All children will have falls and injuries. Sometimes it can be hard to know if you should take care of them at home or go to see a doctor. When your child’s injury could involve their brain, the answer is to take them to see a doctor, and to keep watching them.
The most common brain injuries in children are acquired brain injuries (ABI) – meaning a child was not born with this injury, and it did not come directly from a brain illness. An acquired brain injury means that the brain is not working normally. Acquired brain injuries may be caused by strokes, heart attacks, infections with a high fever, brain tumors, or a loss of oxygen to the brain. A traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a type of acquired brain injury that may be caused by blows, jolts, or wounds.
Acquired brain injuries in children are commonly caused by:
An acquired brain injury can affect:
The term "mild brain injury" is misleading. Concussions and other mild brain injuries in children are always something to take seriously. While most children who have a concussion or other mild brain injury recover with rest, there is always a risk of brain damage and disability if they do not get proper care and follow the doctor’s treatment plan.
Some signs or symptoms of a brain injury might show up right away, while others might not show up for hours, days, weeks, or even months. If you suspect your child has had a brain injury, call 9-1-1 or take them to the emergency room right away. If in doubt, call 9-1-1 or ask for a doctor’s opinion.
Watch out for these symptoms. They might mean your child has a brain injury.
Or if a young child:
Even if you don’t see any symptoms of a brain injury right away, talk to your child’s doctor if you see any of these things a few days, weeks, or months after the possible injury:
Here are some tips for helping your child prevent a brain injury:
Your child’s doctor should oversee your child’s recovery and help you know what to do. If the brain injury is less serious, simple mental rest might do it – a break from things like reading, schoolwork, video games, using a computer, or watching TV. Plus, they’ll need a physical rest from sports or other activities.
More serious (moderate to severe) brain injuries might need a few different treatments, like: medical care right away and rehabilitation in a hospital; time in a rehabilitation center; and more therapies once your child is back at home.
Recovery looks different for every brain injury and every child. Your child might need things like:
You can find out more about some of these therapies on our specialty and therapy options page.
Work with your child's doctors and social worker (if your child has one) to decide what rehabilitation your child will need so that their recovery begins as soon as possible.
Your child should only go back to school and being active when their doctor has given the okay. And even then, your doctor will give you very important steps to follow.
As your child gets ready to go back, it’s very important to tell the school about their injury. Include your child as well as their doctor, teacher, and school nurse in making a plan to help your child return safely and comfortably. This team can help keep track of how the plan is going and see if it needs any changes along the way. It puts everyone on the same page to help make sure that your child is healing and healthy.
Learn more about returning to school.
When your child gets a doctor’s okay to go back to playing a sport, it’s important to work closely with their coaches and trainers to start back carefully and gradually. The word gradually is very important – it means a slow return to activity so your child can keep healing and not get hurt more. It might mean that it will be days, weeks, or months before your child is 100% back in the action.
You can find out more by looking at the the CDC’s 5-step process for gradual return to play.
No two brain injuries are alike. Some children might recover fast, and others might be working at it for years or never get back all of the skills they lost. No matter what the case, there are people and places to help your child. We have collected this list to help you get started.
Look on our regional pages to see if there are more services and support groups in your area.