A traumatic brain injury (TBI) may create significant changes in a person’s lifestyle and goals for the future, but a head injury does not have to be a barrier for a student’s educational aspirations. The majority of students who suffer from a TBI return to the classroom, either in traditional school settings or through specialized programs. Students of all ages—from elementary to college—have resources available for continuing their academic journeys. Keep reading to learn about these resources, organizations and programs that can help students perform academically after a head injury. Parents and teachers will find a variety of tools they can use to support their students as well.
In closed TBIs, nothing enters the skull; instead, the damage is often done by the brain colliding with the skull at the site of impact or coup-contrecoup (at the site of impact and on the opposite side of the skull). With penetrative TBIs, an external object enters the skull and brain, such as shrapnel.
Sometimes a traumatic brain injury can result without any physical force; anoxia and hypoxia occur when the brain does not receive enough oxygen or blood as can happen with drowning and strokes. These brain injuries are sometimes called acquired brain injuries (ABI) rather than traumatic brain injuries (TBI) but the symptoms and effects can be very similar.
Both are common types of traumatic brain injuries, but they are different from one another. A brain contusion is a bruise on the brain in a single location, where blood collects under the skin. With a concussion, there is no direct bruise location, but instead a widespread, diffused impairment of brain tissue. A person with a traumatic brain injury may experience one or the other, or both together.
A DAI is the result of a blunt injury to the brain, such as shaking or the shearing force of a high-speed car accident. It is a severe brain injury that affects numerous functional areas of the brain, and if severe enough can cause patients to fall into a vegetative state.
Behavioral, emotional and personality changes such as increased anxiety, lack of motivation, increased impulsiveness and poor judgment.
Cognitive changes such as shortened attention span, difficulty recalling short- and long-term memories, problem-solving and comprehending new information. Many of these effects are similar to learning disorders, and in fact many children with TBI are instead diagnosed with learning disorders.
Loss of senses such as vision, hearing and balance.
Physical changes such as difficulty walking or completing physical tasks.
Sleeping difficulties such as sleeping too much or too little.
Shortened attention span and impulsivity
Difficulty or inability to read, write, or listed
Difficulty comprehending or retaining new material; difficulty recalling old material
Increased disorganization in thoughts
Reduced social skills
No matter the age of the student, going back to school following a traumatic brain injury can present challenges. Though there is no one-size-fits-all list of solutions, there are many resources to help students with traumatic brain injuries successfully transition back into the classroom. From innovative study systems to navigating social situations, a TBI may force students to reassess their strengths, weaknesses and acclimate to aspects of their personality that might be different. Take a look at some common challenges students might face coming back to the classroom after a TBI with age-appropriate resources designed to help.
Though the age spectrum is wide, K-12 students who are recovering from traumatic brain injuries typically have one thing in common: they are still supported by their parents. This section is not only designed to be helpful for K-12 students after a TBI themselves, but their parent and teacher allies as well.
Social isolation is a common challenge for individuals with disabilities, including students with TBIs. Friends and peers are a vital part of school success, but students should be prepared for potential changes in the social dynamics between old friends, and also set themselves up to make new connections.
This program, intended for young children, helps connect students with disabilities to those without in order to form lasting friendships and develop important social skills.
Come Roll With Me is the personal blog of Hunter Klech, a young adult with a physical disability. Here, he addresses some parts of society that can prevent teens and young adults with disabilities from making friends and his strategies for leading a fun and fulfilling social life regardless.
The author of this article, a teenage girl with cerebral palsy, gives some advice, insight and inspiration for finding good and true friends.
This BrainLine video, an excerpt of a longer video available at Lash & Associates Publishing, documents the recovery and continued challenges of a teenage girl following her traumatic brain injury. Throughout the video she addresses her feelings of loneliness.
While younger children will often have their Individualized Education Program (IEP) planned and created by their parents and teachers, older students may have a better idea of what they need and want to accomplish in school after a traumatic brain injury. IEPs for high schoolers may include post-graduation plans and goals. It’s never a bad idea to know your rights and to be your own advocate.
This is the U.S. Department of Education’s official guide to individualized education plans (IEPs). It includes steps on building an IEP, who to contact, and even sample forms.
This article from KidsHealth outlines what IEPs entail and how they are created. Additionally, this guide includes helpful accessibility tools, like the option to play an audio version of the article.
This article from the National Information Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities is written specifically for students, rather than their parents; it covers all of the basics and most important parts of the IEP.
