How Brain Injury Can Cause Learning Disabilities

Classroom Students
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Brain injuries and related learning disabilities pose serious problems for children. In 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported approximately 2.87 million traumatic brain injury (TBI) related emergency department visits, hospitalizations and deaths making TBIs a major cause of death and disability for children and adults. More children die of brain injury each year than of any other cause. Learn more about brain injury and how to it can affect learning needs.

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 sudden or 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 a strong whiplash movement as in a sudden stop when moving at high speeds.
  • A contusion, which is a bruise on the brain.
  • A coup injury, which is located at the site of impact
  • A contrecoup injury, which 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
  • Vacant staring

In cases of moderate to severe damage, seizures, coma, impaired behavior and thinking, and even 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 Programs 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 (IEP), it is important for educators to work with the physicians treating the student to develop a transition plan to assist with moving them 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.

6 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Dewan MC, Mummareddy N, Wellons JC, Bonfield CM. Epidemiology of Global Pediatric Traumatic Brain Injury: Qualitative Review. World Neurosurg. 2016;91:497-509.e1. doi:10.1016/j.wneu.2016.03.045

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. TBI-related Emergency Department Visits, Hospitalizations, and Deaths (EDHDs).

  3. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Traumatic Brain Injury: Hope Through Research.

  4. Rivara FP, Koepsell TD, Wang J, et al. Incidence of Disability Among Children 12 Months After Traumatic Brain Injury. Am J Public Health. 2012;102(11):2074-2079. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2012.300696

  5. Steward KA, Gerstenecker A, Triebel KL, et al. Twelve-month recovery of medical decision-making capacity following traumatic brain injury. Neurology. 2016;87(10):1052-1059. doi:10.1212/WNL.0000000000003079

  6. Brain Injury Association of America. Children & Brain Injury: Impact on Education.

By Ann Logsdon
Ann Logsdon is a school psychologist specializing in helping parents and teachers support students with a range of educational and developmental disabilities.