College Success After Traumatic Brain Injury

College graduates at graduation ceremony.

As a service member or veteran, you have all the advantages of your military training and experience to help you succeed in college. You've learned the importance of discipline, dependability teamwork and how to show respect. You know how to set goals and raise the bar for everyone around you. These skills will serve you well.

Nevertheless, entering or returning to school after a traumatic brain injury (TBI) may feel challenging. You may find yourself coping with persistent symptoms such as headaches, sleep disturbances, pain, vision and hearing problems, dizziness, and mood changes. You may also feel overwhelmed or have difficulty staying focused.

Strong support systems at colleges and universities can help you through these challenges. However, it's important to be your own advocate and educate yourself about what resources are available.

"Many resources exist that can help you during your college experience," said Scott Livingston, Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center (DVBIC) Education Division director. "Following a TBI, be open to using those services and tools, even if you think you will only need them for a short period of time."

Disability Support

Most schools have an office that provides assistance to students with disabilities and other learning challenges. It is often called disability support services (DSS) but may have a different name, such as learning resource center, academic support services or student access center.

Whatever name DSS goes by, your school is required by law to provide reasonable accommodations for physical or psychological conditions that affect your academic performance, even if you only need them for a few weeks or months until you've fully recovered from your TBI.

DSS counselors will assess your unique situation and work with you to create an accommodations plan to address your needs. Accommodations can include extra time to finish tests, different test formats, priority seating in class, authorization to have another student take notes for you, and approval to wear a visor or tinted glasses in class, among other options.

And you don't have to tell your professors about your TBI if you don't want to. Your DSS counselor will tell your professors that you have a disability and explain your accommodation needs but will not say what type of disability. If you want to, you can talk with your professors about your accommodations. The more people you have on your support team the better, and your professors can be great members of that team.

Assistive Technology

Among the many accommodations DSS counselors can help you identify is assistive technology. Assistive technology includes products that help people who have difficulty speaking, writing, remembering, seeing, hearing, learning and walking. Some apps on your smartphone — for example, apps that provide appointment reminders — are considered assistive technology and can help anyone.

Assistive technology is especially helpful for people who have difficulty with focus, concentration, memory or organization. Assistive technology can help students with mental tasks, and health care providers and DSS counselors often recommend it for those who have sustained a TBI.

Head of the Class

Many students who've had a TBI worry about whether they are ready to go back to school and how, or if, they will succeed. The bottom line: not only can you to go to school, but you can do very well.

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