by Julia Howe
Welcome to our blog where we will share the work and ideas of trainees and tutors on the training course for educational psychologists at the University of Birmingham.
For our first blog post in Action for Brain Injury Week, I am looking at the work that educational psychologists can do to support children with a brain injury. An acquired brain injury is an injury that happens after birth. The cause can be an accident such as a fall or may be from an illness such as meningitis. My interest in brain injury developed through the work of one of our trainees, Dr Heather Ball. Heather’s research showed that educational psychologists can play an important role in supporting children with a brain injury in school. Often this does not happen.
Returning to School
The outcome of an acquired brain injury is a process of transition and transformation for the child and their family. One important transition happens when the child returns to school, especially if they have had a lengthy stay in hospital. This can be a time of great anxiety for the child and their family. Often the child has experienced a transformation in their sense of identity. This may be reinforced if they are moving to a special school because of their injury. If the child is going back to their old school this can be confusing for friends and classmates. They will be happy to see the child back at school but find it difficult when they are not quite the same as they were before their injury.
Educational psychologists can be a useful resource for teachers to help them to meet the needs of children with a brain injury. However Heather’s research showed that educational psychologists are not routinely involved in supporting these transitions and transformations. Requests for support often happen at a point when things have already started to be difficult for the child in school.
What do teachers know about brain injury?
Research has suggested that the general public’s understanding of brain injury is not always accurate. To explore this we asked Special Educational Needs Co-ordinators (SENCos) to complete a survey to measure their knowledge about the affects of brain injury in children. Our main finding was that SENCos were uncertain about their understanding of the impact of a brain injury for children. This included uncertainty about the myth that the plasticity of the developing brain leads to better outcomes for younger children with a brain injury. In fact, the reverse is true. This uncertainty is perhaps understandable as of the 55 SENCos who completed the survey only 13 had received any training about the effects of a brain injury for a child. As the definition of training that we used was very broad, this figure includes research by SENCos who had the internet for their own research, as well as more formal training.
There is a role for educational psychologists to support school staff when a child has an acquired brain injury. Educational psychologists can provide ongoing support following a discharge from hospital. This role should include training for teachers. Often this does not happen as the systems for children returning to school do not routinely involve educational psychologists.
Heather Ball graduated from the training course for educational psychologists in 2011.
Julia Howe is a course tutor on the educational psychology training course at the University of Birmingham.
Ball, H. and Howe, J. (2013) How can educational psychologists support the reintegration of children with acquired brain injury upon their return to school? Educational Psychology in Practice Vol 29, No 1, 69-78. https://doi.org/10.1080/02667363.2012.755460
Howe, J. and Ball, H. (2017) an exploratory study of Special Educational Needs Co-ordinators’ knowledge and experience of working with children who have sustained a brain injury. Support for Learning, 32 (1), 85-100.