Brain injuries cause developmental disabilities in children

A healthy, typically developing child suffers an accident or injury that damages the brain. It’s a far too frequent occurrence. In the worst cases, damage to the brain can cause death. It may cause a lifelong disability for the child, including intellectual or cognitive impairments.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, traumatic brain injuries are the leading cause of disability and death in children and adolescents in the U.S. Children ages birth to 4 and 15 to 19 have the highest rates of incidence. In the early years of life (about birth to 5), children’s brains are developing at their most rapid rate, and brain trauma can prevent a child from ever being able to develop the skills controlled by the portion of the brain that is damaged.

A TBI occurs when a blow or force from an external source causes trauma or injury to the brain. Common causes of TBI include car accidents (which explains the spike of incidents in the 15- to 19-year-old age range,) falls and blows to the head. In infants, severe shaking may cause injury to the brain as it impacts the skull.

The results of a brain injury can cause significant impairments physically (i.e., blindness, hearing impairments, headaches, loss of sensation in limbs), cognitively (memory loss, difficulties making judgments, academic problems, communication skill deficits) and emotionally (depression, difficulties with social interactions, mood swings, anxiety.) Often, impairments occur in multiple areas and cause a variety of symptoms.

TBI is an especially difficult problem because it can manifest so differently in each person. Variables include the part of the brain impacted, the severity of the impact and the age and developmental stage of the injured person. Even people of the same age and with injuries to the same part of the brain may experience very different symptoms. In children, the onset of the symptoms can be delayed and thus not immediately apparent. Another compounding factor is that having an initial brain injury exponentially increases the risk of having another. The symptoms become cumulative with each reinjury.

There is hope in the statistics. In many cases, traumatic brain injury can be prevented. The CDC has initiated the Protect the Ones You Love campaign to give parents tips about preventing accidents and injuries in their children. More information about this campaign is available on the CDC website at cdc.gov/safechild.

TBI also responds to intervention and rehabilitation. Many therapeutic techniques may be effective, including occupational therapy, physical therapy, neurobehavioral therapy and speech therapy. Children ages birth to 3 may be eligible for interventions through San Juan Kids Early Intervention Program at Community Connections. To find out if your child is eligible, call 385-3498. Parents of children ages 3 to 21 should contact San Juan Board of Cooperative Educational Services at 247-3261.

For more information about TBI and intellectual disabilities or the services available in our community, contact Community Connections at 259-2464 or cci@cci-colorado.org.

Tara Kiene is the director of case management with Community Connections Inc.