Young children frequently experience falls, bumps, and bruises as they develop their motor skills. School-age children and teenagers may also experience injuries due to things like sports accidents or even car crashes. Sometimes children are lucky and avoid any kind of lasting injury, but in other cases, they may experience a traumatic brain injury (TBI).
Sadly, TBIs are the leading cause of death and disability for children and adolescents in the US. TBIs also send an estimated 62,000 children to the hospital every year. These injuries occur on a wide spectrum, ranging from relatively mild concussions to injuries that cause irreparable or fatal brain damage. As a parent, it is important to identify any kind of brain injury as soon as possible as they may impact the child’s cognitive development and affect him or her into adulthood.
The Challenges of Identifying Childhood TBIs
It can be particularly challenging to identify TBIs in young children because these children may not be able to articulate exactly what happened to them or to explain the symptoms they are feeling (for example, it is not likely that a 5-year-old child could accurately explain the feeling of nausea). To make matters even more difficult, symptoms of brain injuries may not be immediately apparent. In some cases, the signs of cognitive impairments are not identified until years later, when the child begins facing and struggling with greater problem solving and learning expectations in school and everyday life.
Let’s look at a hypothetical case to illustrate this issue: a 4-year-old girl falls and hits her head on the edge of a coffee table while playing with her older brother one day. Her parents run to the room and become worried when the little girl cannot be consoled, so they take her to the hospital. The doctor who examines her says that she has a concussion and tells the parents to take her home to rest but to come back if symptoms persist.
The next day, the young girl does not have any observable symptoms and does not complain of any pain. Her parents do not think about the concussion any more until several years later, when the girl’s second grade teacher reports that the girl has trouble sitting still and concentrating in class. This could be an effect of her previous brain injury, as mild TBIs between the ages of 0-5 have been linked to a higher likelihood of exhibiting ADHD symptoms. Unfortunately, these effects did not become clear until the girl was slightly older and facing greater cognitive demands.
Some other effects of a TBI that may not appear until later childhood can include:
- Speech, vision, or hearing impairments
- Persistent headaches
- Problems with motor coordination
- Short term memory deficits
- Impaired planning, writing, reading, and judgment skills
- Impaired communication skills
- Mood swings
- Difficulty regulating emotions
Potential Signs of Concussion or Other TBIs
If your child falls or experiences any kind of blow to the head, try to stay as calm as possible and look for any immediate signs of a brain injury. Some of the more obvious signs might include:
- Loss of consciousness (for any period of time)
- Unusual behavior (i.e. aggression or mood swings)
- Scalp swelling (for children under the age of 2)
Some symptoms that school-age children may be able to articulate include:
- Blurred vision
- Nausea (i.e. feeling sick)
- Loss of memory
- Feeling unusually sleepy
If you are unsure whether your child has experienced a concussion or other brain injury, you should take the precaution of getting medical attention. A doctor who has experience with TBIs will be better equipped to identify concussions and other brain injuries in children. He or she may also decide to perform certain tests, such as a basic neurological exam, a CT scan, or an MRI scan to identify damage that is not apparent. The sooner you receive a diagnosis for your child the better, as rest is often essential to recovery.
Fortunately, concussions and other mild TBIs do not always result in lasting damage. In fact, most people who experience mild TBIs recover within a few weeks or a few months. However, it is important to monitor children who have experienced this kind of injury, as it is possible for them to experience long-term problems that don’t become obvious until they are older.
If your child suffers a TBI due to a caretaker’s lack of negligence, a defective product, or any other form of negligence, talk to an accident lawyer who has handled child injury cases before. Although seeking legal help might not be your first inclination, filing a personal injury claim may be the best way to recover the compensation necessary to support a child who is facing a disability or cognitive developmental issue due to a TBI.
About the Author:
Andrew Winston is a partner at the personal injury law firm of Lawlor Winston White & Murphy. He has been recognized for excellence in the representation of injured clients by admission to the Million Dollar Advocates Forum, is AV Rated by the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory, and was recently voted by his peers as a Florida “SuperLawyer”—an honor reserved for the top 5% of lawyers in the state—and to Florida Trend’s “Legal Elite.”