Teaching Students with Acquired Brain Injuries

It is estimated that 50,000 people per year experience a head injury severe enough to keep them from returning to their pre-injury level of functioning. College age students are in a high-risk age group for this type of injury. Two-thirds of all head injury cases occur among people aged 15-24.

Some students with an acquired brain injury (ABI) have mobility problems that will require accommodations. Others may have partial or total loss of communication, psychosocial, sensory/perceptual, and/or cognitive abilities, and may lack physical and mental energy. Their disability may not be readily apparent and some may be reluctant to reveal it to you. Many of these individuals have been through extensive rehabilitation; they are proud of the progress they have made and want to be self-sufficient. At the same time, they often are painfully aware of the fact that they do not learn as easily as they did before their injury, and this change in ability can cause great frustration.

Among the cognitive deficits persons with head injuries may experience are difficulties with concentration, fatigue, memory, problem solving, and abstract reasoning. The problem that students mention most is memory. You may find that such students do well on test items that require them to recognize answers (multiple choice, matching) but do poorly on items requiring total recall (fill in the blank.)

Accommodations for students with ABI are individualized depending on the injury. In some cases, testing accommodations such as extended time and allowing students to take breaks during a test or class are appropriate for students with ABI. We suggest that you review the suggestions for learning disabilities since a number of these accommodations will also be appropriate for students with acquired brain injury.

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