In the Classroom: Traumatic Brain Injury ... What Teachers Should Know

The Center on Brain Injury Research and Training, University of Oregon
In the Classroom: Traumatic Brain Injury … What Teachers Should Know

What is TBI?

A Traumatic Brain Injury is caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head, or a penetrating head injury that disrupts the normal function of the brain. 1.7 million TBIs occur each year.

A TBI can result from

  • Falls
  • Car wrecks
  • Sports injuries
  • Collisions with objects or other people
  • Being shaken
  • Any trauma to the head

Common Symptoms of TBI


  • Feeling dazed or in fog
  • Disorientation
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Slowed information processing
  • Difficulty learning new information
  • Difficulty with memory
  • Difficulty juggling multiple tasks
  • Communicating in “socially unacceptable” ways
  • Difficulty with concentration and attention


  • Irritability
  • Quick to anger
  • Decreased motivation
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Social withdrawal
  • Does not get the “gist” of social interactions
  • May comment on or react to things that seem random to others


  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Changes in balance
  • Headaches
  • Changes in vision
  • Changes in hearing
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Fatigue

Identification of Students with TBI

  • Many students with brain injury are not appropriately identified for accommodations.
  • Challenges that result from a TBI are also common in students with other disabilities.
  • TBI is an eligibility category under the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA). Some students with TBI may need a 504 plan or special education services in order to succeed in school.

Key Questions to Ask When Identifying Students with TBI

Did the student:

  • Have a history of performing at a higher level?
  • Have difficulties that began after an event likely to cause a TBI?
  • Lose previously learned skills?
  • Become unaware of loss of skills and abilities?
  • Exhibit personality changes?
  • Lose social skills or abilities?
Posted on BrainLine August 14, 2013.

In The Classroom, Copyright 2012, supported by Oregon Department of Education (ODE) and National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation
Research (NIDRR) grant #H133B090010, is the sole responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of ODE or
NIDRR. Adapted from LEARNet, a program of the Brain Injury Association of New York State, and funded by the Developmental Disabilities Planning
Council. Copyright 2006, by the Brain Injury Association of New York State. Used with permission.

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Comments (8)

Please remember, we are not able to give medical or legal advice. If you have medical concerns, please consult your doctor. All posted comments are the views and opinions of the poster only.

I have a child that was accidentally backed over at age 18 months in our driveway. He was progressing well up until that time. He was speaking words clearly like mum, dad, please he also was a great little eater and loved his food. Immediately after the accident, he was no longer able to swallow food unless it was mashed finely and could only make squealing sounds.

He is now 15 and trying to gain access to an education has been so difficult. He is homeschooled as teachers are not taught how to manage the fatigue that comes with a suffering a brain injury then it turns into a behaviour problem then excluding him from school. Is there anyone out there that has a really great way to ensure teachers get it?

Trying to gain access to an education for my child is nearly nonexistent.

My child's specialist has written a very easy to read booklet but no teacher bothers to read it or try and learn from it.

Because my child looks good on the outside teachers believe he is no different to any other child in the class. If that was correct then why has he been excluded from 6 schools? Teachers add fuel to the fire by not listening and not believing specialists or parents. I live in New Zealand where Brain Injury in Children is not followed up or taken seriously unless the child is physically maimed.

When I read the emotional/behavior section...I was thinking, yes, for all of the statements...but my daughter did not exhibit all of these symptoms until she fell...she did have balance issues...& suffered a small she has all those symptoms....

My son suffered a brain injury from a car accident not less than a year ago.  A 504 plan was put in place for him to help him continue his studies.  Even with the accommodations in place, his teachers dismissed the majority of the key accommodations because it compromised the state's standards.  Some of them were not even aware of the accommodations and I place this blame on the SST leader since she assured me that was her responsibility to notify the teachers. Outside of that they just are not aware of the post-injury challenges that my son faces.  I have been told by a teacher that he is different, that he did not use his time wisely, or that he received a less than satisfactory grade on an assignment because he missed one step out of a paragraph long list of instructions which were supposed to be simplified as written in his plan.  They were provided with his eval report and with his current deficits and I feel that the all forget what was shared with them until I have to remind them again, which is often.  When I asked the principal about their involvement in working with TBI students, there was none.  This journey along with the journey of having another child with ADHD/IEP; I am exploring my options of becoming more involved in bridging the gap between brain injury students/parents and the school system.

To the teacher who shared about her the classroom.   Thank you for sharing...we will all try to spread the word to teachers.

am a (former, I guess) Elementary School Teacher (grades 2-5), who is now part of the TBI community (2 brain surgeries, double-digit concussions). I haven't gone back to the classroom, as I just haven't gotten to that point in healing to be able to be working. I have said, however, there is so much perspective that has come with my healing (steps forward and back) and I felt it would be an asset in the classroom. For students (and families of students), talk with your educators and administrators--and educational advocates if support, modification and encouragement is not forthcoming. We really do want to help and may just need some guidance on where your child/pre-teen/teen/adult is currently and we can work together to make goals for an increase in skills--social, emotional, academic. Since all TBI's are different (although there are certainly similarities that tie us together!!), this needs to be approached with those involved...and keep in consistent contact (since there are so many ups and downs with recovery).

For a commonality--I am better able to process information and stimuli earlier in the day...when my brain is tired, I make more word mistakes, finding driving unfamiliar places difficult and have increases in migraines and physical symptoms. So, if your TBI-loved one is similar, having the conversation about "shutting down" at points in the day when the brain is taxed/over-taxed and how to help (time away from stimuli, a quiet corner, time to rest, shortened school day) is a great step that will help the student and the teacher(s).

Good luck to all!!

Growing up as a brain injured child i received a lot of labels and "special" services. But no one ever really taught me specific coping skills for not being able to recognize or remember faces, the only time that issue was being told repetitively never tell people about it because i would become a target for criminals.

Great article that all teachers should be aware of. My son suffered TBI through having two concussions occur with 24 hours. He went from a 3.85 honors math and chemistry student to a complete long term mess. It's been 2.5 years and he is attending the local JC and still struggling with issues post concussion. . I am a teacher, and I share his story as much as I can to the educational community.

I hope when you tell (other) people about him, you leave out the part about his being "a complete long term mess".
I'm 44 now but when I was 16, I had a car wreck that left me with a TBI. Glad my parents didn't say I was a "mess".
I got better over the years and for the most part, I am fully recovered. You wouldn't know about my TBI if you met me. I'm completing an M.Ed. in special education (which is what brought me to this website).