What is a Brain Injury?

Definitions & Descriptions

Acquired Brain Injury

  • Any injury to the brain that occurs after birth (excludes hereditary, congenital, degenerative or birth trauma injuries). It includes both traumatic and non-traumatic brain injuries.

Non-traumatic Brain Injury

  • An injury to the brain that is caused by internal incident (stroke, anoxic injury [lack of oxygen], brain tumor, brain infections such as meningitis, etc.).

Traumatic Brain Injury

  • An injury to the brain due to an external bump, blow, or jolt to the head that disrupts the normal function of the brain. This may be an open head injury where the head is penetrated (skull fracture, gunshot wound, etc.) or a closed head injury that causes the brain to move within the skull (whiplash, concussion, shaken baby syndrome, etc.).

Additional Information

Source: Information on definitions was obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Brain Injury Association of America, and CDE Brain Injury in Children and Youth: A Manual for Educators

Myths & Facts about Brain Injuries

MYTH All brain injuries are the same.

FACT Each brain injury is different.

A brain injury is not like any other injury or disease. The brain is very complex. Recovery from a brain injury depends on many factors including which areas of the brain are injured, the severity of the injury, and the person’s pre-injury characteristics and functioning.


MYTH The brain injury can’t be that serious if the child only had a short stay in the hospital.

FACT More children with disabilities go home upon discharge than into in-patient rehabilitation programs.

There are many reasons why a child might be released quickly from the hospital while still experiencing the effects of brain injury. The lighter size and weight of children makes it possible for many families to care for them at home. Rehabilitation programs are not as available for children as for adults. The quicker physical recovery of many children makes it more difficult for them to qualify for in-patient rehabilitation programs and get approval by insurers. It is in school that the long-term rehabilitation needs of the child for behavior and learning will be greatest.


MYTH A mild brain injury (concussion) is mild and less damaging than other brain injuries.

FACT Although about 90% of people who have concussions recover, this is not the case for everyone.

For some people, concussion, whiplash and other “mild” brain injuries can have long lasting, debilitating effects that require intervention. When symptoms last for weeks or months after injury, the child may be diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome. Post-concussion syndrome is believed to occur most commonly in patients with a history of multiple concussions.


MYTH A severe brain injury means that the child will be permanently and totally disabled.

FACT Patterns of recovery vary.

A brain injury is considered severe when coma lasts more than 24 hours. Recovery is affected greatly by the extent and location of damage to the brain. It is estimated that 80% of children with severe brain injuries will have some type of difficulty with thinking, communication, physical abilities, social skills, emotional adjustments, or behavior. Special help may be needed at home or in school. The long-term consequences are different for each child.


*Source: Myths & Facts information is obtained and adapted from School Transition & re-Entry Program Information for Parents (STEP) and The Center on Brain Injury Research & Training (CBIRT). Visit CBIRT for more information on STEP.