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Acquired Brain Injury

What is an Acquired Brain Injury?

An acquired brain injury is defined by the World Health Organization as “damage to the brain, which occurs after birth and is not related to a congenital or a degenerative disease. These impairments may be temporary or permanent and cause partial or functional disability or psychosocial maladjustment.”

The effects of acquired brain injury are different for everyone and can range from mild to profound. Lasting effects can result in physical, cognitive, emotional, and/or social changes.

  • Physical changes include mild to severe impact on motor functioning, slurred speech, poor vision, chronic pain, and fatigue or sleeping difficulties.
  • Cognitive changes include difficulty absorbing information/ understanding, poor memory, problems with organization, distractibility, decision making, impulsiveness, confusion, and perseveration (getting stuck on an idea or activity).
  • Emotional changes include irritability, mood disorders (depression, anxiety, and/or anger management problems), emotional or behavioral outbursts, and normal emotional responses due to the impact of the injury such as sadness, anger, and anxiety about another injury. Strong emotions can also occur due to the changes in physical, cognitive, or social ability as well as the potential loss of future plans and sense of self.
  • Social changes include difficulty reading social cues, inappropriate behavior, and poor coping skills which can drastically affect relationships. These changes in the ability to form and maintain relationships can be extremely difficult and affect all aspects of life.

Types of Brain Injuries:

Acquired Brain Injuries can occur through a variety of means:

  • Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) – Traumatic forces to the head that cause damage to the brain

  • Stroke – Embolisms, thrombosis, and aneurysm

  • Bleeding in the brain – Intracranial surgery, hemorrhage, and hematoma

  • Lack of oxygen to the brain – anoxia/hypoxia, near-drowning, cardiac arrest, and drug overdose

  • Infections in the brain

  • Disease – AIDS, Alzheimer’s, cancer, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson’s disease

  • Toxic exposure – poisoning, inhaling toxic chemicals, solvent sniffing, and excessive use of drugs or alcohol

  • Fluid-build up in the brain

  • Brain tumors

What Acquired Brain Injury is NOT?

An acquired brain injury is not a bump to the head or even a concussion. Concussions may lead to an acquired brain injury in the most serious cases but an injury to the brain must have lasting effects to be considered an acquired brain injury.

How Common are Acquired Brain Injuries?

The Brain Injury Association of America estimates that over 3 million children and adults sustain an acquired brain injury in the U.S. per year.

Currently, they estimate that over 6.4 million children and adults live with a lifelong disability due to traumatic brain injury and strokes which are only two of the many ways that acquired brain injury can occur.

Tips for Professionals to Work with Students with Acquired Brain Injuries:


Acquired brain injury affects everyone differently. Communicate with the student about what they need and how you can help them.

Be Understanding

Acquired brain injury has the potential to fundamentally change a person’s life even if the affect isn’t readily apparent. Be aware of the impact that a brain injury can have on multiple aspects of a person’s life and offer them support as best as you can.


If circumstances permit, flexibility with assignment deadlines, workloads, or even teaching methods could be beneficial to students with an acquired brain injury. Increased time on assignments or tests can drastically benefit a student with an acquired brain injury. Students with an acquired brain injury may have trouble comprehending material and any accommodation to help them learn through different teaching methods, the ability to see a tutor, etc. could greatly benefit them as well.