A new program at St. Joseph’s Parkwood Hospital is giving students with brain injuries the skills to successfully get back to school.
The Return to School Program teaches young adults the strategies to resume their studies while coping with their injury, explains speech language pathologist (SLP) Penny Welch West, who developed the program with her SLP colleagues Julie Hughes and Elizabeth Skirving. Instead of a one-on-one approach, they chose a group format to reach more students at once.
"For many, a brain injury comes at a crucial time in their lives when they’re in high school, college or university. They don’t have time to wait until there’s an opening in our Acquired Brain Injury (ABI) Program because every day they wait is another day lost in their school semester," explains Penny.
Students like 18-year-old Brady Cline know too well the struggle it is to return to school with a brain injury. With six concussions from sports, he is balancing schoolwork at Laurier Brantford and working part time. Before his last concussion, caused by a hit in a hockey game, Brady was an honour student.
"School used to be easy—things stayed in my head forever," he says. "Now I have to work really hard to remember anything."
Through the Return to School class, a conscientious Brady has learned new strategies to commit things to memory.
Sarah Brunke, 19, was heading out for a night with friends when she toppled off her high heels and hit her head on concrete. After the injury Sarah moved back home so her family could care for her until she recovered.
"Attending the Return to School program helped me realize there are other people going through the same health issues I am," says Sarah, who was attending the University of Guelph at the time of her injury and hopes to soon return to school. "I don’t feel so alone anymore."
The Return to School program addresses mild brain injury issues including fatigue, headaches, inattention, forgetfulness, dizziness and word-finding challenges. Students learn skills to help them succeed with reading, writing, social communication, studying and memory skills. In addition, they learn what accommodations they will need at school, such as a quiet room for writing exams and technology like a Livescribe Echo Smartpen to record lectures.
Through the innovative program, students like Brady and Sarah, whose lives have been interrupted by a mild brain injury, can get back on track more quickly and look forward to the future.