Helping College Students with Brain Injury
In 2007, I met a young woman who was returning to college after having sustained a brain injury. After seeing the challenges that she faced, I realized that the standard accommodations provided by Disability Services on college campuses are insufficient to meet the unique needs of students with brain injury. Most accommodations are designed for those with physical or learning disabilities; yet increasing numbers of young adults with brain injury are attending college with the expectation of academic success. When we turned to the published literature to find out about the needs of college students with brain injury, we were surprised to find very little information. There were numerous studies that described problems with being employed after brain injury, but few studies described factors that could affect success in college. So, we created an electronic survey for individuals who had attended college after having a brain injury called the College Survey for Students with Brain Injury (CSS-BI, Kennedy & Krause, 2009).
Our initial study was descriptive: we wanted to know about the problems individuals faced attending college after brain injury and we wanted to find out what assistance or services they had received. It was not too surprising to us that when attending college, adults with brain injury reported many more academic challenges than students without brain injury (Kennedy & Krause, 2010; Kennedy, Krause & Turkstra, 2008). What did surprise us was the nearly 50% of individuals who reported that they had very limited or no contact with campus Disability Services. Yet 67% reported that they would be (or would have been) interested in getting assistance from an educator who has expertise in helping college students with brain injury.
In 2010, we examined the internal structure of the academic challenges reported on the CSS-BI by adults with brain injury. We found that a three-factor model explained 65% of the variability. That is, there were three kinds of underlying groupings: 1) learning and studying; 2) managing time; and 3) psychosocial issues and relating to others. These factors became the foundation around which to provide support to college students with brain injury.
The College Program for Students with Brain Injury is based on a dynamic, interactive coaching model, in which students receive support based on their neuropsychological strengths, weakness, preferences and academic interests. Academic coaches are speech-language pathologists who have expertise in working with individuals with cognitive and communication impairments after brain injury. Students and coaches identify goals around the three domains above with a specific emphasis on ‘self-regulation’ or ‘self-efficacy’: self-learning, self-management, and self-advocacy. Best practice instructional principles from cognitive rehabilitation therapy are adhered to as students learn, use and self-assess the effectiveness of strategies as they attend college. Kennedy and Krause (2011) recently described this program with two student case examples, showing that it is feasible to provide this support and that improved academic performance and changes in self-efficacy can be attained.