“Growing up with a traumatic brain injury has been one of the most difficult things I have ever faced,” says Valerie Cooper.
Valerie and her aunt Tammy Woodrich join BIAWA Executive Director Deborah Crawley to discuss each of their perspectives on navigating life with a brain injury.
Valerie was diagnosed with Hydrocephalus around age two. The condition is characterized by excess fluid build-up in the fluid containing cavities of the brain. The result is developmental, physical, and intellectual impairments.
Valerie says she has depended a lot on her family, her doctors, and her teachers. As a member of the Nooksack Indian Tribe, extended family were very involved and engaged in her support network. Doctors did not know if Valerie would ever be able to walk or talk. It took a lot of family support to help Valerie develop physically and intellectually. Repetition and persistence were critical.
Valerie had a lot of support in her K-12 education, even though she was not on a 504 Plan or an Individualize Education Program (IEP). Growing up in a very small community, everyone in the school district knew about her situation and how to help her.
In the spring of her senior year of high school Valerie had three surgeries and was in the hospital for one month. Her teachers and school staff stayed connected to see how she was doing and how they could support her in her school work and make sure she was able to graduate.
College has been more challenging for Valerie. Not only was she transitioning out of a school system where she had a ton of support, but she was also transitioning out of pediatric medical care into adult medical care. Her college professors did not know about her condition or that she was experiencing chronic headaches and other symptoms common for individuals with brain injury. However, they reached out to her when they noticed that she was missing classes. Once Valerie shared her condition with them, her professors pointed her to the Disability Access Center at college.
Valerie’s aunt Tammy Woodrich, is a Vocational rehabilitation counselor. She works with Native Americans 16 & up who have a disability and have barriers to work that are proven by a provider find and keep a job. Tammy says it is critical that assessments for barriers to work must be clearly defined by the provider, which helps the vocational rehabilitation counselor identify services to support the individual.
Listen in as Valerie and Tammy discuss their family’s journey through hydrocephalus and how the entire community supported Valerie’s development and success. Tammy also discusses how to successfully navigate the Tribal governments.