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Acquired Brain Injury

Acquired Brain Injuries include traumatic brain injuries (e.g. motor vehicle accidents, falls) and non-traumatic brain injuries (e.g. due to stroke, tumor, infection, hypoxia, liver disease, toxic chemicals). The term acquired brain injury does not include intellectual disabilities or degenerative diseases.

Traumatic brain injury, a form of acquired brain injury, occurs when the brain sustains sudden traumatic damage. The damage can be confined to a specific area of the brain, or can involve multiple areas of the brain. Brain injury can also be the result of repeated injuries to the brain rather than one traumatic event.

Students with acquired brain injury may experience a variety of symptoms from severe to minor. Symptoms can include headaches, convulsions or seizures, slurred speech, loss of coordination, poor memory, difficulty with word finding, visual tracking issues and physical fatigue. Acquired brain injury that occurs as a result of non-traumatic brain injuries can cause all of the above mentioned systems combined with symptoms that are related to the medical condition.

Observing Acquired Brain Injury in the Classroom

Faculty might observe the following characteristics in students with Acquired Brain Injury:

  • Difficulty concentrating and maintaining focus
  • Difficulty knowing where to begin with a task
  • Difficulty categorizing, generalizing, or synthesizing information
  • Difficulty remembering all the steps in an activity or assignment
  • Difficulty with memory (location of class objects, verbal instructions, information from lecture)
  • Exhibits poor impulse control
  • Difficulty with spatial relations (maps, geometry, 3D visualizations)
  • Easily fatigued or frustrated
  • Have balance or motor impairments
  • Have vision impairments


Related Functional Characteristics

Anxiety : Students with ABI may have anxiety or trouble managing emotion and stress due to brain damage that impairs the regulation of their emotions.

Articulation : Students with ABI may experience muscle weakness or coordination difficulties that impair their articulation ability and makes their speech difficult to understand.

Attentional Overfocus : Students with ABI may experience attentional overfocus and have difficulty transitioning from one activity to another.

Attentional Underfocus : Students with ABI may experience attentional underfocus due to brain damage that affects their ability to regulate their attention.

Fatigue (Cognitive) : Students with ABI experience cognitive fatigue as a result of the significant effort required to process information.

Flicker or Pattern Sensitivity : Exposure to repetitive patterns, flickering video, and stroboscopic lights may trigger seizures in a student with ABI.

Fluid Reasoning : Injury to the processing areas of the brain can cause difficulty with inductive and deductive thinking and the processes involved in higher level problem solving.

Impulsivity : Injury to the brain, specifically the frontal regions, can lead to a deficit in response inhibition.

Inability to Comprehend Social Cues : Brain injuries can result in students not being aware of social cues or misinterpreting conversations.

Information Processing Speed : Injury to the brain can interfere with the processing of information especially with the ability to integrate, store and demonstrate knowledge.

Intelligibility : Students with ABI may have intelligibility deficits due to brain damage that can cause poor motor control in the muscles of the tongue and lips.

Long Term Memory Deficit : Injury to the processing parts of the brain can impair the ability to store new information or retrieve what has already been learned.

Motor Skill (Fine) : Students may have difficulties with fine motor skills if the area of the brain that controls muscle coordination is injured.

Perseveration : Students who have an acquired brain injury may exhibit perseveration due to frontal lobe damage; it is most common for students with ABI to perseverate in behaviors that were previously useful even if they are no longer useful.

Processing Deficit (Auditory) : Students with ABI may process auditory information more slowly and have difficulty with extraneous noise (e.g. noise from a fan, others talking).

Processing Deficit (Visual) : Students with ABI may experience slower visual processing as a result of the brain injury or have difficulty with eye tracking.

Production (Written) : Damage to the frontal, parietal, or occipital lobes of the brain can cause students difficulty with a complex task such as writing.

Seizures : Students with an acquired brain injury may have seizures as a result of damage to the brain. The most common seizure experienced by students with ABI are Grand Mal.

Sensory Distractibility : Brain damage can cause interruptions in the processes necessary to filter out irrelevant stimuli.

Sequencing Deficit : Students with ABI may experience difficulty sequencing information or motor tasks if the frontal lobe of the brain suffered injury.

Time Management : ABI can cause executive function deficits that result in impaired time sense or difficulty estimating the time required for a task.

Visual Tracking Problem : Difficulties with visual tracking may occur if the part of the brain affecting visual processing is injured.

Word Finding : Students with ABI may experience word finding problems due to brain damage that interferes with word retrieval.

Working / Short Term Memory Deficit : Working memory deficits may result from injury to the processing parts of the brain damaging the student's ability to retain information long enough to store it in long term memory.

The Building Accepting Campus Communities (BACC) project was funded by the US Department of Education Office of Secondary Education grant #P333A080070-09. The University of Nebraska does not discriminate based on gender, age, disability, race, color, religion, marital status, veteran's status, national or ethnic origin, or sexual orientation.