Traumatic brain injuries can greatly alter cognitive abilities. This means that students may have difficulties with skills vital for school work, such as language processing and organization. Below are helpful resources for students who want assistance, tips and new approaches to academics after a TBI.
A University of Michigan review of a guided notes system designed for students with learning disabilities that uncovers benefits for all students in a classroom, regardless of cognitive ability.
This factsheet addresses some of the common cognitive difficulties students may experience after a TBI and actionable strategies for the student. Although most of these ideas are for the students themselves, educators and families may also benefit from this factsheet.
The cognitive difficulties that may result from TBI can share similarities with learning disabilities, so resources such as this one from PBS can still be very helpful. This guide focuses on habits and techniques that younger students will benefit most from but older students can definitely use as well.
College students with disabilities, including TBI, are less likely to graduate on-time than their peers. While that may sound discouraging, these low graduation rates are likely the result of students not knowing about or finding the accommodations they need to access the same level of education as their peers. Continue reading to learn some of the specific challenges college students with TBI face and how they can overcome them.
College can be challenging both inside the classroom and beyond, especially for students with traumatic brain injuries. Just remember that there are other individuals who have been down similar paths; many others have learned to overcome brain injury challenges to find academic success. Below are some examples of individuals who have gone to college with TBI and graduated, as well as suggestions for making sure your social life grows alongside your academic one.
This video and the 7 that follow in the Brainline “Schools Issues After Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)” playlist, explores the challenges and success that Gary experienced when she returned to college after her TBI, including advice, tips and strategies for students who find themselves in a similar situation
This excerpt from “Recovering Relationships After Brain Injury: The Essential Guide” covers the topic of friendships and dating, two central aspects of college life that may be daunting or difficult for students with TBI.
The Brain Injury Peer Visitor Association has compiled a list of member success stories. The list includes individuals who have completed college after TBI: Michael L., Clark Jacobs, Bryan Durio and Randy Davis.
College learning is much more self-directed than in high school. This means that students must rely on their own time management, scheduling and decision-making with limited input from parents or teachers, which may pose a challenge for some students with TBI.
Many campuses have support and study groups for students with disabilities, such as these groups at the University of Washington.
Developed by the University of Illinois, this guide outlines different strategies for different types of studying and links to useful accessibility tools that can help students make more out of their study time.
This YouTube video from advocacy and resource network BrainLine has useful tips and strategies specifically for students with TBI for finding paths to college success.
A how-to for college students at the University of Washington focused on requesting note-taking assistance.
A tutoring system designed to help students with TBIs in both high school and college. This pilot program is run by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The plans and services offered to eligible students with disabilities are very different from those used in the public K-12 school system. Students with a traumatic brain injury should familiarize themselves with the accommodation laws and systems colleges follow, and meet with their school’s Disability Services Office to learn about your campus-specific accessibility and accommodation options.
AbleData is the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ database of assistive technologies; users can even sort and search according to their unique needs.
Although this guide is specifically for University of Maine’s services, it gives an excellent overview of how college might differ from high school in terms of accessibility services.
This overview of assistive technologies includes low-tech ideas like color coding assignments and highlighters as well as high-tech apps and programs.
This guide helpfully outlines the steps often needed in order to secure accommodations from a college or university.
This guide provides helpful summaries of and links to the laws and organizations that govern college accommodations.
College students may find their personal relationships change after a TBI. It’s important to remember that a brain injury, no matter how mild or severe, affects both the patient and those that surround and support them. Communication is key to keeping relationships with friends, family, co-workers and teachers healthy, but both sides should be patient and understand that progress may be slow.
A guide to changing adult relationships after a TBI, specifically covering advice on significant others and sexual relationships.
Some colleges offer relationship development courses for community members and students with cognitive disabilities, like this 10-week program by the Oregon Heath & Science University.
Rehabilitation psychology and neuropsychology experts explain their efforts to develop more specialized relationship counseling for TBI patients and their loved ones.
Many veterans use the post-9/11 GI Bill to attend college, including those with combat-related traumatic brain injuries. Transitioning into civilian life can be difficult, and a brain injury can make the transition into academic life more stressful. Fortunately, there are dozens of organizations, campus support systems and online resources that can help. Here are some of the common challenges student veterans might face upon returning to the classroom, with advice and for navigating the college accommodations system and successfully pursuing a degree as a student veteran with a traumatic brain injury.
Transitioning to civilian life after the military can be a challenge in of itself, and combat-related injuries such as TBI can make it even more complicated. Luckily, there are a wide range of tips and resources available specifically designed to make this transition smoother for student veterans.
