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Most people believe young children are extremely tough, healing quickly from injuries. But new research suggests that one bump to the head could affect your child for the rest of their life.

If your child falls and bumps their head while playing, you'd sit up and take notice, wouldn't you? Of course you would. If your child fell from a tree, or the jungle-gym in the Park, you'd whisk them straight to the Hospital. You'd sit by their bedside, wait and worry until the doctor gave you the good news: you could take them home.

And then all your worries would be over, wouldn't they?

Possibly not. New evidence suggests that traumatic brain injury in children as young as two affects the child up to and including adulthood.

Childhood Head Injury

Childhood head injury accounts for 100,000 hospitalisations in the US every year. Children receive head injuries by many means, including: motor injuries, and sadly child abuse. But a very large percentage occurs due to ordinary childhood falls while playing, sporting injuries and bicycle accidents.

It's nearly impossible to determine loss of brain function in a young child. Older children and adults have previous academic attainment and job successes to use as a benchmark, but the younger child does not.

For a long time, it was assumed that the younger the child was when a head injury occurred, the better for the child. It was assumed, although without any real evidence to back it up, that the child's brain would "rewire" over time. Thus, not much research was given to early childhood head trauma.

Research now shows that younger children are even more susceptible to permanent brain damage, even when the force was the same. In very young children, this might be partly due to the softness of the fontanelle, which doesn't fully harden until 19 months in some babies.

Childhood Head Injury and Lower Childhood Academic Attainment

Very early childhood head injury leads to lower academic attainment. One 2006 study, by Linda Ewing-Cobbs and colleagues, tested 23 children who had sustained a head injury at a mean-age of twenty-one months (between four- and seventy-one months). At a mean-age of eighty-nine months, they were given a series of standardised academic tests in reading, mathematics and language, and their scores compared to 21 children from the community who had not sustained a head injury.

Ewing-Cobbs and colleagues found that the earlier the brain injury had been sustained, the lower the test scores. 48% of the group had test scores below the 10% percentile (meaning that they scored in the lowest 10% of a nationally standardised sample).

Over a 5-year follow-up period, IQ testing revealed that none of the students recovered function. By the time longitudinal monitoring finished, 50% of the head injury group had failed a grade, or had been placed in a contained special education unit.  

Ewing-Cobbs and colleagues (2006) said the odds of poor academic performance were 18 times higher for children who had experienced a head injury, when compared to their peers in the comparison group.

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