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Brain injury

Girls appearing overwhelmed with her schoolwork.

A traumatic brain injury, or TBI, happens when someone’s head is suddenly hit or shaken really hard, such as during a car accident, a fall on the playground, or an accident while skiing. TBI does not include brain injuries that happen before someone is born or during birth. A TBI can change how someone acts, moves, thinks, and learns.

Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of TBIs bad enough to send someone to the hospital. Did you know that motor vehicle accidents are the most likely cause of TBI among young people ages 15 to 24?

Many people with TBIs have to cope with different disabilities. Some of the problems TBI can cause are:

  • A headache that does not go away
  • Feeling tired all of the time
  • Paralysis, or the inability to move on one or both sides of the body
  • Problems speaking or understanding words
  • Trouble remembering things
  • Problems paying attention
  • Trouble reading and writing
  • Getting lost or easily confused
  • Trouble making decisions
  • Feeling sad or angry for no reason
  • Seizures
  • Problems with seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, or smelling

If you have a TBI, that doesn’t mean you will have all of these issues. Each person with a TBI is different. It depends on how bad the injury is, what part of the brain is hurt, and how well the recovery goes. For young people, other parts of the brain may be able to learn the job of the damaged part of the brain. This means you could be able to regain your abilities much better than an adult could!

If your injury is bad, you may have to stay in the hospital for a while and then go through rehabilitation for a long time. During all of this, your recovery team will likely include more than just doctors and nurses. Your team may include a physical therapist, occupational therapist, counselor, and a speech therapist. It may also include special education teachers when you are ready to go back to school.

Going back to school arrow top

After a TBI, you may feel different and also may need different things from the people around you. You may need your friends to walk slower. Or you may need them to remind you about plans you make. Your parents and the school may need to make an Individualized Education Program (IEP). Your IEP will make sure you get what you need to learn and have success in school. For instance, you might need your class set up in a certain way. You might need extra time for a test. Or you might need somebody to help you get around. Remember that it is okay to tell your parents, teachers, and friends how you feel and what they can do to help you.

Read more about Individualized Education Programs.


Adjustment, which means getting used to something new, is a big part of dealing with a brain injury. Each person who is injured adjusts in his or her own way. For example, some people may not realize how serious their injury is right away. For teens, coping with changes after an injury can be even harder. This is because, as a teen, you also are coping with the change from childhood to adulthood.

Keep in mind that anger and grief are normal. But do not let your feelings keep you from taking care of yourself. Make sure to do what the doctor tells you to do and try to focus on your therapy.

Adjusting to your injury likely will be easier if you:

  • Set some personal goals, such as working hard in each therapy session to gain strength
  • Make an effort to stay in touch with your old friends and try making new friends at your physical therapy sessions
  • Try your hardest to talk through any problems that come up between you and your family members since your relationships may change during this time

The future

You will have to adjust to new experiences throughout your life with this injury. As tough as it can be, dealing with the different challenges that come your way can make you really strong. And girls with TBI still can become mothers, get jobs, and do lots more. Ask your doctor if you have any questions. And build a better future for yourself by following the instructions your health care team gives you.


Content last reviewed February 16, 2011
Page last updated August 24, 2018