The American Council on Education brings together military-connected students and their veterans employment and transition advisors and advocates to discuss support and services offered in higher education. Check with your local Veteran’s Affairs Advisor about their involvement.
This module covers frequently asked questions about the transition to academic life for veterans with disabilities. The guide emphasizes laws and rights these veterans should know.
This section of the Department of Veteran Affairs’ Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center helps support veterans with TBI and their care team, such as doctors, family members and friends, through their initial recovery following their injury and the transition back home.
This educational video program helps veterans with disabilities establish peer networks and support each other through college.
This organization exists to serve veterans disabled in the line of duty—specifically those who served in Afghanistan or Iraq—providing counseling, resources and even funding for the transition back to civilian life.
While the U.S. government and Department of Veterans Affairs will provide support for veterans in general, there are also some lesser-known resources from both the government and civilian organizations specifically designed for veterans with TBIs.
A guide from the American Council on Education that can be shared with campus faculty, administration, veteran’s support staffers and anyone else who works with veterans with traumatic brain injuries.
This program from Student Veterans of America helps establish on-campus veteran liaisons at colleges across the country who can assist newly enrolled veterans navigate the accommodations systems and adjust to college life.
This directory from BrainLine helps connect veterans, especially those with TBI, with academic funding so they can focus on their studies rather than their budget.
This arm of the Department of Veteran Affairs works with college-bound veterans to help them transition to school and help them navigate any accommodations office requirements that they need.
Traumatic brain injuries can drastically alter cognitive abilities that are necessary for veterans to have maximum success in school. That doesn’t mean veterans can’t find academic success after a head injury—there are organizations and services dedicated to helping veterans academically, including assisting in the process of re-learning how to learn.
Funded by the U.S. government, this website helps connect veterans with the accommodations they need. Users can sort through possible accommodations by the type of disability they have.
This checklist from the University of Washington can be used to help identify areas of opportunity regarding IT accessibility features that can help students with brain injuries succeed academically.
This veteran-owned and -run tutoring organization has special offers for veterans and their families. They also work with veterans who have combat-related injuries to help them develop new study skills and other skills that will help them succeed academically and professionally.
This online course offered by Columbia University through EdX offers advice for student veterans on entering college and finding academic success while there. Although this course does not specifically address TBI, the techniques and study skills taught will still be beneficial.
While some of the policies addressed here are specific to University of Central Florida, this website includes a wide range of tips and resources for student veterans that can be applied at nearly any college.
Will Dane, Brain Injury Association of America
Will Dane is the public affairs manager for the Brain Injury Association of America, one of the foremost organizations dedicated to serving individuals with TBIs. Will has done extensive work in fundraising and advocacy and holds a degree from the University of Oklahoma in communications.
“Americans between the ages of 15 and 24 are among the highest risk of sustaining a brain injury. This is problematic as the injuries occur when individuals are just beginning to plan or venture into their independent lives, and for many the most important step in this process is obtaining an education. The challenges a student experiences after a traumatic brain injury vary significantly depending on the severity of the injury. In the most severe cases, the child may not be able to function independently in any capacity. A thorough evaluation of the student’s academic and cognitive abilities is essential to determine what accommodations are necessary.”
Here are some examples of common accommodations Dane suggests for students coming back to class after experiencing a TBI:
Allowing additional time to complete work
Allowing for extra or extended breaks
Grading the quality of work over the quantity of work (not how much the student did, but how well they did)
Providing the student with the instructor’s (or detailed) notes
Allowing the student to record classroom instruction for later playback
Providing clear oral and written instructions
Implementing assistive technology when applicable
When the teacher is grading the student's work, they may reduce emphasis on spelling and grammatical errors unless it is the purpose of the assignment
Seat the student at the front of the classroom or near the teacher
Not requiring the student to read aloud or present material in front of classmates
Allowing additional time to complete tests without distractions
Allowing oral examinations
Assessing knowledge using multiple-choice questions
Although students with TBI will often have access to accommodations and special pull-out classes, mainstream education teachers may not have all the resources they need to successfully integrate these students into the general educational environment and assure that they learn and grow alongside their peers. A wide range of resources are available to teachers, including those working in special education classes and general education classes, for every age group from elementary to college.
Young students with newly-acquired TBI may have the same difficulties as older students with TBI, but elementary and middle school classes are structured very differently and require a specialized approach to produce successful learning outcomes. Below are some examples, ideas and resources educators can use to support and accommodate elementary and middle school students with TBI.
A study that highlights impacts of head injuries and concussions on academic learning and performance.
