Identifying & Treating Traumatic Brain Injury In Children

Unfortunately, traumatic brain injuries are all-too-common among children. Because of the prevalence, it’s important to understand the ins and outs of traumatic brain injury in children, including what it is, how to identify TBI in children, your role as the parent in helping children cope after TBI and understanding options for treatment of a traumatic brain injury in children.

What is traumatic brain injury?

According to the American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Traumatic brain injury—or TBI—is a nondegenerative brain injury resulting from a blow, bump, or penetrating injury to the head that disrupts normal brain function and cognitive abilities either short term or long term.  

Types of Traumatic Brain Injuries

There are some common classifications for TBI, categorizing TBI as mild, moderate or severe based on the extent and nature of the injury, duration the child lost consciousness, loss of memory of events following the injury and severity of confusion during the initial assessment after the injury.

Traumatic Brain Injury Symptoms

Symptoms rely heavily on the type of injury sustained. Symptoms vary based on the child’s age or stage of development, the area of the injury and the extent of damage to the brain. Contact your doctor or specialist if your child experiences one or more of these symptoms after a head injury.

Common Physical Symptoms:

·       Fatigue, dizziness, headaches, impaired movement, pain, nausea, seizures, vomiting, changes in level of consciousness

Common Sensory-Perceptual Symptoms:

·       Difficulty hearing, vertigo, sensitivity to sound, loss of control, tinnitus, permanent or temporary hearing loss

·       Changes in perception of colors, sizes, shapes, depth perception; changes in visual acuity, light sensitivity, double vision

·       Loss of taste, smell, touch; imperception to pain

Common Cognitive Symptoms:

·       Difficulty concentrating, reduced attention span

·       Issues making decision, lack of judgment, inability to plan or organize

·       Decreased response times

·       Issues with memory

·       Lack of self-awareness

Common Behavioral Symptoms:

·       Anxiety, agitation, depression, drowsiness, irritability, impulsiveness, mood swings

Helping Children Cope After TBI

Though children are not classified in one-size-fits-all cases, oftentimes they struggle with common struggles and challenges after a traumatic brain injury. It’s important to help your child to cope with or develop strategies for learning to cope with changes after TBI. Some struggles children may experience after TBI include:

·       Frustration with the recovery process

·       Issues relating to others

·       Limited self-awareness

·       Loss of function and skill; grief or anger about this loss

·       Denial

Emerging from a coma is a confusing and frightening experience for anyone, but the feelings can be augmented for children, who don’t necessarily understand what they’re feeling is a byproduct of their TBI. There will be times when your child is not responsive or alert, during which it’s important to provide support and stimulation. Sound and touch can be helpful tools for a parent to use with a child recovering from TBI.

Traumatic Brain Injury Treatment

Initially treatment stabilizes your child’s health and wellbeing immediately following the traumatic brain injury. Your child may have required acute treatment of a brain injury or even surgery. Once their health is stabilized after a TBI, the rehabilitation care begins. Your child may undergo physical therapy, as well as speech or cognitive therapy to help with rehabilitation.

During the rehabilitation phase, it’s important to know that process is gradual—and communicate that to your child. Give friends, family, teachers, and select peers an idea of what’s going on and any differences they can expect with your child. The last thing your child needs is to feel alienated at home or school, so try to help those closest to him or her better understand the condition. The road to recovery will be long and bumpy, so your child will look to you for support and guidance during tough times.

If you suspect that your child may be suffering from a traumatic brain injury, or a neurological issue of any kind, get them to a hospital immediately for evaluation and any necessary subsequent imaging procedures.