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How to Tell if Your Teen or Child Has a Brain Injury – And Why Prompt Diagnosis Matters

Categories: Being a Caregiver, Legal Issues

by Thomas A. Crosley
Crosley Law

Children and teens are incredibly vulnerable to head injuries. Whether due to falls, motor vehicle accidents, or getting struck by objects, hundreds of thousands of children visit the emergency room each year due to brain trauma. In 2014 alone, an estimated 812,000 kids and teens required emergency medical care after a traumatic brain injury (TBI).

Trauma can impact our children’s brain health, their development, and their futures. As a parent and a BIAA Preferred Attorney, I’ve learned a lot about childhood TBIs and treatment. In this blog, I’ll outline key concepts that parents and other caregivers need to know.

What Causes Childhood and Adolescent TBIs?

Head trauma has many causes, but most childhood and teenage brain injuries involve falls, motor vehicle crashes, or the child getting hit by or striking an object. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), different age groups face varying levels of risk:

  • Falls: Result in 49% of head injury-related emergency room (ER) visits for children between ages 0 and 17
  • Motor vehicle wrecks: The leading cause of TBI-related death for children and young adults ages 15 to 25
  • Velocity injuries (bicycle, sports, and other speed-related injuries): Most common among children between the ages of 6 and 17
  • Being struck by or against an object: Most common in children who are between ages 5 and 14

TBI Symptoms in Children: What to Look For

Childhood signs of a traumatic brain injury are similar to those of an adult.

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Headaches and other pain
  • Fatigue and sleep disruption
  • Problems with attention and concentration
  • Poor decision-making
  • Slower mental processing or mental fogginess
  • Memory deficits
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Mood swings and problems controlling emotions
  • Impulsive behavior or risk-taking
  • Poor coordination or clumsiness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Hypersensitivity to sound
  • Visual disturbances, like blurred or double vision
  • Difficulties with speech

Concussions, which are mild TBIs, are often associated with many of these symptoms, although they may have a milder presentation.
However, it’s not always easy to identify your child’s or teen’s developing TBI symptoms. Kids can’t always express their concerns or explain their symptoms to us, so parents have to look out for subtle changes that may suggest a need for medical care.

For example, very young children with TBIs often can’t be consoled, are irritable, and may suddenly seem to “lose their words.” They may stop playing with their favorite toys, lose potty-training gains, or change sleeping habits. As a parent or caregiver, look out for these types of changes and tell your child’s medical team about them.

How Trauma Can Impact Developing Brains

The human brain continues to develop until you reach your mid-20s. For example, your prefrontal cortex, the part of your brain that controls impulse control and long-term decision-making, typically continues to grow until you reach age 25. And trauma can dramatically impact brain development.

While children’s and teen’s brains are highly flexible, research shows that emerging skills are often deeply impacted by brain trauma. TBI symptoms, like attention deficits and slower processing speeds, can make learning even more difficult — adding even more complexity to a childhood TBI survivor’s recovery. And if a child has underlying conditions like ADHD, learning disabilities, or autism spectrum disorder, a TBI can further compound them. Sometimes, the full effect of a TBI can’t be understood until years later, when a child or teen misses important milestones.

Teens who live with a traumatic brain injury are also more likely to use alcohol and drugs. According to a 2011 Canadian study, compared with other adolescents, teenage TBI survivors are:

  • Twice as likely to binge drink
  • Almost three times as likely to abuse illegal or prescription drugs
  • Two-and-a-half times as likely to smoke cigarettes daily

Addiction and substance use can further complicate a teen’s recovery and lead to social and academic issues, if not properly addressed.

Prompt Treatment May Help Your Teen or Child Recover

Specialists, such as doctors, neuropsychologists, counselors, and occupational and physical therapists, can often teach children coping mechanisms that can help them adapt and adjust to the TBIs. Ideally, your child will receive care from a multi-talented group of providers who can tend to their physical injuries, cognitive challenges, and emotional trauma.

However, the sooner your child gets comprehensive TBI care, the better. Studies show that individuals who quickly receive intensive treatment from a diverse group of specialists often have better outcomes. However, you’ll want to work with health care professionals who have extensive experience treating pediatric brain injuries. If you need help finding the right medical providers, contact your local brain injury organization.

Worried About Your Child’s Future? Consult a BIAA Preferred Attorney

Caring for a child or teen with a TBI is a challenging task. It requires patience, time, and a significant financial investment. If someone else’s negligence caused your child’s injuries, they should be held accountable. However, not every lawyer has the skills and knowledge required to handle your family’s complex injury claims. That’s why I encourage you to consult a BIAA Preferred Attorney who has a proven track record of success.

To find a TBI lawyer in your community, visit the BIAA Preferred Attorney page and click on “Narrow Your Search.” You’ll be able to filter Preferred Attorneys by their location and practice area.

At Crosley Law, we’ve handled children’s injury claims involving car and truck wrecks, falls at poorly maintained trampoline parks, and other catastrophic incidents. Like other BIAA Preferred Attorneys, my team and I use cutting-edge science, renowned experts, and a hands-on approach. We investigate our clients’ TBIs, calculate their full damages, and help them navigate the legal system. Our goal is to empower injured victims throughout Texas and get them the answers and compensation they deserve.


Ilie, G., Mann, R., Hamilton, H., Adlaf, E., Boak, A., Asbridge, M., Rehm, J., & Cusimano, M. (2015). Substance use and related harms among adolescents with and without traumatic brain injury. The Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation.

Johnson, S. B., Blum, R. W., & Giedd, J. N. (2009). Adolescent maturity and the brain: the promise and pitfalls of neuroscience research in adolescent health policy. The Journal of adolescent health: official publication of the Society for Adolescent Medicine, 45(3), 216–221.

Malec, J. F., & Kean, J. (2016). Post-Inpatient Brain Injury Rehabilitation Outcomes: Report from the National OutcomeInfo Database. Journal of neurotrauma, 33(14), 1371–1379.

Pediatric traumatic brain injury. (n.d.) American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

TBI: Get the facts. (2019, March 11). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.