Staff undergo training in teen development

Teen years a time of tremendous change

When therapists work with brain-injured teen-agers, they must remember they can't help patients regain cognitive or other skills that haven't developed yet. That's why staff at Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation's Adolescent Brain Injury Program have specialized education in understanding the biological, psychological, cognitive, and developmental changes that occur in adolescents.

"This specialized training gives them a better handle on what they can treat and what they will not be able to change," explains George J. Carnevale, PhD, assistant director of psychology and neuropsychology at Kessler Institute's facility in East Orange, NJ.

For instance, a teen-ager may not have developed certain cognitive skills, and it will be an exercise in frustration for both the therapist and the patient to try to develop them after the brain injury.

Setting the proper baselines

Staff undergo training so they can better understand what the normal baseline is for someone in each age group. That way, they can focus on things related to brain injury rather than confusing them with normal development issues, he says.

Kessler staffs the adolescent program at a ratio of three patients to each staff member. That allows therapists the time to determine where each patient should be developmentally while crafting the proper care plan.

Adolescence is a period of tremendous change, Carnevale points out. In addition to physical and emotional changes, adolescents live in a changing environment.

"We're rehabbing patient back to an ever-changing situation. It's a different process from treating adults, and it is harder," he adds.

For instance, if a therapist is working with an adult who is going back to work, the job skills the patient needs to work on are not likely to change. But with teen-agers, their classes change several times a day, and the next school year, they'll be different again. n