Back to School with TBI

By G. Ian Bowles

For many people with a traumatic brain injury, going back to school can be quite threatening: both personally and professionally.

My own brain injury happened three years after I finished my M.S. in geography. I had not intended to end my schooling when I had finished that degree, and I was not about to let my car accident impede my lifelong goal of education. But difficulties in memory and understanding make classes difficult: especially when we often expect ourselves to grasp things at a faster pace. pace that we often expect of ourselves.

Below are some of the principles that are recognized to help TBI survivors to return to class. For me, I was not only able to get back to school, but for several years I taught at the university level, south of the border.

Filling their minds with new ideas. ;Image: ;FreeDigitalPhotos.net;;

Filling their minds with new ideas. Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Challenges

Whether going back to high school, university or work-related classes, the thought of an intense, structured learning program can be intimidating. Often, learning new material is difficult for people with brain injuries, and school is nothing but new ideas. Fatigue can also be a problem, since many of us tire easily.

There is also a social perspective necessary for group projects or for getting help, and sometimes this can be beyond the reach of TBI survivors, according to the Tramautic Brain Injury Survival Guide written by Michigan-based Clinical Neuropsychologist Dr. Glen Johnson. But we can adapt to situations. Often it is fear of these situations that is our biggest obstacle.

Help is available

Usually, there will be some kind of assistance offered as a structured part of the school or university: it is just a matter of finding it, and qualifying , according to Brainline. This could involve some investment of time and energy before classes actually start, and during the term to keep the administration abreast of any difficulties.

Talk to those who are in charge; find out what’s possible and how to get involved. Sometimes it involves a letter from a doctor; sometimes help is based on individual situations and happenings. This is why it’s important to remember to tell them about difficulties, as they happen.

School strategies

There are many strategies that can be used to compensate for a brain injury. Studying is important: a lot of repetition rather than simply “cramming” for an exam. Start early and don’t leave things until the last minute.

Some people use multiple senses in studying: reading, writing, speaking and hearing. I’ve done this: simply rewriting my notes will help me to remember, even if I never look at those particular notes again.

Some people need breaks or extra time during an exam; such compensation is not difficult to achieve.

Worth the effort

Walking through the steps thus takes longer for TBI survivors, and we have to work harder: but our education is worth it. It should be noted that each person, and each injury, is different. Some strategies that work for some people will not work for others. What seem to be subtle variations in a method can mean the difference between success and failure.

So it’s important to keep trying. Although it’s easy to say, “don’t get frustrated”, this will often happen. It’s important to consciously move beyond frustration in order to achieve our goals. It might also take longer for a TBI survivor to achieve educational goals. Kelli Williams Gary describes how she was able to overcome the many difficulties associated with her condition: and most significantly, that it took several tries to actually complete her education. She started slow to get used to the process of retraining her brain, and eventually relearned study skills and was reintegrated into the school. She was able to build back slowly, and eventually completed her PhD in Occupational Therapy. It took her longer than the average person, but she was able to finish her degrees.

G. Ian Bowles, brain injury survivor and BIST Communications Committee Chair

For more strategies and tips for returning to school after a TBI, visit Duke Medicine and Brain Injury Hub

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