The Brain STEPS program in Pennsylvania explores strategies for educators, parents and students on the challenges and intervention opportunities to expect with children re-entering school after a brain injury.
Focusing on the movement to integrate students with disabilities into general education classrooms, this article shines light on the struggles teachers face when they aren’t properly equipped with the knowledge and training to help students with disabilities succeed academically.
This short video documents the challenges and ultimate triumphs of an elementary student who enrolled in a new school after acquiring TBI. The mini-documentary contains interviews with his on-campus support team as well as examples of how he participates in his mainstream class.
This article from the Model Systems Knowledge Translation Center covers many of the challenges and difficulties students with TBI face when returning to the classroom, as well as suggestions and ideas for how teachers and schools can make the transition smoother.
Here experts from the National Resource Center for Traumatic Brain Injury answer questions submitted by teachers of students with TBI.
High school is a difficult time for many students, and TBI can introduce new challenges for teens at school. Educators can find strategies for supporting and teaching students with TBI through their high school years and guide them to academic success with the help of the resources below:
Focusing on the movement to include special education students in general education classrooms, this book by Dr. Judy Willis focuses on brain-friendly teaching strategies for learners of all ability levels.
This free manual created by the Colorado Department of Education covers a wide range of symptoms and solutions for children and teens with TBI.
This website covers a variety of topics related to teaching students with TBI, and this specific page includes some useful links and resources for finding and developing teaching strategies.
This article provides a general overview of how symptoms of TBI may manifest in teens as well as provides some common accommodations and strategies for helping them succeed in lecture-style classes.
One subject many high school teachers are unprepared for is working with students with disabilities on college prep—this page from the U.S. Department of Education can help.
This short article for school administrators and educators covers important statistics about and strategies for teaching teens with TBI.
College students with traumatic brain injuries may work with their professors on the accommodations offered to them by a school, but professors and administrators can help support students with TBI in many other ways as well. Check out some of the more innovative methods and ideas being used on college campuses to help students with TBI succeed.
A guide to reformatting lessons and differentiating instruction for students with disabilities like TBI using common technology, published by the Colorado Department of Education.
This community college located near Phoenix, AZ has created an online guide for its professors and instructors with methods and reminders to help them create a learning environment that students with TBI can benefit from.
Here, Ferris State University outlines helpful strategies for professors and instructors to use with students who have TBI, including different approaches for common symptoms.
A fact sheet for faculty on the Guided Notes lecture method that has been shown to help increase test scores for students with learning disabilities, and general student populations as well.
Dr. Mary Kennedy and her research are at the forefront of TBI and learning in college students. This video provides some background information on her method via an interview with her. Her academic articles and findings are available at PubMed.gov.
Based on the specific, real-life situations professors encounter when teaching students with disabilities, this guide is all-encompassing, but also offers specific guidance for teaching students with head injuries.
Educators know school isn’t just about teaching lessons provided by textbooks, it’s also about helping students develop healthy socialization habits. Social learning happens inside and outside the classroom, and students with TBIs may need to learn or rebuild their social skills in different ways than their peers. To help improve the social skills of students with TBI and to help prevent feelings of loneliness and isolation, check out the resources below:
BrainLine’s guide on classroom relationships provides ideas and strategies for helping students with TBI and their peers, especially helping older students in high school improve their social skills and relationships.
This collection of valuable articles for educators of students with learning disabilities will still have ideas and methods that can be used with students who have TBI.
This guide to teaching social skills to students with learning disabilities includes in-depth information and connects readers to similar resources.
Educators preparing their students, especially elementary-age students, for the return of a classmate with TBI can use this guide as a launchpad for ideas.
Traditional college students often arrive on campus fresh out of high school, but a growing number of non-traditional students are enrolling in college after military service. While these students can still benefit from the accommodations offered by a campus disability or veteran’s service office, those with a TBI may benefit from additional support from their school and educators:
This free guide from the American Council on Education addresses how higher education faculty and staff can build an inclusive college experience that assures lessons and resources are accessible for student veterans with TBI and/or PTSD.
For college staff and faculty to become certified veteran advocates, this training program equips educators with skills needed to help student veterans feel supported, both academically and socially.
This short online program is geared towards helping colleges and their staff better identify the needs of student veterans, especially those with TBI, and address those needs effectively.
This center at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee serves as a hub of information and services for student veterans; this system assures that student veterans can find the resources they need with ease. The University of Arizona has a similar center for student veterans, and many other student veterans (especially those with the added challenge of TBI and navigating accommodations offices) would benefit from similar resources on their campuses.
