ABI Students' Guide for Academics

About Acquired Brain Injury

What is an Acquired Brain Injury?

An Acquired Brain Injury (ABI) is a term used to describe an insult that has occurred to the brain. This can occur in the pre-natal period (i.e. FASD, Stroke), or most commonly after birth during infancy, childhood and adulthood (i.e. head injury, stroke, alcohol and drug abuse).

Who can have an ABI?

Acquired Brain Injury is very common and can affect anybody. Many people with an ABI are under 65 years of age with the majority of these people acquiring their injury before turning 25. Prevalence rates are commonly higher for males than females.

What are the common causes of ABI?

Traumatic brain injury (TBI)

A blow to the head or the head being forced to move rapidly forward or backward, usually with some loss of consciousness. (i.e. a motor vehicle accident, fall, assault, sporting accident, gunshot wound or violent shaking.)


Rapid loss of brain function due to disturbance in the blood supply to the brain. This can be due to ischemia (lack of blood flow) caused by a blockage (thrombosis, arterial embolism), or a hemorrhage (pressure and rupture of a blood vessel).

Brain tumour

There are over 100 different types of brain tumours. Some types of brain tumours are either malignant (cancerous) and others are benign (non-cancerous).

Anoxic episodes

Loss of brain function due to a lack of oxygen. (Near drowning, Asphyxiation, Water boarding etc)

Other causes

Other causes of ABI include poisoning, infection and disease, and alcohol/drug abuse.

What are some the side affects of ABI?

Below are some possible consequences of ABI. Not everyone will experience all of these.

  • Vision impairment (Difficulty seeing and reading, judging distance)
  • Mobility difficulties (Balance and coordination problems)
  • Physical weakness (Often dominant on one side)
  • Reduced speed of processing (Cognitive impairment)
  • Memory difficulties
  • Increased levels of fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Increased irritability
  • Rapid mood swings
  • Major behavioral changes
  • Seizures
  • Problems concentrating
  • Difficulty controlling or communicating thoughts
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Incontinence

It can often feel isolating and lonely.

What is it like to be a student with an ABI?

  • Planning, Reasoning and Decision Making is often difficult to manage
  • It can be overwhelming to be surrounded by intense activity, noise or lots of people
  • It can often feel isolating and lonely
  • Constant demand for high levels of attention and concentration can be exhausting
  • Working in group activities with other students can be daunting and/or intimidating
  • Depending on the particular set of difficulties/disabilities a student with an ABI has, it can be very frustrating/embarrassing to continually remind others of your condition
Group of students studying in Brownless Medical Library
Working in group activities with other students can be daunting and/or intimidating

How should I treat someone with an ABI?

  • The same way that you like to be treated
  • Appreciate the difficulties that the person may be facing
  • Be sensitive towards the persons privacy towards disclosure
  • Remain patient
  • Remain positive

Regularly check in with the student to gauge their progress.

Tips for Teachers

  • If you are teaching a student with an ABI, privately meet with the student to discuss how they would like to be treated and how you can best assist their learning
  • Make eye-contact and communicate clearly
  • Be energetic and engaging
  • Avoid drawing attention to the student's difficulties or personal requirements
  • When giving out instructions, use a combination of clear visual and aural tools
  • Recording lectures and making them available for download online can be very helpful.
  • If giving out information, make is as easy as possible to access, such as by providing it in both hardcopy and electronic form
  • Try and incorporate the use of analogies and anecdotes when teaching
  • Regularly check in with the student to gauge their progress and to confirm that they have processes in place that assist them to learn
  • Provide the student with the contact details for the University's Disability Liaison Unit

Need to know facts about Acquired Brain Injury

  • Acquired Brain Injury is often referred to as the ‘silent disability’ or ‘invisible epidemic’, as many of the changes experienced are unseen to the eye.
  • No two people will experience the exact same symptoms
  • Acquired Brain Injury is distinct from intellectual disability.
  • It is important to respect that many people who have suffered an Acquired Brain Injury lead social lives and don’t identify as being “disabled”
  • Many people with an Acquired Brain Injury suffer from low self esteem
  • It may be embarrassing for a someone with an ABI to disclose information about their needs.
  • Over 600,000 Australians have an acquired brain injury.
  • Three out of every four people with acquired brain injury are men.
  • No two persons can expect the same outcome or resulting difficulties.

Further Reading

  1. Brain Injury Australia
  2. Consequences of Acquired Brain Injury (PDF)
  3. Disability in Australia: acquired brain injury (PDF)
  4. The many effects of a brain injury - SYNAPSE
  5. Acquired Brain Injury Awareness Week 2013

About this Guide

This Guide has been written by University of Melbourne students.

It is intended to provide academics with a student perspective on how their condition affects their studies at the University.