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Acquired Neurodivergence: Mild TBI

Neurodivergence can be acquired when a typically developed brain experiences an illness or injury that alters the way it functions. One such injury is a mild traumatic brain injury, also known as a concussion. While most concussions resolve on their own in days or weeks, some produce lasting effects. When head injuries are compounded, the symptoms can be cumulative, long lasting, and disabling.

Long-lasting concussion symptoms:

  • Post-Concussion Syndrome (PCS): Possible classification for symptoms persisting beyond 2 weeks. Symptoms may include:

    • Headaches

    • Dizziness

    • Fatigue

    • Irritability

    • Anxiety

    • Trouble falling asleep or sleeping too much

    • Loss of concentration and memory

    • Ringing in the ears

    • Blurry vision

    • Noise and light sensitivity

    • Rarely, decreases in taste and smell (Mayo Clinic, 2023)

  • Persistent Post-concussive Syndrome: Possible classification for symptoms lasting > 3 months.

    • Persistent PCS has been shown to have lasting effects on cognition, memory, learning, and executive function (Permenter et al., 2022).

Repeat head injuries:

  • Second Impact Syndrome: "[Also known as] repetitive head injury syndrome, describes a condition in which individual experiences a second head injury before complete recovery from an initial head injury" and carries a mortality rate ~50% (May et al., 2022).

  • Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE): A progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in people with a history of repetitive head impacts (including subconcussive ones). The symptoms get worse over time and there is currently no cure. CTE can only be diagnosed postmortem so the clinical presentation of symptoms, including memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, impulsivity, aggression, depression, suicidality, parkinsonism, and dementia, are known as traumatic encephalopathy syndrome.

    • McKee et all (2023) noted that "over 97% of CTE cases published have been reported in individuals with known exposure to repetitive head impacts (RHI), including concussions and nonconcussive impacts, most often experienced through participation in contact sports."

How to minimize risk of concussion and long-term symptoms:

  • Engage in safe behaviors, such as wearing a seatbelt and helmet

  • Don't drive when you're intoxicated, dysregulated, or exceptionally tired

  • Minimize participation in contact sports

  • Learn safer tackling techniques (football)

  • Seek medical attention for any impact to the head

  • Do not return to sport following head impact

  • Prioritize a healthy diet and sleep

  • Know the risks and symptoms: Symptoms of Mild TBI and Concussion | Concussion | Traumatic Brain Injury | CDC Injury Center

Check out the articles referenced in this post:

-Rachel Robertson, OTR/L, Certified Brain Injury Specialist

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