Shepherd’s School of Thought
Shepherd Center takes an individualized approach to help students who have sustained traumatic injuries return to school successfully.
As a young adult with a traumatic injury, returning to school can be daunting to say the least. Just ask Clark Jacobs, 26, who sustained a brain injury in 2015 after falling from his loft bed while at college.
“I was worried about it,” Clark says. “All my concerns were around being able to take care of myself day to day.”
Clark is not alone. People who have sustained brain and spinal cord injuries can experience changes in physical ability, cognition, communication, behavior and emotional functioning, affecting their readiness to go back to school.
That’s why Shepherd Center has return-to-school services tailored for its patient populations ages 12 to 24 in its Brain Injury Rehabilitation Program and Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Program.
“Our approach to return-to-school is finding whatever methods work best to support each individual instead of just providing a cookie cutter solution,” says Dalise Robinson, CCC-SLP, speech therapy manager in Shepherd Center’s acquired brain injury post-acute services.
The first step involves assessing the needs of the patient. For example, if an inpatient with a spinal cord injury is ready for school services, they can work with Shepherd Center’s academic coordinator, a certified teacher who will keep the student as up to date with classes as possible. Additionally, someone with a brain injury may not be ready for school services while they are an inpatient, but can work on their return-to-school goals as an outpatient at Shepherd Pathways, Shepherd’s post-acute outpatient program for people with brain injuries.
Regardless of type of injury, the therapy team works to identify specific areas they should focus on to help a patient achieve their goals.
“For example, a patient who doesn’t have full use of their upper extremities can’t write notes in class the same way they used to,” says Debra Eldred, MS, CCC-SLP, speech therapist at Shepherd Center. “A lot of us learn from note taking, so our job is to help them find new strategies, like using assistive technology to take notes, that set them up for success.”
Clark adds, “My therapists brought things to my attention I wasn’t aware of. My slower typing speed didn’t occur to me until my occupational therapist brought it up to me and gave me exercises to improve it.”
Another area the team assists with is self-advocacy.
“We look at it as helping our patients train a system to meet their needs,” Robinson says. “A lot of our patients are hesitant about asking for accommodations at first, so we prepare them and their loved ones to advocate for themselves. It’s better to have those tools in their pocket and not use them than to need them and have to fight for them later.”
The therapy team may help students secure accommodations when they return to school, like placing the student nearest to the instructor during lectures or allowing additional time for testing and assignments.
“My therapists encouraged me to reach out to the disabilities office at my school,” Clark says. “Since I had a slower processing speed, I was able to have double the time to finish exams, which was awesome.”
Shepherd Center also offers No Obstacles, a donor-funded program that can include in-school awareness and sensitivity training for school staff and students, as well as instruction in medical or cognitive issues that may arise during the school day.
Whether it’s helping with schoolwork while a patient is in the hospital, teaching new ways to learn or anything in between, the return-to-school program at Shepherd Center aims to turn “I can’t” into “I can.” In Clark’s case, the latest “I can” moment happened this summer when he was hired for his first job after graduating from Georgia Tech with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering.
“Return-to-school programs like Shepherd’s are so important,” Clark says. “There are many factors that, without the program, would’ve hit me like a ton of bricks when I went back. The therapists helped me in advance, so I felt ready.”
Written by Damjana Alverson
Shepherd Center, located in Atlanta, Georgia, is a private, not-for-profit hospital specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury, brain injury, multiple sclerosis, spine and chronic pain, and other neuromuscular conditions. Founded in 1975, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation. In its more than four decades, Shepherd Center has grown from a six-bed rehabilitation unit to a world-renowned, 152-bed hospital that treats more than 743 inpatients, 277 day program patients and more than 7,161 outpatients each year in more than 46,000 visits.