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Traumatic Brain Injury in Children

By Edited Jun 26, 2016 0 0

Traumatic brain injury, or more commonly known as TBI, had long been known as the "silent epidemic" because of its nature to not be instantly recognized when a head injury has occurred. Brain injury in children can occur from many incidences. For instance, falls, a blow to the head, shaken baby syndrome and anoxia are some of the more common ways a child can acquire a TBI.

There has been heightened awareness of TBI over the last 10-15 years; however, prior to that many people were walking around with a misdiagnosed head injury, some of who had been injured as children. In the last decade, many strides have been made to educate just how the effects of TBI impact both adults and children.

While the TBI statistics are alarming, what is fortunate is now medical technology and knowledge is catching up and doctors have more information to share. It is not uncommon for children with TBI to have  socialization or learning challenges. Parents, healthcare professionals, teachers, therapists and others can help provide the proper support system to help children who have been diagnosed with having a TBI.

A class with One-Laptop-Per-Child laptops
Credit: Mike Lee/Creative Commons-Attribution. Found on Wikimedia Commons


Depending on the nature of the TBI, there are several steps in a child's recovery. The first is to focus on physical injuries. When a head injury is acquired, there may be bleeding, swelling or other immediate medical needs relating to the injury which need attention first. Some injuries require surgical intervention, and/or other medical procedures may need to be performed to help stabilization occur. Once the child is stabilized, doctors and therapists work to help maximize the rate of recovery.

It is frequent for physical, occupational, speech and cognitive therapies to be involved in this process. The sooner therapy starts the better because a child can begin to relearn lost skills; early intervention is very important. After a child acquires a TBI, the long-term effects are not known because the brain is still forming. This makes it difficult to assess what degree of injury has occurred and how this damage will impact learning and growth. This is one of the reasons why correct diagnosis of a head injury is so important for children.

When understanding how a TBI impacts a child, it is important to realize that brain cells do not regenerate and, as a result, brain cells which have been damaged will not heal the same way a laceration would on other parts of the body. Brain damage is permanent, but this does not mean there isn't a road to recovery. Early diagnosis and intervention can highly increase the success of recovery.

It has been said in the past that children are more resilient in their recovery because at their young age they have an elasticity of the brain that teens and adults do not possess, but recent discoveries are beginning to suggest otherwise.

Survival after a severe TBI is very possible, but due to the fact their young brain has not yet been fully developed, the long-term effects are not known because the impact on the brain's ability to learn and also executive functioning which affects decision making and organizational skills may not be known for several years as the child grows and matures.

A CT of the head years after a traumatic brain injury
Credit: James Heilman, MD/Creative Commons-Attribution/Share Alike


A TBI will impact a child's education and in many ways affects his or her ability to learn. In the past, many schools were categorizing children with TBIs as having other disabilities and, as a result, educational plans didn't really reflect a child's needs. Subsequently, many kids suffered difficulties through their school years. However, that is beginning to change now that TBI has its own category for special education and educators can better develop learning plans and accommodations.

Children who are properly diagnosed with a TBI and categorized as having a head injury in their Individual Education Plan (IEP) experience much higher degrees of success because their educational programs can be shaped to meet their needs and allow flexibility in learning. Children with a TBI do not have a learning disability and should not be categorized as having one because these learning programs are likely to fail. It is critical that children be properly categorized as "TBI" and their IEPs reflect this.

Head injuries are unique compared to other injuries or disabilities because no two injuries are alike. This is one of the primary reasons why categorizing a child with a TBI with other learning disabilities doesn't work in educational plans. Brain injuries do not necessarily carry the same "symptoms" or residual effects. While there are some similarities, most children do not have the same effects from their TBIs and each learning program should be treated as unique as their injury is.

Kindergarten classroom
Credit: ChinaFlag/Public Domain (accessed from Wikimedia Commons)


Children with TBIs often experience difficulties with social interaction with their peers. This is often due to behavioral issues associated with the TBI. Depending on which area of the brain was injured, children who have an acquired head injury may show signs of behavioral issues, impulsive reactions and exhibit inappropriate conduct. When others do not understand why the child is acting this way it often results in socialization problems, perhaps most notably with peers.

Final Thoughts

Unfortunately, many people still go undiagnosed because the injured person hasn't gotten proper treatment. One reason this occurs is because many people who have a TBI show no outward symptoms and physically look fine. It is hard for many to understand this because there are often no visible signs of injury. Concussions, in years past, were often not taken seriously, but studies indicate these types of injuries should not be disregarded.

Understanding and patience from those who interact with the child is also important. While strategies can be taught, there will sometimes be some problems associated with the TBI which are beyond the child's control because that function in the brain has been impacted. Recovery from a TBI is often a long road for children. Many successfully complete their education and are able to adapt to their injury as they grow older. Early intervention and a proper education plan are the keys to this success.



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