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Brain Injury in Children and Adolescents: FAQs

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Brain Injury in Children and Adolescents: FAQs

All material Copyright © 2009 Lash & Associates Publishing/Training, Inc
This article is reprinted with the express permission of Lash & Associates as it appears on their website
By: Marilyn Lash, M.S.W. and Ron Savage, Ed.D.


Does a brain injury affect a child differently than an adult?

Unlike an adult, a child’s brain is still developing right up through adolescence. An injury interrupts this development.

Different parts of the brain develop at different ages or stages of a child’s maturation. Consequently, the full impact of a child’s brain injury may not become evident for many months, or even years, until the brain matures. It takes longer for the effects of a brain injury to be seen in children and the consequences can change over time.

By comparison, an adult’s brain is fully developed. This accounts for the dramatic “before and after the brain injury” changes that are so common. Unlike children, an adult has a lifetime of skills, knowledge and experience of education and work that can be used to adjust to the changes caused by the brain injury. This does not mean that it is easier for the adult who has had a brain injury; it is different because the life experience is different.

How is a child with a brain injury different from a child with a birth related disorder?

Children with birth related conditions often have diagnoses that are related to heredity, prenatal development, or delivery complications. Examples are mental retardation and cerebral palsy. The child’s development is altered or at risk from infancy. Diagnosis is often made early when the child does not progress and reach the normal developmental milestones.

By contrast, it is the ongoing “normal” brain development and functioning that is interrupted in children with brain injuries. It can occur at any age. From that point on, the child’s development may be delayed or altered because the brain has been injured and damaged.

There are two types of brain injuries. Traumatic brain injuries are the result of an external force from a trauma or blow to the head. Examples are when the child’s head hits the windshield during a car crash or strikes the floor or ground after a fall. Acquired brain injuries are caused by internal changes as the result of a stroke, tumor, or disease like meningitis or encephalitis.

Does the age at which a child has a brain injury make a difference?

Yes. The younger the child is when injured, the less developed and more vulnerable to injury is the brain. It used to be thought that younger children were more resilient and “bounced back” after a brain injury. Now, we understand that it simply takes longer for the effects to be seen. It is important to track progress and change over time as the young child’s brain develops and matures.

Does a history of a traumatic brain injury mean a child is eligible for special education?

The category of traumatic brain injury was added under the federal education act in 1991 (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act). The category is used in all states. However, the diagnosis or history of a traumatic brain injury does not automatically qualify the student for special education. It must be shown that the brain injury has affected the student’s ability to learn and function in school. Once a referral for a special education evaluation has been made, the school conducts a comprehensive assessment to determine if the effects of the brain injury and the student’s needs meet the requirements for eligibility for special education under the state’s regulations.

Does it make any difference what category or classification is used under special education, as long as the student is found eligible and receives services?

Yes. Before the change in the education law, many students with brain injuries were incorrectly described as mentally retarded, learning disabled, or emotionally disturbed. A brain injury can have unique consequences for learning, behavior, and communication. Identifying the student accurately under the classification of traumatic brain injury helps educators recognize the condition and it consequences. They can then develop educational strategies and programs that are individually designed for that student.



Featured Authors and Organization: Lash & Associates Publishing/Training Inc.

We thank Lash & Associates Publishing/Training, Inc. for allowing PediaStaff to reprint their article.

Lash & Associates Publishing/Training, Inc. publishes practical, informative, and affordable materials on traumatic brain injury in children, youths, adults and veterans. Their audience includes families, persons with brain injuries, health care professionals, rehabilitation specialists, educators and community staff. In addition to an impressive library of written offerings, Lash & Associates offers CEU Online Training in the area of traumatic/acquired brain injury for professionals including therapists.

About the Authors:

Marilyn Lash M.S.W., uses her social work experience and research in pediatric rehabilitation to develop sensitive and practical guides for families, educators, and professionals. Marilyn’s specialty is helping families cope with the emotional impact of brain injury and developing strategies for negotiating the complex service system. Now Director and Senior Editor of Lash & Associates Publishing/Training Inc., she focuses on developing user friendly publications for families, educators, and clinicians.

Ron Savage, Ed.D., is a founding partner and Vice President of Lash & Associates Publishing/Training Inc. He specializes in the impact of brain injury on behavior and learning in children and adolescents. His international recognition as author and presenter is based on practical experience as a rehabilitation clinician, educator and school administrator.

A leader in advocacy for children with brain injuries, Ron founded the Pediatric Task Force of the Brain Injury Association. He is a national leader in developing model programs and has given special attention to recognizing the effects of concussion among children, the consequences of brain injury upon behavior, and designing educational programs for students with brain injuries in the community.

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