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Issues Faced By Students With An Acquired Brain Injury

December 2, 2020

This is a guest post.


It has been a difficult period for higher education providers and their students. For most universities, looking after their students health and wellbeing, as well as their access to lectures, seminars and other learning tools have been a priority during the pandemic. However, the move to online learning and campus lockdowns have not been without controversy. Student leaders in early November warned that this is having a detrimental impact on all students’ mental health and universities need to step up to provide extra services.

Of particular concern is the support available for students with disabilities. Disabled Students UK –  in a response to a recent report by the independent Higher Education Commission which  found that students were having severe difficulties accessing extra support from their universities – called for institutions to adhere to firmer rules regarding access and to lose their licences if they fail to do so. In October, Disability Rights UK said that they answered hundreds of calls from students reporting that sometimes resources weren’t made available ahead of teaching, as well as problems navigating online conferencing, which can be difficult for those who struggle to multitask because of their disability.

For students with a brain injury, these issues could exacerbate the big challenges they already face when returning to higher education. Higher education providers can certainly do more to look after their students with brain injuries, during and beyond the pandemic. As a solicitor who represents adults with brain injuries, I want to raise awareness of the issues students with acquired brain injuries face (ABIs) and to highlight areas where they may need support.

Sadly many of my brain injured clients are not able to return to further education due to the severity of their injuries. However, there are many who have been able to overcome and work around the symptoms of their injury, and I wonder how many more could have if they had the right support in place.

Firstly it’s important for further / higher education providers to understand how ABIs can impact individuals, so they are able to provide the right level of support and accessibility to help students study their courses.

ABIs and their impact on learning

ABIs can be caused by trauma, such as a head injury from a road traffic accident or an assault. They can also be caused by an illness or medical condition such as a stroke, brain tumour, meningitis or encephalitis.

Brain injuries can be classified by severity into categories of mild, moderate or severe. Even someone who has a mild brain injury, such as a concussion, can still suffer with debilitating symptoms known as post-concussion syndrome. This can include symptoms such as reduced concentration, dizziness, headaches, irritability, depression, fatigue and memory problems. These symptoms often resolve after a few weeks, but can continue for months or even years.

More severe head injuries are likely to result in more permanent and complicated issues that last beyond the rehabilitation period.

It is well known that the human brain continues to develop well into a person’s mid-twenties. It is therefore difficult to predict the long term impact of a brain injury on a young adult because of their ongoing development. If it’s possible in the circumstances, continuing with education can often be a hugely beneficial to a young adult’s rehabilitation and recovery from their injury.

All brain injuries differ in nature, however, there are some common symptoms, which can all have an impact on how an individual learns:

  • Cognitive difficulties – such as, diminished concentration and attention, impaired memory, language issues.
  • Disorders of executive function – having detrimental effects on the ability to control impulses as well as planning, motivation, and judgement.
  • Physical changes – such as mobility and co-ordination problems, weakness, sensory impairment fatigue and pain.
  • Behavioural and emotional – such as mood swings, personality changes, depression, anxiety and loss of inhibition.

People with ABIs also tend to suffer with fatigue, preventing them from having an active social life and doing activities they enjoyed before their injury. It’s not uncommon too for people with an ABI to find their relationships change after their injury which can exacerbate social isolation. This is a result of the behavioural and emotional impact, which can adversely affect relationships. ABIs are also associated with mental health problems such as depression and anxiety.

Symptoms like headaches, irritability and difficulty with concentration can also be caused or exacerbated by other factors like stress and tiredness.

So what higher education institutions do to help?

Under the Equality Act 2010 higher education institutions have a duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled students. This could involve adapting the physical environment or by supplying aids and equipment or technology that helps the disabled student to access their education and the facilities as if they didn’t have a disability. 

ABIs are often referred to as a hidden disability because you cannot always see the injury. Other physical disabilities can be easier to identify and make adjustments for. ABIs require the injured person to explain their needs to universities.

If institutions  are providing support for disabled students, they might have to be more proactive with brain injured students in trying to find out what support needs to be put in place. An assessment from a specialist occupational therapist would be helpful to understand the student’s needs. The student might have a medical report they are willing to disclose if they underwent medical treatment or rehabilitation following their injury.

The key is to create a supportive environment in which the brain injured student feels able to disclose their difficulties and discuss what their needs are. With the appropriate level of support from education institutions more talented individuals may be able to revisit their education post brain injury.

Sally Simpson is an Associate solicitor in the Adult Brain Injury Department at Bolt Burdon Kemp, a team of specialist lawyers seeking compensation to help their clients rebuild their lives after they have suffered a brain injury.

One Comment leave one →
  1. December 20, 2020 6:32 pm

    Reblogged this on Autism Candles.

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