Brain injuries, homeless men and education

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From Yahoo News

Nearly half of all homeless men suffered brain injury before losing homes
By Eric Pfeiffer
18 hours ago

From Dr. Jane Topolovec-Vranic (St. Michael’s Hospital):

A new study is shining light on the origins of homelessness, finding that nearly half of homeless men have suffered a traumatic brain injury and that nearly all of those injuries occurred before the men became homeless.

The St. Michael’s Hospital study found that 45 percent of the homeless men who participated in the research had suffered some form of traumatic brain injury (TBI). And amongst them, 87 percent of their brain injuries had occurred before the men became homeless.

“You could see how it would happen,” said Dr. Jane Topolovec-Vranic, who led the study. “You have a concussion, and you can’t concentrate or focus. Their thinking abilities and personalities change. They can’t manage at work, and they may lose their job, and eventually lose their families. And then it’s a negative spiral.”

The results closely mirrored a similar study released last week, which found that about half of all men entering New York’s jail system aged 16-18 reported suffering a TBI before they were arrested.

“You need to train the correction officers to understand brain injuries so that when somebody may be acting rude or answering back or forgetting what they’re supposed to do, it’s not a sign of maladaptive misbehavior or disrespect, it’s a sign of a brain injury,” Wayne Gordon, a brain injury expert at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital, said about that study’s results.

The St. Michael’s study looked at the cases of 111 homeless men and found that assault accounted for some 60 percent of the TBI’s. Drug and alcohol were the leading factors for men under 40, while assault was the most common factor for men over 40 years of age.

However, a significant percentage of the men received their TBI’s in non-violent accidents. Amongst those cases, sports and recreation related injuries accounted for 44 percent of the TBI’s, while motor vehicle accidents or falls made up another 42 percent.

“Injury commonly predated the onset of homelessness, with most participants experiencing their first injury in childhood,” Topolovec-Vranic wrote in the study, which was published in the journal CMAJ Open. “Additional research is needed to understand the complex interactions among homelessness, traumatic brain injury, mental illness and substance use.”

The study participants all hailed from a Toronto homeless shelter. They encompassed a broad age range and all completed a detailed series of questions chronicling their mental health history.

Eduhonesty: As I read this, my first thought was that many of these homeless men were once students in our public schools. I’d like to highlight that line that reads “Injury commonly predated the onset of homelessness, with most participants experiencing their first injury in childhood.” If that injury proves severe enough, these students will rapidly be funneled into special education, their problems with impulse control and information retention too obvious to miss in screenings.

But brain injuries result in spectrum disorders. How hyperactive is too hyperactive? How aggressive is too aggressive? At what point does short-term memory difficulty shine out clearly enough to be noticed for what it is, instead of being attributed to lack of studying or effort?

I write this with a sense that I could predict periods of homelessness for a number of my students. Not all of these students were or are receiving services. Some are clinging to the edge of functionality. Some have been tested for special education and “passed,” supposedly needing no extra help. “This is a classroom management issue,” a dean wrote on one referral from last year. Classroom talking IS a classroom management issue. Classroom blurting of off-topic, irrelevant information unrelated to the day’s topic may point toward greater needs than a new seating chart, however. Random blurting can indicate generalized anxiety, or a brain that cannot pull itself into and stay with the material at hand.

Especially in our poorer and urban schools, many children start life with drugs in their system or drugs in the air they breathe. The research on cocaine babies has become murky, since some babies grow up without apparent residual difficulties from that post-natal drug withdrawal, while others seem to have long-term attention and impulse-management problems.

Here’s the point I most want to make: In our current test-based system, we are focusing heavily — sometimes exclusively — on academics as the path to success for our students. For those students who enter the system with traumatic brain injury, whether from prenatal sources, a bike accident or a shove into a wall, this approach likely cannot work without interventions designed to manage underlying neurological issues.

We need more research into this area. We also need to cut our blurters some slack. If they keep bombing our standardized tests through elementary school, these students should be provided modified tests. As noted in previous posts, students should not be thrown into the testing pool only to be chewed up year after year. Nothing is gained from this testing except impersonal data that may not — probably will not — even be used. In the meantime, we are making these kids feel progressively more hopeless.

I bet I could find a statistically strong correlation between homelessness and feelings of hopelessness. I’d even bet that hopelessness might directly or indirectly cause some of that homelessness.