Learning about traumatic brain injury

& Special Education

By Marilyn Lash, MSW

Where do I start? This is the question often asked by parents of recently injured children with traumatic brain injury as they enter the complex system known as special education. Educating a student with a traumatic brain injury is a complex and challenging process that constantly changes over time.

The Informed Consumer

Parents can only be effective advocates for their child if they are knowledgeable. The federal law on education, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), has a specific category for traumatic brain injury under special education. The federal definition is limited to traumatic injuries to the brain that are caused by an external physical force (such as a blow to the head). Many states have broadened this definition to include acquired brain injuries (strokes, tumors, encephalitis, meningitis, near drowning). Readers can find out how their state defines brain injury by contacting the Department of Education in their state or their local special education director.

The diagnosis of a traumatic brain injury does not automatically qualify a student for special education. The diagnosis is just a beginning. Once a referral for special education has been made, the school conducts a multidisciplinary evaluation. This evaluation determines how the brain injury has affected the student’s ability to learn and function in school. Federal and state laws provide very specific procedures and timelines for this process.

The special education law guarantees parents certain rights and responsibilities. It is important for parents to know their rights under this law and to be involved. This article identifies two important resources for parents, advocates and educators injury.


This is the National Information Center on Children and Youth with Disabilities. It is an excellent place to begin to understand how special education works. This federally funded national clearinghouse provides information on disabilities in children and youth (birth to age 22). It specializes in fact sheets and guides that are written just for parents. Many materials are free or have a minimal charge. Their Publications Catalog lists their many products and is a gateway to information. You can even find a list of Resources in your state.

You can check it out on the web at www.nichcy.org or call 1-800-695-0285 or 202-884-8200 . NICHCY’s address is PO Box 1492, Washington, DC 20013-1492.

Fact Sheet on Traumatic Brain Injury

NICHCY also has a four-page fact sheet on tbi that provides an excellent overview of the consequences of brain injury and its effects upon a student’s learning. It describes how a brain injury can affect a student and provides tips for teachers and parents. Resources direct readers to books and manuals about students with brain injuries. It can be ordered at the above numbers through NICHCY.

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    Special Education IEP Checklist for a Student with a Brain Injury

    Once a student has been found eligible for special education, the educational team develops an individualized educational program (IEP) to meet the student’s special needs. This is the blueprint for the student’s education. Parents are an integral part of this plan. The IEP is not just a pile of paperwork that sits in the student’s folder. It is a flexible and critical tool that should change, as the student’s needs change.

    Because a brain injury affects each student differently, there is no standard content for this IEP. This IEP checklist identifies common changes after a brain injury. It lists student accommodations or assistance that may be needed for thinking and communication, developing social skills, and adjusting to physical changes. Teaching strategies, methods for giving instructions and assignments, and types of adaptive aids are listed for use is the classroom.

    View the Special Education IEP Checklist for a Student with a Brain Injury available from Lash & Associates Publishing/Training Inc.