Skip to main content

Traumatic Brain Injury as a Common Learning Disorder

Dean Traylor is a freelance writer and teacher who writes about various subjects, including education and creative writing.

The Brain: Protect it at all cost! Originally posted at

The Brain: Protect it at all cost! Originally posted at

A Fragile, Complex Organ

All it takes is an unfortunate accident. It can be a bad fall or a blunt force to the head to drastically hamper a person's ability to function and live a normal life. Apt pupils, and full-grown adults have been transformed overnight after a severe head injury.

The brain is a complex and fragile organ. It is, in many respects, what shapes the type of person we are and how we learn. Thus, head injuries of any nature can be devastating or life altering.

Traumatic brain Injury -- or better known in special education circles as TBI -- is a major learning disability and is recognized in laws such as the Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) as being a major qualifier for special education. In addition, those with TBI face life long health issues as well as limitations in their education.

Students may have mild conditions such as memory processing disorders or crippling disabilities such as the loss of motor skills, speech, or intellectual capacity. Yet, as destructive as TBI can be on a student, it is a condition whose effects can be minimize through proper education and support.

The Causes

TBI is unique among all learning disorders. It is not considered genetic. Instead, it is often attributed to environment or, more precisely, to traumatic injuries that affect the brain in various ways.

The condition is not age specific, either. While most students designated with TBI received their diagnoses early in their childhood, it is not uncommon for some students to be diagnosed in their teen years. In fact, TBI can be diagnosed in one’s adulthood if an injury is severe enough to cause damage.

In fact, TBI can be diagnosed in one’s adulthood if an injury is severe enough to cause damage

There are many causes for this condition. The most common injuries are as follows:

  • Car or vehicular accidents
  • falling and landing on his/her head from a significant height
  • physical abuse or neglect
  • a blow to the head (from sports or fighting)

In certain cases, a student labeled with TBI may have received it from an infection, aneurysms, strokes or diseases that affected his/her brain functions. However, some doctors argue that this is not often a case of TBI, considering that a contagion caused it. Still, in such cases, as well as the accidental ones, TBI can stunt the intellectual and mental growth.

Types of TBI According to the CDC

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has categorized various forms of TBI. According to its website, there are two categories of injuries that cause TBI. They are:

  • Closed – this is a TBI caused by “movement within the skull.” Causes include falls, vehicle crashes, or a blow to the head by an object.
  • Penetrating – caused by a “foreign object entering the skull” such as a bullet, knife or other sharp or blunt object.

On top of that, the agency also list three main types of TBI:

  • Mild TBI (concussion)
  • Moderate TBI
  • Moderate and Severe TBI are usually clumped together, considering the causes (such as a penetrating blow to the head) are the same. They are often separated by degree of injury and cause. Moderate TBI may lead to loss of memory or processing skills that are similar to others with learning disabilities. A severe blow can cripple or kill a person.

This is not to take away from the moderate TBI. Lately, concussions, especially done repeatedly, can have long term consequences. Currently, a lot of attention has been given to these effects. This is particularly true for studies concerning chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Although the condition is diagnosed the after the death of the individual, some research indicate there are possible, but inconclusive, signs that CTE can be detected in the living.

There is another staggering statistic from the CDC that give perspective about TBI. They include:

  • About 166 American died from TBI-related injuries each day (2019);
  • 223,000 hospitalizations were the result of TBI (2018); and
  • Approximately 15% of high school students in the U.S. self-reported one or more sports or recreation-related concussions (a leading cause of TBI) in 2019.
Scroll to Continue

The Effects on Students

As mentioned, the effects of TBI may vary based on the severity of the condition. Memory loss, delays or other processing disorders are very common.

In other situations, intellectual capacity has been compromised. It is not uncommon for students to go from being on the honor roll to being eligible for special education. They may end up needing accommodations or have to take special day courses in certain subjects.

In others cases, TBI can be so severe that the students may have to take community based instructions (CBI) often reserved for students with disabilities such as low-functioning autism or Down's Syndrome. Those in this category will most likely have limited prospects after completion of high school.

Also, The more severe cases may involve paralysis or being confined to a vegetative state. In the latter case, the students are often confined to county programs, home-study, or hospitalization (depending on his/her educational and physical needs).


As mentioned, IDEA lists it as one of several conditions that qualifies a student for special education services.

As a result, students with TBI can and will receive accommodations or modifications to his/her education, as stipulated in their Individual Education Plan (IEP), a document that details a yearly plan for students with special needs. Many of these accommodations will include:

  • Preferential seating near the board or teacher;
  • Note taking support (especially for those with physical disabilities, in addition to learning disorders caused by TBI);
  • Repetition of assignments; and/or extra and flexible time to complete assignments.

preferential seating near the board or teacher; note taking support (especially for those with physical disabilities, in addition to learning disorders caused by TBI)

Those who are receiving modifications will receive radically different services. This may change the lesson/curriculum plans. Modification may focus on:

  • Remedial or fundamental support in academic skills.
  • Also, abridged or shortened texts books and stories will be used.
  • The most severe will receive CBI curriculum that may focus on social skills and/or the ability to live independent lives (often those in these programs will go on to job training programs coordinated with their school district and an agency such as the local department of rehabilitation and/or a regional center.

Not All of it is Bleak

It’s not uncommon for a perfectly normal or high achieving honor-roll student to be drastically altered by TBI. Such things can be devastating for the student and his/her family. It can also alter the future for many directly or indirectly affected by this condition.

On the other hand, there are cases of students with TBI who have gone on to have healthy, productive lives, despite the limitations the condition had caused.

TBI can be horrific, but help through special education and early intervention can help.


Work Cited

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2014 Dean Traylor


Tracie on April 15, 2018:

My son had a bad car accident and has bad horrible issue since. He has to drop out of college and he started struggling in every way.

Related Articles