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Traumatic Brain Injury

(757) 668-7000

What is Traumatic Brain Injury? (TBI)

Traumatic brain injury is damage to the brain caused by a force outside the body. The damage can result in loss of all or part of a child's ability to function normally. Problems can occur in the areas of:

  • Intelligence
  • Language
  • Memory
  • Attention
  • Speech
  • Reasoning - unable to figure out "why"; cannot see the relationship between actions and consequences of the actions
  • Abstract thinking - unable to process feelings; ideas that cannot be linked with objects
  • Judgment - may act impulsively and make poor decisions
  • Problem solving - unable to complete the step by step process required to solve a problem
  • Sensory - hearing, sight, touch, smell, and taste may be affected
  • Perceptual and motor abilities - The child may lack awareness of things around him/her. The brain may fail to send correct signals to the body to recognize and react to what the child is seeing or experiencing.
  • Psychosocial behavior - lacking mental awareness of acceptable social behavior, “poor manners". Your child's personality may seem very different than it was before the accident while he/she is recovering.
  • Physical functions - walking, eating, and controlling urination and bowel movements
  • Information processing - understanding how things relate to one another

What to Expect:

Children with traumatic brain injury often experience unconsciousness, seizures, or vomiting at or shortly after the time of the accident. These children are admitted to the hospital and checked carefully for changes in their condition. Once your child is stable, he/she may be moved to the rehabilitation unit.

The process of recovery is slow. At first, your child will often be confused. It may take several weeks for him/her to become more alert. Functional abilities usually improve before intellectual abilities.

The Rehab Unit uses a variety of "tools" to help recovery. Some of these tools may include wheelchairs, braces, feeding tubes, and special enclosed beds. Enclosed beds are used to allow your child some freedom of movement without danger of injury from falling out of the bed.

Specialists from physical, occupational, and speech therapies work with your child on a daily basis.

Symptoms are different with each child but most will have memory problems, slower functioning, headaches, visual disturbances, and fatigue. Some children will be impulsive; some will be unable to control their bladder and bowel. Children may use profane language. The swallowing reflex is affected in some, but not all, children with traumatic brain injury. After their injury it can be several weeks before some children can resume a normal diet. It is often necessary to place a tube in the child's stomach and feed them a liquid diet until the danger of choking has passed. A special test will be done by the X-ray and Therapy Departments to decide when it is safe for the child to eat. (See Video-Swallow, Way To Grow)

The rehab team of doctors, nurses, therapists, dietitians, teachers, social workers, and recreational therapists help your family adjust to the changes in your child. It is important to ask questions and be part of your child's recovery.

How Families Can Help:

In the early recovery period it is important for your child to have a quiet environment with little stimulation, no loud music or television. Limit the number of visitors because they can be very disturbing to the child. Speak softly, calmly, and slowly. Children with traumatic brain injury often laugh or cry inappropriately. Continue to talk to your child even if it appears he/she is not listening. Keep all instructions basic and brief.

As your child improves, provide constant repetition of facts, especially about what happened and why he/she is in the hospital. Time, day, date, year, and season are important information. Repeat facts slowly. Tell your child what you expect and what is going to happen next on the schedule. You may need to tell your child frequently about his/her surroundings. Give him/her time to understand (process) the information you give. Tell him/her what you are doing and why. Please be patient while your child recovers.


Children with traumatic brain injury are not fully recovered when they are discharged from the hospital. They may need continuing rehabilitation and access to programs in the community for months or even years. Because each child has unique needs, the social worker and discharge planner will help each family plan. If your child is school age, he/she may not be ready to return to the classroom right away. Your family should arrange to meet with school teachers and/or the principal.

Remember children with traumatic brain injury often have no outward signs of disability but recovery can continue for many years. Family members need time to adjust to changes and help your child with his/her goals for the future.

Disclaimer:This information is not intended to substitute or replace the professional medical advice you receive from your child's physician. The content provided on this page is for informational purposes only, and was not designed to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease. Please consult your child's physician with any questions or concerns you may have regarding a medical condition.

Reviewed: 07/2019

(757) 668-7000