IIHHS organizations collaborate on pediatric brain injury training and education


SUMMARY: Crossroads to Brain Injury Recovery (CBIR) and the Training and Technical Assistance Center (T/TAC) co-hosted the Pediatric Brain Injury Education and Training workshop in September.

By: Laura Mack '16
Creative Services Student Writer

The Institute for Innovation in Health and Human Services at James Madison University establishes a bridge between campus and the community by providing clinical health services and outreach to the broader Harrisonburg area.  While partner organizations of IIHHS usually collaborate directly with the community, they have also been working on joint projects within IIHHS, combining their organizational skills and connections to better serve residents. One such effort that has laid the foundation for collaborative work was the Pediatric Brain Injury Education and Training workshop that IIHHS affiliates Crossroads to Brain Injury Recovery (CBIR) and the Training and Technical Assistance Center (T/TAC) hosted together on September 15, 2017.

The seminar entitled “Pediatric Brain Injury Training and Education: Little Brains, Big Problems” was held at JMU and covered a variety of topics to familiarize local educators with the adolescent brain and how to manage classroom behaviors resulting from brain injury. Sixty-five participants attended, representing a variety of education-related fields: special education, speech pathology, counseling, general education and school administration.

The day began with an overview of the anatomy of the brain and types of brain injury. “The anatomy piece is something educators are not normally exposed to,” said Kandy Grant, a T/TAC coordinator. “It’s helpful just understanding how kids develop, even without a brain injury. I think educators sometimes have expectations of children that don’t match what’s going on in their brain.” Tamara Wagester, the executive director of CBIR, reiterated the impact of brain injuries on a developing brain, stating “Consider your frontal lobe. It manages your executive functioning and the ability to control emotions. That area is under so much development that a child with an injury to the frontal lobe could see these repercussions for years. That’s one of the reasons children must be treated differently.”

Guest speakers spoke about the neurocognitive and psychological issues associated with brain injuries. Bernice Marcopulos, a professor in the department of graduate psychology at JMU specializing in neuropsychology, spoke about the impact of brain injuries on children and her experiences working with schools to study and manage these issues.

The keynote speaker was a school teacher who had suffered a brain injury himself. “He talked about having a growth mindset, which is the idea that you work to get back to where you want to be, rather than having a fixed mindset where you focus on what you can no longer do with this injury,” said Amber Knighting, another T/TAC coordinator. Grant added, “A lot of education is learning that mistakes are growth. It’s understanding that you’re not there yet but you’re going to keep working towards something. He played that well to the educators’ role.”

This growth mindset concept shapes the way educators use positive behavioral interventions in the classroom to work with students sustaining brain injuries, which was the last topic discussed at the seminar in breakout groups. “It’s a proactive approach – trying to do things before behavior starts to change. We teach kids what’s expected with direct instruction, not just assuming they should already know the rules,” said Grant. “Then you acknowledge when they are acting accordingly, rather than focusing on associating punishment with bad behavior.”

Overall, educators gained greater awareness of what happens outside the classroom that might be affecting student behavior. “When I was a teacher, I didn’t always think about what was happening with students over the weekend. But it’s knowing to ask those questions and building that awareness,” said Grant. These workshops and resources are meant to prepare school systems to best support their students, especially when teachers play key roles in observing and reporting behavior changes that might typically go unnoticed. 

After such a successful partnership, CBIR and T/TAC are already considering another seminar, this time focusing more on neuropsychology and behavior. “We all do outreach through our own organizations, but it’s never been knitted together quite so beautifully before to reach educators using both of our audiences,” Wagester noted. Collaborative efforts between IIHHS affiliates increases access to education and clinical resources, effectively positioning JMU as a facilitator for community engagement. 

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Published: Monday, December 11, 2017

Last Updated: Thursday, January 23, 2020

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