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Clinic addresses needs of kids with brain injuries

July 06, 2009

Brain injuries are a leading cause of disability and death in children.

But kids with brain injuries are getting an innovative opportunity to reintegrate into the classroom and function to their highest level through the new Barrow Resource for Acquired Injury to the Nervous System (B.R.A.I.N.S) clinic at Barrow Neurological Institute at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center.  

The new clinic is the first of its kind to bring an educational component into a multidisciplinary treatment approach through the ASU College of Teacher Education and Leadership and neurosurgeons, neurologists, rehabilitation physicians and neuropsychologists from Barrow Neurological Institute. The Brain Injury Association of Arizona is also a partner in the project.

“Programs around the country measure their success by the ability to get adult patients back into the workforce and become productive members of society. There is no such model for children, which is where the value of this clinic lies,” says Javier Cardenas, who received his bachelor’s degree in special education at ASU and is a children’s neurologist at Barrow Neurological Institute. Adults will also receive care at the clinic. 

“The idea is to have all areas covered and to give patients a medical home,” Cardenas adds. “This is a spectacular opportunity for such a collaboration and very special to me, given my background as a former teacher. I went into neurology to care for the same population in a different way.”

Gina Warren of ASU will serve as project lead for the educational component of the program. Warren and her team will explain to parents and teachers common characteristics of students with traumatic brain injuries and how these may affect educational needs. Warren is coordinator of professional field experience at the Downtown Phoenix campus for the College of Teacher Education and Leadership.

Children with brain injuries can suffer from epilepsy, physical disability, headaches, memory impairment, sleeping problems, learning disabilities, endocrine abnormalities and personality disorders.

“Difficulties with attention and memory are common problems experienced by a child with a brain injury. These difficulties will need to be addressed in the classroom through the use of teaching strategies that are targeted at increasing student attention, engagement, and long-term retention of academic content,” Warren says.

Warren and her team will also provide pertinent information to teachers about medical findings that may have implications for student’s educational options.

“This is an exciting opportunity to bridge the gap between the medical and education perspectives of the child’s experience to better support the individualized needs of each child and family,” Warren says.

Many children with traumatic brain injuries require individualized attention to accommodate their needs in a classroom. Teachers who understand the medical diagnosis and its implications can design the right individual educational programming and determine the appropriate placement for the child.

“When teachers have a clear understanding of the medical diagnosis, and parents are informed and supported in both the medical and education sides of their child's life; it is easier to make sound, data-based decisions about how to address the classroom needs of the student,” Warren says.

Warren will recruit qualified interns from ASU who are enrolled in special education programs to conduct field work in the clinic.

“This internship experience will expose students to a multidisciplinary team approach for supporting students with disabilities and their families, which is critical for future special educators to understand and demonstrate competency,” Warren says. “This clinic will provide meaningful learning experiences for our future special education teachers.”