Mild Acquired Brain Injury


Mild ABI is characterized by moderate changes in one, or all, of an individual’s level of cognitive, emotional, behavioral, or physiological functioning. These changes can take a number of forms, but will most likely include a combination of:

  • impaired memory
  • trouble expressing thoughts
  • a decreased tolerance for frustration
  • a lack of emotion
  • the tendency to overreact
  • depression
  • impulsiveness
  • difficulty solving problems
  • increased fatigue
  • poor coordination of movements
  • dizziness and loss of balance
  • frequent headaches or nausea
  • poor judgment
  • an inaccurate assessment of ability

A mild ABI can be the result of a number of causes. For example, a brain tumor, a stroke or aneurisms, seizure activity, infectious disease, a loss of oxygen to the brain, or substance abuse. However, the most common cause of ABI is a traumatic injury to the brain as a result of either a blow to the head or a violent whipping action of the neck. There is no such thing as a “typical” ABI; similar injuries may produce different effects in different people.

Academic Accommodations

Some of the most commonly provided academic accommodations to students with ABI include:

  • use of memory aids such as formula cards during tests
  • provision of a note taker for lectures
  • tape recording of lectures
  • provision of written, step by step instructions when assigning work
  • time extensions for in-class assignments
  • separate room for writing exams
  • priority seating to facilitate attention
  • allow break periods as needed for rest and taking medications
  • provision of extended time for tests and exams. The amount of extra time is determined by the disability support office.
  • allowing point form responses to essay questions
  • the use of oral exams in place of, or as a supplement to, written exams
  • a modified exam scheduled to spread out the work-load (longer exams may even need to be broken down into sections that can be completed separately)

Educational Impacts

Functions Educational Impact(s)
Memory Difficulty committing information to memory; following a conversation; processing ideas through a specific modality (e.g., speaking but not writing); recalling appointments; recalling facts, such as definitions or technical terms.
Organizational Skills Students with frontal lobe injuries may have difficulty organizing their time, breaking large tasks down into smaller parts, and deciding where to start when tackling large tasks. These students may also have difficulty if information is presented in an unstructured manner (e.g., without the use of a clear outline). These students may have difficulty following the train of thought of an instructor, completing assignments on time, or preparing for exams.
Attention/Concentration Learning, particularly in an academic setting, requires a certain amount of attention and concentration. Individuals with difficulties maintaining attention may find it difficult to learn new material and complete exams or assignments, particularly when faced with competing stimuli, such as a noisy class or exam room.
Visual Processing These students may have difficulty recognizing objects (even close friends and family), picking out details, or completing tasks requiring visual-spatial abilities. A decrease in executive functions: With frontal lobe damage, it is common that higher order cognitive functions, such as reasoning and judgement are affected.
Communication If the motor functions of the brain are injured, then clear speech can be difficult to generate. However, the brain may also have difficulty transferring thoughts into speech or interpreting incoming speech, a phenomenon known as aphasia.
Fatigue Students may find that they run out of energy part way through a long class or later in the day. Fatigue may be particularly evident when high levels of concentration are needed, such as during an exam.
Chronic Pain This may take the form of headaches, neck or back pain, or another type of physical discomfort (e.g., nausea, ringing in the ears, dry eyes, etc…). Students may find it difficult to complete long lectures or exams. Additionally, medication given to reduce pain or prevent seizures can cloud thinking.
Poor Motor Control Occasionally, the areas of the brain responsible for the initiation, coordination, and feedback of the body’s movements are affected by a brain injury. These changes can occur in a number of forms, including reduced motor speed, spastic or rigid movements, body tremors, reduced hand-eye coordination, or poor balance. Individuals may also experience periodic seizures that involve a temporary loss of consciousness and/or muscular convulsions.
Emotional Individuals may find it difficult to deal with the pressure and stress inherent to academics. This is coupled with the fact that students may still be adjusting to any cognitive and physiological changes that they may have incurred. As a result, frustration, depression, and social withdrawal may compromise an individual’s ability to function as a student. There are several changes that frequently occur as a result of an ABI, including: an increase in irritability and a decrease in tolerance for frustration; symptom of depression, social withdrawal, and learned helplessness and the tendency to display excessive or inaccurate emotional responses to events.
Behavioural Individuals may not only lack the work habits and social skills to function effectively as a student, but they may not realize when they are behaving inappropriately. They may exhibit impulsive or obsessive behaviours; make inappropriate social comments or be unable to pick up on social cues; lack initiative or have difficulty following through on tasks; or have difficulty following through on tasks; or demonstrate excessive self-serving behaviour.

Instructional Strategies

In many cases these young adults are in the process of regaining some direction and purpose in their life. The following strategies will help them succeed academically:

  • summarize information as it is being taught
  • use a multi-sensory approach and provide demonstrations, whenever possible
  • repetition and rehearsal strategies will help students over learn material to develop task mastery
  • encourage the use of daily planners to record important information such as appointments, assignment due dates and homework
  • use time line, flow-charts, graphs and mapping as well as webbing techniques
  • identify important information from notes and textbooks and provide a written study guide in preparation for tests and exams
  • redirect student to the task when necessary
  • periodic student/instructor meetings to review progress and discuss problems
  • work closely with the Disability Services office to ensure a successful learning experience for the student