Brenda Eagan Brown: BrainSTEPS

Jul 12, 2015 by


An Interview with Brenda Eagan Brown: BrainSTEPS

Michael F. Shaughnessy

1) Brenda, first of all, can you tell us about your education and experience?

I received my elementary education and special education certifications in Ohio at Wittenberg University. I went on to teach special education in Fairfax, Virginia while obtaining my master’s degree through The George Washington University’s Transitional Special Education program with an emphasis on pediatric traumatic brain injury back in 1997. It was the only master’s teacher training program with a complete focus on traumatic brain injury! I loved it. Since that time, I have also gone through the GWU’s 5 online TBI Certificate program courses. I have been a TBI educational consultant working with schools, parents, and even a law firm since 1997 in various capacities. I also have my CBIS (Certified Brain Injury Specialist) degree, and went through an intensive Cognitive Rehabilitation Therapy Training in Toronto at ACRM last fall.

2) Now how did you get involved in the field of Brain Injury?

My brother sustained a medically severe TBI when we were teenagers (I was 14 and he turned 13 in the hospital). He was hit by a car while riding his bike without a helmet. It was traumatic for our entire family. I experienced this as a sibling, but saw what my parents and brother went through trying to assimilate back into a small rural school district. That was over 25 years ago, and sadly, parents and students in many areas of the United States are still experiencing the exact same educational issues following TBI when re-entering the school system.

3) What are the most common problems that individuals with brain injury face?

My heart lies with the students who remember who they used to be, and following their TBI are very different. I spend a lot of time talking with families, students, and schools about the importance of peer support, as well as building an emotional support system for these students. Other common problems students face following a TBI are executive function deficits. We all have weak executive function areas, but following TBI the weaknesses tend to become exacerbated.

4) What are the biggest concerns of teachers in the schools?

The biggest concerns that teachers have expressed time and time again are that it is difficult to remediate cognitive processes in the classroom. But, that is because as special education teachers, we were taught to remediate reading, math…core subjects. We weren’t taught at the pre-service level how to remediate memory issues, speed of processing, attention. Many teachers (special and regular education) received little if any TBI training at the college level. I receive the most questions right now from schools and parents about two things: 1. Concussions & Return to Learn issues and 2. Behaviors after moderate/severe TBI. Executive functions are also a huge hot educational topic right now.

5) Now, what is BrainSTEPS and who has set it up and who runs it?

I am the statewide Program Coordinator of the BrainSTEPS Program. Pennsylvania’s BrainSTEPS (Strategies Teaching Educators, Parents, and Students) Brain Injury School Re-Entry Consulting Program is in its 9th year of assisting school districts. BrainSTEPS was created in 2007 by the PA Department of Health and is now jointly funded by the PA Dept of Health and the PA Dept of Education, Bureau of Special Education, via the PaTTAN network. The program is implemented by the BIAPA. Annually in PA, approximately 4,000 children sustain moderate to severe traumatic brain injuries (TBI), which are significant enough to require hospitalization and over 20,000 children sustain concussions. Many students return to school with lingering effects that impact classroom performance. BrainSTEPS has been designed to consult with school teams and families in the development and delivery of educational services for students who have experienced any type of acquired brain injury. We currently have 31 consulting teams housed in the regional educational Intermediate Units across the state covering every county in PA and over 290 team consultants. Our teams are comprised of education professionals, medical/rehabilitation Professionals, and parents.

To date, BrainSTEPS has provided training and consultation to thousands of students and hundreds of schools in Pennsylvania.

The acquired brain injuries that BrainSTEPS provides consultation around include any injury to the brain that is sustained after a period of development and includes all traumatic brain injuries (injury is caused by an external force and includes concussions) and non-traumatic brain injuries (strokes, tumors, seizures, aneurysms, etc.). BrainSTEPS works to not only re-enter students after a new brain injury, but with students previously identified as having a brain injury who may begin to develop educational effects over the years as the brain matures and develops. BrainSTEPS is considered a national model for brain injury educational consulting.

6) What kinds of information is found there?

On our website, there is a plethora of wonderful links to our training videos all focused on students with acquired brain injuries. We also have resources for schools, information, and all of our return to learn concussion management team information! Our BrainSTEPS consultants use the website to input all students referred to BrainSTEPS. They log into the site to access our vast database. We track data such as: educational placement, educational changes that occur over time, consulting activities performed, etc.

7) Who specifically is it for?

BrainSTEPS consultation and training is available to any student who has experienced any severity of acquired brain injury and are enrolled in PA schools (all public and non-public schools) K-12 grade. Many of our 31 BrainSTEPS consulting teams are servicing the preschool age 3-5, also. Students do not need to have new brain injuries to receive consultation with our teams, they can have a brain injury that occurred in the past, but maybe they are beginning to experience educational ramifications.

8) What kinds of feedback have you gotten about the site?

We have gotten great feedback about our website We just had a homepage “facelift” that has made it much more user friendly. Last Fall 2014, we hosted 6 Return to Learn Concussion webinars. Many school districts from all over the United States now broadcast these archived webinars to their entire staff, for use during teacher in-services. And the best part? They are full of current research-based information from leading experts in the concussion field, and are FREE to view!

9) What have I neglected to ask?

Following PA’s concussion return to sports law passage and implementation in July of 2012, BrainSTEPS: Return to Learn Concussion Management Team (CMT) model was created to build school district capacity to manage student concussions for the initial 4 weeks, when 80-90% of students are expected to recover. The purpose was to ensure that students were immediately provided with academic accommodations upon return to school to alleviate cognitive over-exertion which leads to prolonged recovery. This early immediate management by school CMTs would alleviate the number of concussed students who require more intensive educational consultation from the regional BrainSTEPS teams. If at 4 weeks post concussion a student has not recovered, a referral can be made to the BrainSTEPS team.

To date, we have trained over 880+ Return to Learn PA school based concussion teams. This has all been unmandated and unlegislated. It’s incredible. School teams receive an electronic Concussion Monitoring Toolkit at the completion of their training. The CMTs monitor academics and symptoms until resolution. We are the only state to systematically roll out something for all schools regarding return to learn and concussion management.

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