Faculty & Staff Resources

What is an Aquired Brain Injury


About ABI

Over 2 million people sustain an acquired brain injury each year and researchers predict this number is likely grossly underestimated.

Head trauma, caused by external events such as an accident, physical altercation, fall or combat-related injuries are the leading causes of hospital visits in both the very young and older populations.

Likewise, an additional 1.5 million people each year experience an internal traumatic event such as stroke or brain tumor, resulting in varying degrees of disability that can impact all aspects of life.

The consequences of brain injury are many and complex, without a "one size fits all" result. As science and technology continue to evolve, so does our understanding of the structures of the brain and their role in thinking and doing (e.g memory, speaking, moving).

For our educational purposes, understanding how the brain functions differently after injury and developing strategies for compensation both in and outside of the classroom, is our primary student learning objective.

Areas of Impairment

There is great variation in the possible effects of a brain injury on an individual. Many acquire hidden disabilities, which are not easily understood by others because they are not obvious. Below are examples of functional areas of impairment students may present with:


Memory difficulties are probably the most common characteristic of students with brain injury and present the greatest challenge for learning. The primary problem is a decreased ability to store information and recall it at a later time. The storage and retrieval of pre-injury memories or previously acquired knowledge may be surprisingly intact.


Poor attention and concentration, often caused by poor filtering or processing of sensory information, may reduce the ability to focus long enough for learning to take place.

Speed of Thinking

New information may take longer to process effectively.

Communication functions such as writing, reading, speaking, listening, and "pragmatics" may be impaired. Examples of "pragmatics" problems are interrupting, talking out of turn, dominating discussions, speaking too loudly or rudely, or standing too close to the listener.

Spatial Reasoning

Refers to the ability to recognize the shapes of objects, judge distances accurately, navigate, read a map, visualize images, comprehend mechanical functions, or recognize the position in space. Mathematic abilities are linked to spatial reasoning.


Deficits of this type may reduce the ability to categorize, sequence, abstract, prioritize, and/or generalize information.

Executive Functions

The ability to set goals, plan, and work methodically toward an end result, especially with any mental flexibility, may be impaired. The difficulty may show as disorganization, poor problem solving and judgment especially with details involving time and multiple variables.


Some common types of psychosocial disabilities include depression or withdrawal, poor insight, poor reality orientation, low frustration tolerance, heightened irritability, restlessness, anxiety, emotional instability, impulsiveness, poor social judgment, disinhibited sexual behavior, euphoria, apathy, fatigue, and/or poor personal hygiene.

Movement, Vision, Hearing, and Physical Disabilities

The brain controls all bodily movement and perceives different types of sensory information. Thus, a myriad of disabilities related to walking, fine motor control and regulation of senses may occur as a result of a brain injury.

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