Some of the common effects of severe head injuries may include problems with thinking and remembering, vision, hearing, and speech; or muscle weakness and coordination; as well as related physical impairments, behavioral exaggeration, and emotional problems occasioned by the need to adjust to a “new self.”
The sophisticated levels of today’s medical and rehabilitative programs are making it possible for a growing number of individuals suffering from head injuries to pursue higher education. However, traumatic brain injury is, as yet, uncharted territory. Physicians and neurosurgeons are not able to provide information that can allow head-injured persons to achieve their potential. While it can identify the nature and severity of the injury, the medical profession is not prepared to guide the head-injured person and those working with him or her to an understanding of the individual’s maximum potential, rate of recovery, or requisite tools to aid in recovery.
Most head-injured students are in the mid-to-late twenties age group and predominantly male. The nature and extent of support services they may require will vary, depending on the severity of brain injury, the presence of multiple disabilities; and the amount of rehabilitation they may have already received.
Unlike students with other types of disability, head-injured students may not be able to guide their instructors to an understanding of the kind of modifications they require. Because these students may be grappling with new identities as disabled individuals and learning about successful modifications only as they go along, both students and teachers may need to experiment a bit. Usually the head-injured student will need additional time for testing, reading and completing papers and reports. Tutoring is also frequently necessary because of the difficulty these students may have in processing information.
Head-injured students commonly have difficulty recognizing and accepting that they may not yet be able to learn and function as they did before their injury. This is particularly true of individuals who have high IQs or who were once excellent students. These students may have particular difficulty accepting, for example, the fact that they no longer remember how to do quadratic equations or cannot finish their examinations within the allotted time. Frequently, they persist in setting up unrealistic goals – unrealistic because they are based on what they could do before the injury.
Cognitive Retraining of Head-Injured People
Cognitive retraining of head-injured people is a new and growing field where, essentially, involves training undamaged parts of the brain to do tasks formerly done by parts that are now damaged.
For the present, the responsibility of finding alternative ways for the head-injured person to cope with his or her education is left to the shared resourcefulness of those of us who come in contact with such students. What is clear is that we must give the students a chance to find ways in which to be successful.
Techniques Found Helpful by Head-Injured Students
- Studying “out loud” by recitation and discussion for those still having difficulty remembering information
- Giving precise information concerning materials and chapters to be covered in examinations to those still unable to make judgments about relative priorities
- Having notetakers in the class both for those still unable to judge the relative importance of what is being said, and for those who may be unable to write down everything that is said
- Giving oral examinations to those who are still unable properly to organize their thoughts and “ramble”, or to those whom it may be necessary to “draw out” in order to determine their grasp of the material
- Meeting deadlines – remembering what has just been said, or agreed to may be inconsistent. This is not manipulation.