Many studies have suggested that young children are particularly vulnerable to brain injuries, but few have explored how brain injuries at early ages may impact the lives of children well after the injury seems to have healed.
New research published in the Journal of Neuropsychology suggests social difficulties following brain injuries can have substantial effects for months after an injury. In particular, the study found a concussion can negatively affect parent-child relationships.
The findings indicate the risks related to mild traumatic brain injuries, commonly called concussions, are particularly high for preschool-aged children. The results also show concussions can impact the lives of up to 2% of all children between infancy and the age of 5.
The young brain is particularly vulnerable to injury because the skull is still thin and malleable. In the months following the injury, one of the first visible signs of social difficulties in young children is a decline in their relationship with their parents,” said researcher Miriam Beauchamp, a professor at the University of Montreal in Canada.
The team suggests a concussion at an early age can slow the development of social and cognitive skills, which can have a large influence on how the parents interact with their child.
“It may be due to specific neurological mechanisms, to changes in parenting, or to stress caused by the injury,” said lead author Gabrielle Lalonde, a doctoral student at the University of Montreal.
The study set out to examine the quality of parent-child interactions six months after a brain injury. To do this, the researchers recruited 130 children between the ages of 18 months and 60 months and divided them into three categories: those with concussion, those with orthopedic injury such as a fracture or sprain of the arm or leg but no concussion, and a control group of healthy children.
The findings showed that the quality of parent-child interactions of injured children after concussion was significantly reduced compared to non-injured children and those who experienced orthopedic injury.
The results lead the researchers to suggest parents monitor their child’s behavior in the weeks following brain trauma and be prepared to adjust accordingly.
“If, as parents, you notice the effects of the accident on your own psychological state or behavioural changes in your child that make them interact differently and that persist more than a few weeks, you should talk to your family doctor or a neuropsychologist,” Beauchamp suggested.