Overview of Brain Injuries and Learning Disabilities

How can brain injury cause or worsen learning disabilities?

Classroom Students
Classroom Students. Matt Cardy / Stringer / Getty Images

Brain injuries and related learning disabilities are serious problems in our country. The American Academy of Neurology reports that as many as 1.5 million people have brain injuries in the United States, and it is a major cause of death and disability for children and adults. More children die of brain injury each year than of any other cause, and the incidence is on the rise. Motorcycle and ATV injuries account for recently increasing brain injuries among young teens.

What is a Brain Injury?

The term brain injury refers to brain damage resulting from physical trauma occurring after birth. The most common cause of brain injury is by accidental trauma to the head, as in a car accident. There are several types of brain injuries having various effects.

  • Concussions occur from a sudden impact or from a strong whiplash movement as in a sudden stop when moving at high speeds.
  • A contusion is a bruise on the brain.
  • A coup-contrecoup injury occurs when an additional injury occurs to parts of the brain that are directly opposite from the initial impact. The brain sits within our skulls and is surrounded by a fluid-filled pocket between the brain and the skull walls. In an accident, the initial impact causes trauma to the impact site. The brain then moves within the skull and strikes the opposite side of the skull, causing the secondary injury. This type of injury occurs during sudden stops at high speeds and is also seen in victims of violent shaking. Further brain injury can occur when patients suffer a second traumatic blow before the first injury has healed.

    What are Common Symptoms of a Brain Injury?

    Brain injuries range from mild to debilitating. Any person having trauma to the head should be seen immediately by a doctor who can determine what critical care may be needed. The earlier the treatment begins, the more successful treatment can be. Signs of a brain injury include symptoms such as:

    • Nausea;
    • Vomiting;
    • Unconsciousness;
    • Slurred Speech;
    • Confusion;
    • Amnesia or other memory problems;
    • Delayed physical or mental responses;
    • Visual disturbances; and
    • Vacant staring.

    In cases of moderate to severe damage, seizures, coma, impaired behavior and thinking, and death may occur.

    Learning Disabilities with Brain Injuries

    Many students who sustain brain injuries have resulting specific learning disabilities (SLDs). The type and severity of the disability depend on the seriousness of the injury and the part of the brain affected. If the student had an SLD before the brain injury, it is possible that the learning disorder may worsen.

    Educational Program Development for Children with Traumatic Brain Injuries

    Treatments for brain injuries vary, depending on the type and severity of the injury. Medical interventions may include surgery, long-term hospitalization, and therapies such as physical, counseling, behavioral, occupational, and speech. The patient's first year following the injury is considered as most important to improve the long-term outlook for recovery.

    To develop an appropriate Individual Education Program, it is important for educators to work with the physicians treating the student to develop a transition plan to assist with moving her back into the classroom setting. It is also important for everyone working with the student to continue to communicate throughout the first year of recovery to exchange information and develop the most appropriate strategies and Specially Designed Instruction (SDI) for the student's unique needs.

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