, ABI occurs as a result of trauma, such as a car accident, leading to brain damage. The impact of ABI is greatly varied, therefore students with ABI will experience vastly different challenges. Some students with ABI may have difficulties with executive functioning, such as planning and organisation, while others may have difficulty concentrating, or fatigue easily. Students can also present with communication difficulties as well as behavioural issues, such as a controlling emotions or reading the emotions of others.
Year 7 student Miles describes how ABI affects him day-to-day. His mum Simone talks about how the injury has had a profound effect on his energy levels and explains the difficulty of managing cognitive fatigue. Teacher Stav Mavridis discusses the importance of knowing the student’s medical history as well as getting to know their individual characteristics. Dr Ruth Tesselaar warns that cognitive challenges can start to look like behavioural issues.
Top five takeaways
Remember that ABI can cause mental fatigue, so factor in regular brain, or rest, breaks throughout the day. This may involve a combination of quiet time and rigorous physical activity.
Understand that fatigue can be the cause of behavioural issues such as inappropriate actions. Don’t respond with strategies that deal with misbehaviour; rather, look at ways to manage the student’s energy levels such as reducing their workload instead.
To help with focus and to reduce distractibility provide students who have ABI with a checklist of tasks – this will help them to stay on track. Encourage them to collect their thoughts on paper and arrange a dedicated time to answer all of their questions – this will prevent regular interruptions. In addition, sit the student at the front of the class to avoid distractions from other students.
If a student with ABI has difficulties with fine motor skills and find handwriting particularly challenging, introduce adjustments that integrate the use of technology, such as ‘speech to text’ software that allows for the student to dictate an essay. Instead of note-taking, the student could take photos of the whiteboard and integrate it into their digital notes supporting the recall of information.
Use visual prompts to help with organisation and planning, such as notes and checklists. Build regular routines into the day so the student knows what is expected of them in the classroom setting.
Why is it important to have regular contact with the student and the family of a student with ABI?
How can I help manage a student’s cognitive fatigue so that it doesn’t impact their learning?
What signs do I have to look out for that indicate the student may be struggling with their energy levels?
If a student with ABI is struggling with handwriting, how can I incorporate technological tools in my classroom to help support them?
What steps can I take to help a student with ABI avoid distractibility and lack of focus?