23 May 2024

Understand the basics about ABI

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An Acquired Brain Injury (ABI) is an injury to the brain after birth caused by:

  • trauma, often a bump to the head or a jolt to the body
  • a medical event, including an illness or a treatment for an illness.

Types of ABI

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Three types of brain injury.

Source: i-Stock photo

i-Stock photo

ABI is an umbrella term for three types of brain injury.

1. Concussion: 

  • a mild traumatic injury to the brain usually caused by a bump to the head or jolt to the body
  • negatively affects the brain
  • effects usually resolve in three weeks
  • requires rest to allow healing
  • increases vulnerablility to subsequent injury (Second Impact Syndrome), if activity is resumed too soon
  • also called mild Traumatic Brain Injury (mTBI).

2. Traumatic brain injury (TBI): 

  • a significant injury usually caused by a bump, blow, or shake to the head or body
  • changes how the brain usually functions
  • can alter a child’s emotional, intellectual, communication, and social behaviour
  • requires rest to allow healing
  • can range from moderate to severe
  • more prevalent in children living in areas of social and economic deprivation or who were impulsive or risk takers prior to injury
  • can result in long-term changes and challenges.

3. Non-traumatic brain injuries:

  • caused by internal events or illnesses, such as strokes, tumours, choking, infection, or cancer treatments
  • similar charcteristics to TBI.

Source: Adapted from Educational implications of acquired brain injury, by Sue Walker, Brain and Spine Foundation, UK, 2009.

Causes of ABI

Acquired brain injuries can be caused by a wide range of events.

The need to raise awareness

Recent research indicates that ABIs, particularly from undiagnosed concussions, are having a significant negative impact on the wellbeing, learning, and wairua of a large number of children and young people in our learning environments.

Due to a lack of understanding, children and young people may find:

  • they do not receive support that assists their recovery
  • they are placed in situations that may create stress and anxiety, increase risk of injury, and inhibit recovery
  • changes to behaviour and difficulties in learning may be misinterpreted.

Next steps

Return to the guide “Supporting learners with acquired brain injury”

Guide to Index of the guide: Acquired brain injury and learning