Acquired Brain Injury Overview

Acquired Brain Injury is a general term that refers to external or internal damage to the brain after birth. It includes traumatic brain injuries that have resulted from external physical forces, like falls or motor vehicle accidents, as well as internal injuries to the brain induced by strokes, infections, tumors, or oxygen deprivation. According to the Brain Injury Association of America, injuries to the brain that are present at birth or progressive in nature, like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson's disease, typically do not fall into this category.

Though not always visible and sometimes seemingly minor, brain injury is complex. It can cause physical, cognitive, social, or vocational changes that affect an individual for a short period of time or permanently. Some common symptoms resulting from a brain injury are seizures, loss of balance or coordination, difficulty with speech, limited attention and concentration, loss of memory, and loss of organizational and reasoning skills. Symptoms vary widely, depending on the extent and location of the injury, and recovery from a brain injury can be inconsistent.

If you are a returning student to school after a brain injury, you may find that it is harder to learn and pay attention than before the injury. You may still be recovering and re-learning some of what they have forgotten. It can be frustrating not to be able to do what came easily before. It takes time for the brain to adjust to an injury, so be patient and seek assistance on campus. If your clinician recommends classroom accommodations for you when you return to school, please register with the Disability Programs and Resource Center and share with him or her our documentation guidelines so that we can better understand the limitations you presently experience as a result of the injury.

Some considerations:

  • A traditional intelligence test is not an accurate assessment of cognitive recovery after a brain injury and bears little relationship to the mental processes required for everyday functioning. For example, students with brain injuries might perform well on brief, structured, artificial tasks but have such significant deficits in learning, memory, and executive functions that they may have difficulty coping.
  • Recovery from a brain injury can be inconsistent. A student might take one step forward, two back, do nothing for a while, and then unexpectedly make a series of gains. A "plateau" is not evidence that functional improvement (or decline) has ended.
  • Students with acquired brain injuries may not be able to predict that they will have difficulty with a task post-injury until they have attempted it. Essentially, they have to "re-learn" how they learn.
  • Common accommodations for students with brain injuries are exam modifications, time extensions, audio recorded lectures, instructions presented in more than one way, alternative ways of completing assignments, early syllabus, notetakers, course substitutions, priority registration, study skills and strategies training, and alternative print formats.