This group within the Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD) researches and promotes methods which support the education of student veterans with disabilities.
The support of parents, guardians, and families as a whole are often vital for the success of students; this is especially true for children, teens and young adults who have experienced a traumatic brain injury. Here are some valuable resources for understanding and helping students with TBI adjust to school and perform to the best of their abilities while there:
This article, published by the American Psychological Association, is written mostly for therapists and other providers. However, it provides valuable insight into significant challenges students with TBI may face when transitioning back to school and how their support network, including their families, can help.BIAColorado
The Colorado chapter of the Brain Injury Association put together this piece to help connect children, teens and parents with TBI-specific support groups. Although these groups are Colorado-specific, other state chapters of BIA may have similar directories and information.Guide for Families About School
The Brain Injury Association of New Jersey created this guide with over 60 pages of advice, resources and tips for helping a student with TBI successfully return to school.LEARNet
The BIA of New York created and maintains this free resource for teachers, parents, and students; it helps individuals with TBI test and identify new learning strategies and solutions that best suit their needs.
This section of the Center for Parent Information and Resources focuses specifically on TBI, including a breakdown of common symptoms and challenges children can face and extensive advice on how to help students succeed in school.TBI Toys
Fat Brain Toys offers a selection of toys that can help boost the motor and cognitive skills of children with TBI. The toys are largely intended for pre-K through elementary ages.Top Ten Back to School Tips for Students
This guide offers ideas for how parents can help their children re-adjust to school and succeed once they are there. Many of the ideas are easily implemented and involve no special purchases.Why a C Feels More Like an A to My Daughter With TBI
This short article written by the mother of a college student with TBI addresses the idea of creating a “new normal” and realistic expectations with honesty and insight.
Head injury prevention has been a serious topic of discussion amongst schools, parents, politicians and healthcare professionals, as popular sports programs like as soccer and football have been shown to put students at increased risk for TBI. Because these programs are often school-sponsored, many believe administrators should be implementing policies aimed at head injury prevention to better protect their students. Here are some examples of how schools and communities are working to address, treat and prevent TBI in students:
Published by the Brain Injury Alliance of Nebraska, this coach and player toolkit provides links to approved head injury training programs for coaches, such as Heads UP to School Sports.Illinois Policy Tackle Football Ban
Illinois is just one state supporting a ban on tackle football for children under 12 years of age.NJ Safe Schools
The New Jersey Safe Schools program addresses concussions and mild TBIs in schools by providing prevention information to schools, coaches, teachers and parents.State-by-State Injury Prevention Policy Report (2015)
This extensive account of injury types and prevention measures across the states of America includes sections on which states have programs addressing TBI in schools and the overall success of these programs.
In part developed by the Brain Injury Research Program at the Medical College of Wisconsin, this app helps parents and coaches successfully identify head injuries to assure students get the treatment they need.TBI and SCI Injury Prevention Inventory
Here, SafeStates has a directory of organizations and systems designed to protect students from concussions and TBI, including sample measures communities and schools can put into place.Think-A-Head
This program spearheaded by the Brain Injury Association of Massachusetts teaches K-12 students about the dangers of brain injury and how they can make healthy choices to prevent them. The program includes three separate sections for elementary, middle and high schools with age-appropriate activities and lessons.
In addition to the specific resources above, there are dozens more TBI-focused websites and organizations available online, some geared towards those who suffer from TBI and some for their support networks. Here are some of the best TBI resources for everything from life skills support to finding advocacy services.
The BIA is a nationwide organization that supports individuals with TBI; in addition to its directory of state chapters, the BIA includes dozens of useful articles about nearly every aspect of living with TBI.Brain Injury Services
This Virginia-specific organization connects individuals with traumatic brain injuries to the services and support systems they need.BrainLine
This website contains a variety of articles for anyone affected by TBI as well as information on how to cope with the symptoms of TBI to lead a more successful and fulfilling life.Centre for Neuro Skills
There are four Neuro Skills centers throughout the country that offer rehabilitation services to those with TBI and similar acquired brain injuries; even if you do not live near a Neuro Skills center the website still has a variety of helpful tips and resources.
This publishing company offers a wide range of tools and resources for individuals with TBI, their families, and professionals who work with TBI.Model Systems Knowledge Translation Center
This organization creates and offers excellent resources for individuals suffering from traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries and burns.National Resource Center for Traumatic Brain Injury
The TBINRC is managed by Virginia Commonwealth University and serves as a hub for resources, links and even Q & As about traumatic brain injuries.