Childhood Traumatic Brain Injury Is Associated With Poor Educational Outcomes and Standard of Living in Adulthood

child in hospital

An estimated half a million children are admitted to the emergency department for traumatic brain injury (TBI) each year in the United States. Although the injury is common and usually mild, TBI is a serious condition and may pose a different set of concerns and complications for children given that the pediatric brain is still developing. Furthermore, TBI may disrupt or delay a child’s social, educational, and physical development, which can impair their success in school and in peer relationships.

Neuroscience researchers know that pediatric TBI can negatively impact a child’s life throughout childhood and adolescence, but few studies have examined the longer-term effects of early-life TBI as these children age into adulthood. There is a critical need to know if children who sustain TBI will require additional supports and services to achieve success as adults.

A recent Australian study addressed this knowledge gap by studying life outcomes in 119 adults aged 18 to 30 years who sustained a TBI prior to age 18. On average, the participants were injured 13.7 years prior to the study. Using an interview-style assessment, the researchers asked participants to answer questions about their employment status, level of educational achievement, income and standard of living, and dependence on government benefits. The researchers also interviewed a comparison group of 42 similarly aged adults who had sustained a non-TBI traumatic injury prior to age 18, ensuring that pediatric TBI specifically is responsible for adulthood outcomes rather than pediatric traumatic injury more generally. After analyzing the results of the interviews, the researchers found that:

  • People who sustained TBI as children were less likely to continue their education and less likely to reach higher educational attainment as adults.
  • Adults who sustained childhood TBI were more likely to rely on government disability benefits and unemployment benefits.
  • Adults who sustained moderate-to-severe TBI in childhood were more likely to have lower income and lower material standard of living than the comparison group.
  • Employment status in adulthood was not affected by childhood injury.
  • More severe injury was directly associated with worse outcomes.

These results indicate that childhood TBI negatively affects multiple domains of life outcomes in adulthood, more than a decade after the initial injury. The researchers emphasize that children who experience TBI likely will need additional educational support, government benefits and rehabilitation services, and income support to ensure their lifelong success as they age into adulthood.

De Netto RK & McKinlay A. Impact of childhood traumatic brain injury on educational outcomes and adult standard of living. Disability and Rehabilitation. (August 2020).

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