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Learn about TBI

What Is Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)?

A traumatic brain injury is an injury to the brain when the head has been hit by something or violently shaken.

Medical Definition

Traumatic brain injury is defined as damage to brain tissue caused by an external mechanical force as evidenced by: loss of consciousness due to brain trauma, or post traumatic amnesia, or skull fracture, or objective neurological findings that can be reasonably attributed to TBI on the initial physical examination or mental status examination.

Lacerations and/or bruises of the scalp or forehead without other criteria listed above are excluded. Loss of oxygen is excluded (Southeastern Michigan Traumatic Brain Injury System, 2004).

Educational Definition

According to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act/IDEA, (2004) "Traumatic brain injury" means an acquired injury to the brain caused by an external physical force. The injury results in total or partial functional disability or psychosocial impairment (those thoughts, feelings, and behaviors with and towards others), or both, that adversely affects a child's educational performance. The term applies to open or closed head injuries. The injuries result in impairments in one or more areas such as:

  • cognition
  • language
  • memory
  • attention
  • reasoning
  • abstract thinking
  • judgment
  • problem-solving
  • sensory, perceptual, and motor abilities
  • psychosocial behavior
  • physical functions
  • information processing
  • speech

The term does not apply to brain injuries that are congenital or degenerative, or to brain injuries induced by birth trauma.

Ohio's Educational Definition of Traumatic Brain Injury

Ohio's educational definition of traumatic brain injury is not restricted to injuries resulting from external trauma. It is more inclusive than the IDEA definition. Ohio's definition covers conditions such as strokes, tumors, and injuries caused by surgeries. This expansion of the federal definition allows more children with brain injuries to be identified under the TBI category for the purpose of receiving special educational services.

The definition from Ohio rules is as follows:

"Traumatic brain injury" means an acquired injury to the brain caused by an external physical force or by other medical conditions, including but not limited to stroke, anoxia, infectious disease, aneurysm, brain tumors and neurological insults resulting from medical or surgical treatments. The injury results in total or partial functional disability or psychosocial impairment or both, that adversely affects a child's educational performance. The term applies to open or closed head injuries, as well as to other medical conditions that result in acquired brain injuries. The injuries result in impairments in one or more areas such as cognition; language; memory; attention; reasoning; abstract thinking; judgment; problem-solving; sensory, perceptual, and motor abilities; psychosocial behavior; physical functions; information processing; and speech. The term does not apply to brain injuries that are congenital or degenerative, or to brain injuries induced by birth trauma.

In order to for a student to be identified under the Ohio TBI definition, the Ohio Department of Education, Office for Exceptional Children (ODE-OEC) provides the following guidance for the Multifactored Evaluation Team:

The Mutifactored Evaluation Team needs to include the medical records and the results of injury criteria in the Evaluation Team Report in order to identify a child for special education services under the TBI category

The consequences of a brain injury can affect all aspects of life, including personality. A brain injury is different from a broken bone or a bruise. An injury in these areas limits the use of a specific part of the body, but personality and mental abilities remain the same. Most often, these body structures heal and regain their previous function.

Brain injuries do not heal like other injuries. Recovery is functional, based on factors that remain uncertain. No two brain injuries are alike, and the consequence of two similar injuries may be very different. Symptoms may appear right away or may not be present for days or weeks after the injury. One of the consequences of brain injury is that the person often does not realize that a brain injury has even occurred.