Our brains make our hearts beat and our lungs breathe. They allow us to walk where we want to go, catch a ball, and write a poem. They’re incredibly complicated and incredibly fragile. When our brains are damaged, the consequences can be severe.
A baby’s brain is even more vulnerable than an adult one. A baby’s brain may be damaged when it is deprived of oxygen, exposed to toxins, affected by a maternal infection, or subjected to the effects of jaundice. Depending on the nature and severity of the damage, the effects may range from negligible to life-threatening. Let’s take a look at the most common causes of brain damages in fetuses and newborns, how to get treatment, and more.
- Infant Brain Damage: What You Need to Know
- What are the causes of infant brain damage?
- What are the signs of brain damage in infants?
- How does my newborn recover from brain damage?
- What are the legal issues surrounding brain damage?
- What questions should I ask my doctor?
- What should I expect if my child has brain damage?
What are the causes of infant brain damage?
A baby’s brain at birth is 25% the size of an adult’s, while its overall body weight is just 5% of an adult’s. About half of a a baby’s brain growth occurs during the first year of her life. At the end of the second year, her brain has already reached 75% of its adult size. (R)
Because our brains are so complex and so important to the functioning of our entire bodies, brain damage can have a wide range of causes and symptoms. Minor damage may have no noticeable effects, but severe damage can prevent a baby from ever living independently. Let’s take a look at the causes of different types of brain damage that can occur during pregnancy, birth, and early infancy.
“Asphyxiation” refers to oxygen deprivation. All of our cells need access to a ready supply of fresh oxygen to survive. All cells will suffer damage from a lack of oxygen, but the brain is particularly vulnerable. That’s because the brain requires a comparatively large amount of oxygen and can’t heal as well as other parts of the body. Just a few minutes without oxygen is enough to cause serious and permanent brain damage.
Our brains are subject to two different types of damage from asphyxiation: damage due to lack of oxygen and reperfusion damage. The first type occurs as cells die off because of the lack of oxygen. “Reperfusion” injuries occur after blood and oxygen flow are restored when the cells that died in the first stage release toxins that are carried around the body. These toxins can cause a second wave of damage. (R)
In the context of birth injuries, asphyxiation may also be called “hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy” or “intrapartum asphyxia.” These terms all refer to oxygen deprivation of the brain.
Asphyxiation may occur for a number of reasons. Maternal health issues such as low blood pressure or respiratory disease may limit both baby and mother’s oxygen supply. The umbilical cord may be compressed or twisted, limiting the flow of oxygenated blood to the fetus. In some cases, the umbilical cord may even get wrapped around the baby’s neck. The placenta may separate from the wall of the uterus too early, cutting off the supply of oxygenated blood. The baby may also get stuck in the birth canal for too long — the umbilical cord will be squeezed and the baby won’t have enough room to breathe for itself.
Babies aren’t just at risk for asphyxiation during the delivery process — infants and small children are also at risk for aspirating small objects that can block their airways.
In addition to being a major cause of brain damage, asphyxiation is the 10th-leading cause of death among infants in the U.S. (R)
Birth is a rough process and babies are at risk for brain damage due to trauma during delivery. Babies’ skulls are much softer and more flexible than adult skulls. That allows them to get through the birth canal. Unfortunately, those soft skulls are also not as protective of the baby’s brain as a hard adult skull would be. (R)
A difficult labor may cause the baby’s head to bang repeatedly against the pelvic bone. