From playground accidents to teen car crashes, the fear of a child getting a brain injury is one every parent deals with. March is Brain Injury Awareness Month, when families and volunteers work together to educate and promote awareness about the 1.7 million brain injuries that occur each year. Here are some quick facts on brain injuries, how to spot them, and what to do about them.
Infants and Toddlers
Brain injury in newborns can be caused by prenatal strokes, shortage of oxygen during birth, or other pregnancy complications. Such injuries can cause disorders like cerebral palsy or seizures. Many newborns with brain injuries have some sort of physical abnormality which indicates brain damage — trouble with focusing eyes or distorted facial features. Other signs of brain injury may include refusal to eat or sleep, excessive crying or fussing, or failure to meet developmental milestones like crawling or talking. However, every baby is different, and attributes like these may be nothing at all. As always, consult a doctor if you suspect something out of the ordinary.
Once a baby starts to crawl and walk, a bump to the head is all but inevitable. Almost every parent can tell the story of a baby that fell off the changing table or took a header down the stairs. Many head injuries, while frightening and unpleasant for baby and parent alike, will not result in any long-term trauma.
However, there are some signs to look for if you suspect a brain injury. If your child loses consciousness or falls asleep immediately after the injury, vomits repeatedly, isn't breathing normally, or won't wake up from sleep, consult a physician immediately.
Elementary School Age Children
Playground accidents, bike spills, sports mishaps, and other side-effects of active grade schoolers may mean the possibility of a brain injury. Many of the signs of brain injury will be similar to those found in adults: trouble with reasoning or class-work, memory issues, emotional problems, or even physical impairments like trouble seeing, hearing, or moving around. Again, these may be other issues or just normal parts of a child's development, so when in doubt, consult the doctor.
The most important thing to remember if your child gets a brain injury is to make sure everyone is informed. Let the school nurse or psychologist know about the injury. Keep your child at home and let them rest for a day or three, and after that, keep them out of sports for a few days or even a couple weeks. Kids who have suffered a traumatic brain injury may require some extra counseling and attention to get through the experience — fortunately, there are plenty of resources for parents and children that can help them work through the aftermath of the injury together.
The teenage years are a time for risky behavior, whether parents like it or not. The natural emotional turmoil of adolescence, combined with hormones, can make a recipe for bad decisions that can lead to injuries of all kinds. As teenagers reach the appropriate age for driver's education, and eventually driving on their own, parents should make a point of talking about some of the leading behaviors that can lead to an automobile accident, and the potential for a traumatic brain injury.
Distracted driving statistics show that driving distractedly (texting, talking on the phone, using an IPod, or eating) can be even more dangerous than drunk driving.
Another leading cause of brain injuries that parents should keep an eye out for in teens, is sport injuries. Many young athletes excel on the field and wouldn't think twice about diving for the ball, or taking that hit in the football game. Unfortunately sometimes accidents happen, and when everyone is playing hard, someone gets hurt. Concussions are prevalent among teenage athletes, and can be quite severe. Keep your eye on your young athlete after a particularly rough game, and if you have reason to believe they may have suffered from a concussion, be sure to get them medical attention as soon as possible.
Brain injuries can be frightening and traumatic, both physically and emotionally, for everyone involved. But the best weapon against fear is information. Learn more about Brain Injury Awareness Month and what you can do to inform yourself, and others, about brain injury.
Noble McIntyre is the senior partner and owner of McIntyre Law. The Oklahoma City-based personal injury firm is focused on making the community safer, and is very involved in charity work and Lawyers Against Hunger.