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Acquired brain injury and school fact sheet

Acquired brain injury and school

Understanding the brain

The brain is the control centre for the whole body. It controls all of your senses enabling you to see, hear, taste, touch, smell, think and move around. Each area (or lobe) of the brain does different jobs. Here is a general guide to the brain:

  • Frontal lobe – Planning, self-control, initiation, attention and emotion.
  • Parietal lobe – touch, pain, temperature, reading and writing, attention to detail. Temporal lobe- hearing, memory, learning, mood, vision.
  • Occipital lobe – vision, interpreting shapes and colours.
  • Cerebellum – balance, speech.
  • Brain stem – basic life functions, control of movement.

Brain diagram

Types of brain injuries

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is a sudden unexpected injury to the brain. Each child and each brain injury is different, but some elements are common to most. Quite often, a brain injury occurs when the head is hit with a large force, making the brain move around inside the skull. Sometimes the skull might crack or fracture too.

A traumatic event is not the only way a student can sustain a brain injury. They can also be caused by tumours, illness and disease. These may be referred to as Acquired Brain Injuries (ABI).

Causes of Brain Injury

Some of the most common causes of brain injury in Australia are:

  • Motor vehicle and bike accidents
  • Motor vehicle and bike accidents
  • Falls
  • Sporting injuries
  • Meningitis/encephalitis (infections around the brain)
  • Cerebrovascular accidents (stroke or bleeds in the brain)
  • Hypoxia (lack of oxygen to the brain) from near-drowning accidents, cardiac (heart) causes and prolonged seizures (fits)

Effects of Brain Injury

The effects of a brain injury vary widely from person to person. What we do know is that the outcome will depend on these factors:

  • Which part of the brain was injured
  • Which part of the brain was injured
  • How serious the injury to the brain is
  • The age of the student
  • Pre-existing conditions
  • What treatment and rehab the patient receives
  • What stage of learning and development had been reached prior to the injury

Potential issues seen in students with a brain injury

Following a brain injury, students may experience:

  • Headaches
  • Fatigue

Each student will present differently however they may experience difficulties in one or more of the following areas:

  • Behavioural/ Emotional – they may become impulsive, more easily upset, have difficulty getting along with peers.
  • Physical – changes to their muscles, use of hands and feet.
  • Sensory – vision, hearing, balance, sensory neglect.
  • Cognition – decreased thinking speed, poor memory, learning difficulties, decreased planning and organisation.

Information on each of these changes will be described in more detail in this information pack, along with tips on how to help overcome these barriers within the classroom.

Impact within the school and classroom environment

Short Term Impact

  • They may need a gradual return to school program to manage fatigue and other health considerations.
  • They may need special consideration regarding the environmental layout, supervision and learning support strategies.

Long term impact

An interesting misconception is that a younger student will have a better outcome from a brain injury than an older student. Even though a young student’s brain has more plasticity and a greater ability for other neurons to take on new function, the brain is less developed overall and the student has less pre-existing knowledge (including life experiences and skills) to help them adjust to the consequences associated with a brain injury.

Often in children, skills that were acquired before the injury will be maintained; however, the ability to acquire new skills will be impeded, sometimes halting them in a certain developmental stage. Deficits that result from an injury occurring at an early stage, may not emerge until the student is much older and at a developmental age where those skills are needed. For example, a student acquiring an injury to the frontal lobe at age 5 may not show deficits until age 12 or older when more sophisticated cognitive skills such as problem solving, judgement, and the ability to organise and prioritise are required.

Specifics of how the student will be impacted by their brain injury will not be fully understood initially therefore it is important that:

  • They are regularly monitored through assessment to ensure that they are progressing in line with their capabilities.
  • Ongoing communication between the family, rehabilitation team and the education staff occurs throughout all years of schooling, that information is passed on each school year to facilitate smooth transition between the years.

Contact us

Queensland Paediatric Rehabilitation Service
Queensland Children’s Hospital
Level 6, 501 Stanley Street, South Brisbane 4101
t: 07 3068 2950
t: 07 3068 1111 (general enquiries)
f: 07 3068 3909

In an emergency, always call 000.

If it’s not an emergency but you have any concerns, contact 13 Health (13 43 2584). Qualified staff will give you advice on who to talk to and how quickly you should do it. You can phone 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Developed by the Queensland Paediatric Rehabilitation Service, Children’s Health Queensland. Updated: October 2017. All information contained in this sheet has been supplied by qualified professionals as a guideline for care only. Seek medical advice, as appropriate, for concerns regarding your child’s health.