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Collaborative effort focuses on pediatric traumatic brain injury

Oct. 11, 2012, 10:35 AM

Vanderbilt’s Bill Wilkerson Center and the Department of Hearing and Speech Sciences are offering new interdisciplinary outpatient programs for children ages 3 to 21 who have experienced a traumatic brain injury (TBI).

The program is a collaborative effort of the Pi Beta Phi Rehabilitation Institute at the Vanderbilt Bill Wilkerson Center, the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt and Project BRAIN, a program of the Tennessee Disability Coalition. In addition to these partners, the Pediatric TBI program expects to work closely with colleagues in the Sports Concussion Clinic and the newly established Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.

After a brain injury, a child may have deficits in attention, memory, language and information processing and impaired judgment and reasoning, which can influence his or her ability to interact in social and school environments. In addition, the child may have significant physical challenges, including balance problems.

“We are excited to work with our partners throughout Vanderbilt to improve the long-term outcomes for children who are living with the effects of a TBI,” said Michael de Riesthal, Ph.D., director of the Pi Beta Phi Rehabilitation Institute.

“Children who have experienced a TBI often ‘grow into’ their deficits, which may not be identified until the demands of the environment make them evident. We will continue working with these children and their families as their needs change.”

Challenges that arise for children who have experienced a TBI may be immediate or emerge as the child continues to develop, so the need for rehabilitative services may change as the social and academic demands of the child’s environment change.

“This interdisciplinary program will address the issue of successful return to school and provides a service to children and their families that has not been available in Middle Tennessee before for this age range,” said Anne Marie Tharpe, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Hearing and Speech Sciences and associate director of the Vanderbilt Bill Wilkerson Center.

Project BRAIN Director Paula Denslow said the program’s interdisciplinary team will support the child’s ‘world,’ which is at home and, in many cases, returning to a school environment. Schools are the largest provider of services for a student, and this expanded program will directly support the educator as well as the family, she added.

“TBI is unique to each person, and signs can be visible or hidden. Therefore, all services must be customized to meet that person’s need,” Denslow said. “The new pediatric TBI program will be able to support not only the child who is injured, but do so alongside his/her family. For a family to feel they are valued as a part of the process through a sometimes lengthy recovery can make all the difference in the world.”

The Vanderbilt Bill Wilkerson Center employs speech-language pathologists, occupational therapists, physical therapists and audiologists providing interdisciplinary rehabilitation services to prepare the child for return to school (either full- or part-time) and to work with school personnel to meet the varying needs of the child throughout their academic career.

Charles Hausman, M.S., assistant professor of Clinical Hearing and Speech Sciences, worked many years in the Metro Nashville Public School system, where he coordinated the services for TBI re-entry, before returning to Vanderbilt.

“Patients with TBI commonly struggle with a broad range of academic skills, depending on the type of injury they have and what their recovery is like,” Hausman said. “One of the key areas of concern is executive function, which is that ability for typical children to monitor their behavior, their study habits and their ability to listen carefully to the instruction of the classroom.”

“When those skills are gone, whether permanently or temporarily, kids feel as though they are quite out of context. It is a place they have been before they had their injury, and it may be the same physical building, but they frequently know it is not the same,” Hausman said.

For more information about the Pediatric Traumatic Brain Injury Program call 936-5040. q

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