Severe Traumatic Brain Injury Special Needs Factsheet

What Teachers Should Know

A severe traumatic brain injury (TBI) is damage to the brain caused by an injury that changes the way the brain normally works. Concussions are sometimes called mild TBIs, and most have temporary effects on brain functions. Severe TBIs usually have longer-lasting effects.

Severe TBIs can be:

  • closed — caused by movement of the brain inside the skull (from falls, automobile crashes, or being hit with hard objects, for example)
  • penetrating — caused by an object entering the skull (bullets or sharp objects, for example)

TBIs contribute to nearly one third of all injury-related deaths in the United States. Nonfatal TBIs can cause temporary or permanent impairments in:

Severe TBIs can affect all aspects of students’ lives, including:

  • relationships with family, friends, classmates, and teachers
  • their abilities to learn and participate in classroom and extracurricular activities

Students with a TBI may:

  • have short- and long-term memory loss
  • need frequent breaks due to inability to concentrate for long periods of time
  • require seating accommodations or assistive devices in the classroom
  • need help and/or additional time getting to other classes
  • struggle with writing, reading, and other academic tasks they used to be able to do
  • have seizures or other neurological changes
  • seem depressed, anxious, or show aggressive or inappropriate behaviors
  • miss classroom time for medical appointments and to visit the school nurse for medication
  • benefit from individualized education programs (IEPs) or 504 education plans
  • need extra time to complete homework and assignments

What Teachers Can Do

Students with TBIs often face a long-term healing process. Because the effects of a TBI vary from person to person, it’s a good idea to talk with your student’s parents or guardians — as well as the school counselor or psychologist and special education staff — to find the best ways to customize your instruction.

To help students with problems related to concentration, organization, and memory, you can:

  • reduce distractions in the classroom
  • break assignments into smaller tasks
  • repeat and review assignments and have students write them down
  • provide a checklist of tasks to complete each day
  • give extra time for tests and assignments
  • help the student stay organized

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: October 2014