Head injuries can make children loners
New research has found that a child's
relationships may be a hidden casualty long after a head
Neuroscientists at Brigham Young University studied a group of
children three years after each had suffered a traumatic brain
injury -- most commonly from car accidents. The researchers found
that lingering injury in a specific region of the brain predicted
the health of the children's social lives.
"The thing that's hardest about brain injury is that someone can
have significant difficulties but they still look okay," said Shawn
Gale, a neuropsychologist at BYU. "But they have a harder time
remembering things and focusing on things as well and that affects
the way they interact with other people. Since they look fine,
people don't cut them as much slack as they ought to."
Gale and Ph.D. student Ashley Levan authored a study to be
published April 10 by theJournal of Head Trauma
Rehabilitation. The study compared the children's social lives
and thinking skills with the thickness of the brain's outer layer
in the frontal lobe. The brain measurements came from MRI scans and
the social information was gathered from parents on a variety of
dimensions, such as their children's participation in groups,
number of friends and amount of time spent with friends.
A second finding from the new study suggests one potential way
to help. The BYU scholars found that physical injury and social
withdrawal are connected through something called "cognitive
proficiency." Cognitive proficiency is the combination of
short-term memory and the brain's processing speed.
"In social interactions we need to process the content of what a
person is saying in addition to simultaneously processing nonverbal
cues," Levan said. "We then have to hold that information in our
working memory to be able to respond appropriately. If you disrupt
working memory or processing speed it can result in difficulty with
Separate studies on children with ADHD, which also affects the
frontal lobes, show that therapy can improve working memory. Gale
would like to explore in future research with BYU's MRI facility if
improvements in working memory could "treat" the social
difficulties brought on by head injuries.
"This is a preliminary study but we want to go into more of the
details about why working memory and processing speed are
associated with social functioning and how specific brain
structures might be related to improve outcome," Gale said.
References and further information