One of the most commonly asked questions we get is if children can have trouble learning as a direct result from head injuries. The answer is undoubtedly, yes! As you already know, the brain functions in mysterious ways and can be fragile in its development stages. Between the ages of three and 10, kids are constantly exploring and testing new objects, play equipment, and are actively engaged in some type of sports activity. Brain injuries can happen on the soccer field, riding a bike or ATV, falling down stairs, tripping on pavement, or any other type of jar to the head.
How does a brain injury affect learning development?
Traumatic Brain injuries (TBIs) or less severe brain injuries acquired after birth can affect a child’s ability to learn in a number of ways. Their social, emotional, physical, and cognitive development could all be impacted, which could directly affect behavior, reading, comprehension, math, speech, processing, and other areas of development. If a brain or head injury happens while your child is young, it could take many years for your child to recover and parents may have to seek outside tools and resources to help their child academically. Head injuries directly affect the brain’s development and could lead to an imbalance that could impact how your child responds to their teacher, their peers, and to you. If the injury is severe enough, you may start noticing changes in your child’s higher learning skills. A child’s ability to think, act, and learn academically depends on the development of the frontal regions of the brain.
How do I know if my child has trouble learning because of a brain injury?
If your child has experienced a brain injury, you may start noticing a difference in their academic growth and development. The best way to determine how the brain injury has affected their learning is to observe their behavior and ask them questions. For example, children may have trouble with short-term memory or could develop Sensory Processing Disorders (SPD). As a parent, ask your child about their day, what they did at school, and who they played with at recess. You may want to ask the same questions twice in one day to test their short-term memory and if they are processing the questions you are asking. In addition, test their gross and fine motor skills. Have them bounce a ball, throw a beanbag, write with a pencil, and have them track a pencil with their eyes. A child’s physical development directly affects how the brain learns in school and how the right and left hemispheres work together to retain information. Also ask the teacher how your child is behaving in class. Are they paying attention, what is their behavior like, and are they having trouble focusing. If your child is also experiencing personality changes after the injury, they may show signs of depression, anxiety, or mood swings. One of the best ways to determine how the injury has affected your child’s cognitive development is to have them tested by a Neurological specialist.
What symptoms do I look for if my child was recently involved in an accident that may have caused a learning disability due to a brain injury?
Many symptoms could begin to manifest themselves in your child’s cognitive development if they have experienced a head injury. Monitoring their behavior, social interactions, physical abilities, and mental capacity is critical in the days, weeks, and months following an injury. If you are concerned about how the injury may affect how your child is learning in school, watch for the following changes in development:
- Decreased attention and alertness
- Short-term or long-term memory loss
- Orientation problems (not knowing, where, when, who they are)
- Less able to focus on an activity
- Changes in thinking and reasoning
- Brain is tired after thinking for long periods of time (cognitive or mental fatigue)
- Difficulty learning something new
- Problems with “executive functioning” (problem solving, working memory, self-regulation, self-monitoring, planning and organizing, emotional control)
- Changes in muscle tone or tactile issues
- Headaches or sensitivity to light and noise
- Sensory Issues
- Hearing or visual changes
- Changes in speech or difficulty with communicating
- Changes in sleeping patterns
Is it possible to fix learning development if my child has experienced a brain injury?
While recovery from a brain injury can be a slow process, specialists, caregivers, learning centers and medical professionals can provide methods and services to enhance rehabilitation and can repair cognitive damage. If your child shows signs of weakness in motor skills or cognitive development after the injury, with the right help, those weaker sides of the brain can be strengthened. For example, if your child has damage to the right side of the brain, which controls movement, the left side of their body may show signs of weaker mobility and functionality. By completing certain exercises (movement or mental activities) on the left side of the body, the damage to the right side of the brain can be greatly improved. The more stimulation provided to the weaker areas of the brain combined with a strong therapeutic environment, the better chance of recovery and improvements to higher learning and academic growth.
What academic help is available for my child if they experience a brain injury?
If you begin to notice changes in your child’s cognitive development after a brain injury, don’t wait to get them help. Early intervention is the key to enhance their academic progress and will save you time and money in the future if you address the issues while they are young. The younger the child, the easier it is to fix his or her academic aptitude. Check in your local area to see what early intervention and special education services are available. By law, if your child is diagnosed with a learning disability, the state and the school can provide services to help. Your best resource is to ask friends and family members if they know of any local centers that are helpful. Also, connect with your school to determine if your child qualifies for their Individualized Education Program (IEP). These programs and services are free and can be a good source for your child.
However, if your child experiences many of the symptoms above, do not just depend on the school system to magically “fix” your child. Many of these learning challenges schools and teachers cannot fix because they do not have the right tools and resources. However, a majority of the symptoms listed above can be improved with speech pathologists, occupational therapists, music therapy, specialized tutoring, Neurological specialists, children’s hospitals, and psychologists. Talk to your pediatrician to find out what is available in your area.
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