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Acquired brain injury (ABI) is when the brain is damaged due to something that happens after birth. There are many different causes of brain injury, including traffic accidents, sports accidents or infections and lack of oxygen to the brain (e.g. drowning).
The effects of an ABI on children can vary greatly, and will depend on the part of the brain that suffered the damage and the amount of damage caused. The effects can range from mild to severe, and may include changes in your child's physical ability, cognitive (thinking) skills, personality,
behaviour and how they communicate.
Each child's recovery will be different and takes different lengths of time. Recovery often takes many years after the injury, and many children will have long-term damage.
Initially after a brain injury, your child might be in a coma (be unconscious) or have concussion (be drowsy and confused). These are short-term effects of an ABI.
In the longer term, your child may show changes in:
Call an ambulance for any child who has had a head injury involving a change in their level of consciousness (e.g. slurred speech, confusion, seizures, unable to be roused). Doctors will examine the child to determine whether they have a brain injury and how serious it is.
In Australia, the most common causes of ABI in children are:
Brain injury can be classified as focal or diffuse. A child can have both types of injury as a result of trauma.
It takes a long time to work out how serious a brain injury is and what the long-term effects may be. Doctors use many methods to determine the severity of a brain injury, including the rate of recovery, the area of the brain affected, the response to treatment or rehabilitation, and the time
following the injury when they are confused, disorientated and have a poor day-to-day memory (post-traumatic amnesia)
Children with an ABI are treated by a rehabilitation team, which may include doctors, nurses, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, social workers, speech pathologists, music therapists and psychologists. The team will work in partnership with your child and family to maximise
The rate of recovery is different for everyone. For children with more severe ABI, recovery usually continues for several years following the injury, but is usually most rapid in the early weeks to months afterwards.
What can I do to help my child recover more quickly?
Early on in your child’s recovery, you will meet with the
rehabilitation team to talk about the best approach to helping your child
recover. While each child is different, early recovery is generally assisted by
having a low-stimulation environment (e.g. keeping the number of visitors in
the room to a minimum). The rehabilitation physiotherapist and occupational
therapist will help determine when it is safe for your child to start moving
around, and the speech therapist determines when it is safe for them to take
food by mouth.
How will an ABI affect my child's development?
This depends on the severity of the injury. Most children
with a mild brain injury will make a full recovery, while others may have some
ongoing problems with their balance and movement, or their thinking and
When will my child be able to return to school?
The rehabilitation team will help your child
return to school after their ABI. When first returning to school, the amount of
school time is often reduced to a few hours a day. The amount of time is then
slowly increased, depending on your child’s level of fatigue and ability to
cope in the classroom. Some children may require additional support (e.g. a
teacher’s aid or specialised equipment). The rehabilitation education
consultant will assist you by being in contact with your school to provide
information on what to expect when your child returns to school. They help to
make the return to school process as smooth as possible for your child and your
Developed by The Royal Children's Hospital Paediatric Rehabilitation Service. Adapted with permission from information provided by the Brain Injury Service at the Children's Hospital at Westmead. We acknowledge the input of RCH consumers and carers.
Reviewed October 2018.
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