Pediatric Traumatic Brain Injury

The scope of this page is limited to pediatric traumatic brain injury (ages birth through 21). ASHA has a separate Practice Portal resource page on Traumatic Brain Injury in Adults.

A separate resource on mild traumatic brain injury will be developed in the future.

See the Traumatic Brain Injury section of the Pediatric Brain Injury Evidence Map for summaries of the available research on this topic.

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a form of nondegenerative acquired brain injury resulting from a bump, blow, or jolt to the head (or body) or a penetrating head injury that disrupts normal brain function (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2015).

TBI can cause brain damage that is focal (e.g., gunshot wound), diffuse (e.g., shaken baby syndrome), or both. Symptoms can vary depending on site of lesion, extent of damage to the brain, and the child's age or stage of development.

The functional impact of TBI in children can be different than in adults—deficits may not be immediately apparent because the pediatric brain is still developing. TBI in children is a chronic disease process rather than a one-time event, because symptoms may change and unfold over time (DePompei & Tyler, in press; Masel & DeWitt, 2010).

TBI can result from a primary injury or a secondary injury (see common classifications of TBI for more details). Severity of TBI may be categorized as mild, moderate, or severe, based on the extent and nature of injury, duration of loss of consciousness, posttraumatic amnesia (PTA; loss of memory for events immediately following injury), and severity of confusion at initial assessment during the acute phase of injury (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th ed. [DSM-5; American Psychiatric Association, 2013]; CDC, 2015).

  • Mild TBI (mTBI) — loss of consciousness for less than 30 minutes, an initial Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) or Pediatric GCS of 13–15 after 30 minutes of injury onset, and PTA for not greater than 24 hours (CDC, 2015; McCrory et al., 2013; Ontario Neurotrauma Foundation, 2013).
    • Uncomplicated — mTBI where there are no overt neuroimaging findings.
    • Complicated — mTBI where there are intracranial abnormalities (e.g., bruising or a collection of blood in the brain) seen on CT scan or MRI.
  • Moderate TBI — loss of consciousness and/or PTA for 1–24 hours and a GCS of 9–12 (CDC, 2015).
  • Severe TBI — loss of consciousness for more than 24 hours and PTA for more than 7 days with a GCS of 3–8 (CDC, 2015).

Concussion, a form of mTBI, is an injury to the brain characterized by the physical and cognitive sequelae of TBI. Concussion typically occurs as a result of a blow, bump, or jolt to the head, face, neck, or body that may or may not involve loss of consciousness (McCrory et al., 2013). Concussion has received more attention in recent years, particularly with respect to sports injuries.

The roles of speech-language pathologists and audiologists in concussion prevention and management—including baseline testing and "return to learn" protocols—have become more prominent, especially in the school setting (Halstead et al., 2013; Hotz et al., 2014).

Content Disclaimer: The Practice Portal, ASHA policy documents, and guidelines contain information for use in all settings; however, members must consider all applicable local, state and federal requirements when applying the information in their specific work setting.