Heather Towle had to learn everyday tasks – such as getting dressed and brushing her teeth - all over again.

At 18, Towle contracted viral encephalitis and the immediate brain damage left her temporarily blind and unable to perform even basic tasks.

“I lost my memory so I don't know exactly what happened, but from what I’ve been told I went delirious,” Towle says. "I had to learn how to dress myself and brush my teeth and brush my hair."

Now 31, she and her partner Jonah, have a five-month-old son Mason. Like every mom, she wants to read to her baby, but it’s a skill she needs to work on.

With the help of Parkwood Hospital speech therapist Penny Welch-West, Towle is re-learning how to communicate.

“One of the things that we really stress is working on proper breath support and proper breathing and steps to ensure she has good flow and carry through a sentence."

Learning after a brain injury is very much a team effort involving physiotherapy, speech therapy and occupational therapy.

It may not a conventional driving lesson, but occupational therapist Becky Moran is helping Towle re-learn driving skills

“You need to use a lot of cognitive tasks. You need an internal GPS. You need to know where you're going. You have to use your visual system very quickly and efficiently. Compared with a simple task like eating perhaps, but at the very beginning stages (of) eating, you have to learn how to pick up a spoon and bring it to your mouth,’ Moran says.

Among the keys to learning after a brain injury is being able to break down a large task into smaller components.

“Repeat, repeat, repeat,” Moran stresses. “A lot of it is repetition and trying to teach it in a different way or using different equipment to help along the way."

Learning outcomes will vary from person to person.

“There are some typical stages of recovery where it progresses very quickly then you can plateau. I always try to instill hope that even if you're on a plateau right now, we can still make gains. They just might be a little bit slower," Moran says.

Technology such as tablets makes the learning more engaging and relevant.

“The most important therapy is the therapy the patient wants. I think the more relevant the aspects of therapy the better. Patients are more motivated,” says Welch-West.

For Towle, motivation comes from her baby.

“I’d like to be able to walk and drive and go to school and get a job and be a mom. Just live my life the way it used to be."