How to support students with brain injury in remote learning

Keep these four considerations in mind when educating students with traumatic brain injury, whom many districts find eligible for 504 accommodations.
By: | November 9, 2020
Getty Images, yacobchukGetty Images, yacobchuk

To be eligible under Section 504, a student must be determined, as a result of an evaluation, to have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. 29 USC 705 (20)(B).

Traumatic brain injury is not one of the impairments that the Office for Civil Rights specifically cites in Dear Colleague Letter, 58 IDELR 79 (OCR 2012), as a disability that should result in a finding of 504 eligibility in virtually every case. However, given the wide range of difficulties students with brain injuries may experience, districts should be wary about either declining to evaluate such students or finding them ineligible under 504.

Students with TBI may find remote learning challenging. Here are a few considerations school teams might make to recognize and address those challenges:

1. Understand the limitations caused by remote learning.

Individuals with brain injury face significant challenges using remote technology, such as computers or iPads, says Michael Kaplen, an attorney at De Caro & Kaplen, LLP in New York. This is because individuals with brain injuries may have problems with:

  • Eyesight and ability to focus on the screen.
  • Ability to multitask.
  • Sustaining concentration for extended periods.
  • Eliminating outside distractions.

“These general problems for people with disabilities get exacerbated [when] trying to use technology,” Kaplen says. In addition, individuals with brain injury struggle with following instructions, and their ability to follow through is compromised.

2. Ensure person assisting the student is trained in brain injury.

Students with brain injury will most likely need someone to be with them while they try to engage in remote learning, Kaplen says. This person needs to help them follow along with the lessons and assist them. “It’s very difficult to imagine they can accomplish this on their own,” he adds.

As such, the person working with the student needs to have a basic understanding of the issues confronted by people with brain injury, and the specific issues that this student has. “Every brain injury is unique, and every student is faced with different challenges,” he explains.

3. Create a learning plan.

“You just can’t invite [a student with a brain injury] to a Zoom meeting tomorrow morning and say, ‘Let’s go!'” Kaplen says. “You will need significant planning in advance with this population.”

Create a plan that determines which technology would work best for her and how to provide the student and whoever is going to assist her with the necessary instructions to be successful.

4. Put accommodations into place.

For students with TBI, the classroom must be adapted, even for live learning. “That has to be considered with presenting the information remotely as well. If they have trouble concentrating in the classroom, can you imagine how that’s exacerbated on a remote, small computer screen?” Kaplen says.

Accommodations for students with brain injury might include giving rest periods, limiting the amount of homework, or limiting the hours spent in class.

Florence Simmons covers Section 504, paraprofessionals, and transportation for Special Ed Connection, a DA sister publication.