Once, Thomas was on top of the academic world. As a student who was once labeled as “gifted”, he earned straight “A’s” in all his courses and was part of the honor role at his school. That is until he was in a car accident. He’s not alone. Pedro, a fairly normal student with aspiration of going to college had his dreams dashed when he fell off the bed of a moving truck and struck his head on the pavement.
Both students survived their accidents, but they were not the same. They ended up with serious head injuries that would eventually affect their lives academically, as well socially and physically.
Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is an injury to the brain which results in total or partial physical or mental disabilities. Not only does this condition have the potential of paralyzing a person or causing deformation, it can have psychological and intellectual effects that can drastically affect one’s learning ability. The conditions can be mild such as memory or processing disorders, to profound such as loss and limitation of learning abilities.
Since its inception in 1990, Individual with Disability Education Act (IDEA), TBI has been recognized as one of several conditions that fall under the identification and label of being a specific learning disorder. The designation is included on a student’s Individual Education Plan (IEP). As result, a student with this designation is eligible for special education services. And, depending on the severity of the condition, they may need services that may last a lifetime.
A more thorough definition can be found in the book “Exceptional Learners” by Daniel P. Hallarhan and James Kauffman. According to the book, TBI is defined as:
1.Being an Injury to the brain caused by an external force.
2. Not being caused by a degenerative or congenital condition.
3. Causing a diminished or altered state of consciousness.
4. Creating neurological or neurobehavioral dysfunction.
Most TBI cases are caused by car accidents. Some may have been associated with being shaken or hit by a parent or adult as a child or being hit in the head by a blunt object. As mentioned, TBI is caused by accidents or acts of violence instead of a condition that’s present at birth, birth trauma or a degenerative disease.
This condition may have several effects on a student. Memory loss or problems with attaining memory (short or long term) tend to be the most common – and mildest – form of the condition. However, considering how fragile the brain can be, many other dysfunctions may occurs such as the loss of bodily function or paralysis that will affect motor skills of a student.
Other problems can be the loss of concentration; something that Thomas had. In the severe case – as was the case with Pedro – a loss of the ability to develop academically can occur. In some respects, the conditions mimic those with intellectual developmental disabilities (mental retardation) or some conditions associated with autism. For students with these severe conditions, their prospect of ever learning above a particular level will be greatly limited. And, they will most likely be dependent or need assistance from services such as the department of rehabilitation or regional center (if he is assessed to have an IQ level below 80 before the age of eighteen).
TBI has had different effects on Thomas and Pedro. While Thomas’s injuries were minor, he began to have issues with memory and processing disorders such as auditory processing. He went from being a Gate student to a Resource student struggling in high school. Still, he’s been able to function with accommodation in general education population and may have the ability to attend college.
Pedro, on the other hand, has a longer, tougher educational road ahead of him. In high school, he never advanced far beyond an SDC or Basic Skills class. Also, his injury has left him dependent on a walking-cane and has slurred his speech to the point he can be barely understood. TBI shows no favorites when it strikes.
Hallahan, D. and Kauffman, J.( 2000) “Exceptional Learners: Introduction to Special Education”; Pearson Education Company.