For any family, back to school time can be both an exciting and stressful experience. Families do their best to prepare for the year ahead. They also do their best to adjust to unexpected demands when they need to. For families caring for a child with a brain injury, there are a multitude of factors that need to be considered and extra steps that have to be taken to prepare their children for a fun and successful school year.

Parents of children with brain injuries are experts on the effects of their children’s injuries. Not every head injury affects a child in the same way, so not all kids will experience the same set of challenges. The following is a list of general speech, language, and thinking skills necessary for school success and may be affected by a brain injury:

  • Attending to speech and remembering and executing multiple-step verbal instructions
  • Filtering out irrelevant, unnecessary, or distracting noise or information
  • Figuring out hidden meanings from literal language
  • “Reading” body language
  • Retelling events in a logical, understandable manner (in speaking or writing)
  • Speaking clearly and smoothly
  • Taking turns in a conversation
  • Using age- and socially-appropriate vocabulary and grammar
  • Solving verbally-based problems that require a variety of reasoning skills

This list is not exhaustive…there is a lot more to the speech, language and thinking skills of children at every year of their schooling! Check out this short video to learn a little more about head injuries.

So what can parents do to ensure their child’s success during the school year? Again, each child and family has different needs, so the following are general suggestions:

  • Know your child’s true language and verbal reasoning skills. Clear expressive language in a casual conversation is not always telling of expressive or receptive language problems. Have your child seen by a Speech-Language Pathologist.
  • Know your child’s curriculum expectations for the year. What are the academic and social skills that children your child’s age are expected to have by the end of the year?
  • Know your school board’s policies regarding accommodations for students
  • Tell your school about your child’s injury and request an initial meeting with relevant personnel. Be sure to have copies available of all reports from professionals to share with the school. You are not obligated to do this, but the more documentation and test results you provide to the team, the faster things generally move to establish an Individualized Education Plan (IEP).
  • Be involved in the development of your child’s IEP. This is an important document that outlines the specific accommodations your child needs to optimize success in school.
  • Be involved in communications with your child’s school. Ask questions and demand clear answers. Ask when meetings are planned, attend them, and ask for documentation related to these meetings.
  • Review your child’s Ontario School Record (OSR). Every student has one and its contents belong to you and your child. Be sure that the information contained in it is accurate. You can have content in the OSR amended or removed outright at your discretion.

As in all health-related matters, each child’s needs will differ. Hopefully, these suggestions can minimize the challenges associated with returning to school. We all want our children to not only be successful at school, but to enjoy the experience, as well!