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Staying safe at school after an ABI fact sheet

Staying safe at school after an acquired brain injury

There may be many factors that impact on a student’s safety around the classroom and school grounds following a brain injury. Liaison between therapists and educational staff is vital to ensure these factors are considered and strategies for dealing with them are developed. Some general factors that may need to be considered are discussed below.

Physical Access

The student’s physical ability to move between classrooms including the music room, library and outdoor areas, needs to be carefully considered.

If the student predominantly uses a wheelchair, staff will need to be aware of the following information:

  • Can the student self-propel or do they need an attendant?
  • Are the classrooms and outdoor areas wheelchair accessible and are they linked by flat concrete paths?
  • Once in the classroom, is the student able to easily manoeuvre between desks?

Alternatively, if the student usually walks between classes, other issues may need to be addressed, such as:

  • Does the student need supervision or assistance, and who will provide this?
  • Will the student be able to get to each class quickly and have time to prepare for the lesson and will this be affected by fatigue during the day?
  • Does the student need to negotiate stairs and can this be managed safely and efficiently?

Other issues that need to be considered include:

  • Can the student access the toilet, tuckshop and playground?
  • Can the student get on & off a bus safely?  This may be a daily occurrence or it may just be necessary for school outings/excursions.
  • If participating in swimming classes, are the change rooms accessible and is the student safe on wet, slippery floors?  If not, who will supervise?
  • Does the student have good road safety awareness?  Will the student need to cross any roads near the school?  If so, who will supervise?
  • Are they safe to play on the play equipment with other student’s around?  Is there balance or impulsivity an issue to consider?

Cognitive Issues

Following a brain injury, many students have a range of cognitive difficulties, including impulsivity, poor problem solving skills and poor judgement in everyday situations. Students who are impulsive may not stop to consider the safest course of action and may just do the first thing that occurs to them. This may mean that although the situation is considered safe, poor decisions about the safety of the situation are made.

What can I do to help my student stay safe in the school environment?

  • Liaise with family and therapists as to the student’s physical and cognitive status, identify potential problem areas and develop strategies for dealing with them. These should be recorded in the school file. Strategies may include:
    • allowing the student more time to move between classes
    • when accessing stairs, ensuring the student goes before/after the other students to minimise crowding and encourage use of handrail.o If possible, move classes to ground floor and within close proximity to each other
    • ensure adequate footwear (e.g. Laces done up)
    • referral to Education Queensland Occupational Therapist / Physiotherapist for review of mobility and access in the school environment, as appropriate.
  • If appropriate, discuss the above strategies with the student and seek agreement to abide by any safety rules.
  • If a student does endanger themselves in a particular situation, discuss this with the family and help develop a strategy for preventing this in the future.
  • Encourage the student’s friends to assist with simple safety requirements. For example, encourage the student to walk with a friend to the pool and change rooms. However, other students should not be used as a substitute for appropriate adult supervision.
  • Where ever possible, modify activities or routines to enable the student to participate with the rest of the class, rather than separating the student from the class. This may be required within the PE class as well.

The rehabilitation team, in conjunction with educational staff, can develop these strategies during the initial school teleconference and/or visit, prior to the student’s return to school. This will assist the student’s safe and successful return to school for the student. If problems arise following the student’s return to school, liaison with the rehabilitation team may assist in overcoming these.

Contact us

Queensland Paediatric Rehabilitation Service
Queensland Children’s Hospital
Level 6, 501 Stanley Street, South Brisbane 4101
t: 07 3068 2950
t: 07 3068 1111 (general enquiries)
f: 07 3068 3909

In an emergency, always call 000.

If it’s not an emergency but you have any concerns, contact 13 Health (13 43 2584). Qualified staff will give you advice on who to talk to and how quickly you should do it. You can phone 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Developed by the Queensland Paediatric Rehabilitation Service, Children’s Health Queensland. Updated: October 2017. All information contained in this sheet has been supplied by qualified professionals as a guideline for care only. Seek medical advice, as appropriate, for concerns regarding your child’s health.