What traumatic brain injury (TBI) means for the individual

The brain is a complex and fragile organ. It is, in many respects, what shapes the type of person we are and how we learn. Thus, head injuries of any nature can be devastating or life altering.

Traumatic Brain Injury, better known in special education circles as TBI, is a common condition that affects an individual’s learning and physical abilities. Its causes are almost always accidental. Their effects, on the other hand, can be catastrophic.

Students may have mild conditions such as memory processing disorders, or crippling disabilities such as the loss of motor skills, speech, or intellectual capacity. Yet, as destructive as TBI can be on a student, it is possibly the most preventable of all the learning disorders. 

The causes

TBI is unique among all learning disorders. It is not considered to be genetic. Instead, it is often attributed to environment or, more precisely, to traumatic injuries that affect the brain. In other words, it’s a severe blow to the head.

The condition is not age-specific, either. While most students designated with TBI received their diagnoses early in their childhood, it is not uncommon for some students to be diagnosed in their teen years. In fact, TBI can be diagnosed in one’s adulthood if an injury is severe enough to cause damage.

There are many causes for this condition. The most common injuries are as follows:

• Car or vehicular accidents

• Falling and landing on his/her head from a significant height

• Physical abuse or neglect a blow to the head (from sports or fighting)

In certain cases, a student labeled with TBI may have received it from infections, aneurysms, strokes or diseases that affected his/her brain functions. However, some doctors argue that this is not often a case of TBI, considering that a contagion caused it.

The effects

As mentioned, the effects of TBI may vary based on the severity of the condition. Memory loss, delays or other processing orders are very common. In other situations, intellectual capacity has been compromised. The more severe cases may involve paralysis or being confined to a vegetative state. In the latter case, the students are often placed in county programs, home-study, or hospitalization (depending on his/her educational and physical needs).

Accommodation/modification

TBI is a qualification for special education services. The latest version of Individual with Disability Education Act (IDEA) lists it as one of several conditions that qualifies a student for special education services.

As a result, a student with TBI will receive accommodations or modifications to his/her education, as based on the IEP. Much of these accommodations will include preferential seating near the board or teacher; note taking support (especially for those with physical disabilities, in addition to learning disorders caused by TBI); repetition of assignments; and/or extra and flexible time to complete assignments.

Those who are receiving modifications to their lessons may need remedial or fundamental support in academic skills. Also, abridged or shortened text books and stories will be used.

TBI as a learning disorder

It’s not uncommon for a perfectly normal student or a high achieving honor-roll student to be drastically altered by TBI.  Such things can be devastating for the student and his/her family. It can also alter the future for many directly or indirectly affected by this condition.

On the other hand, there are cases of students with TBI who have gone on to have healthy, productive lives, despite the limitations the condition caused.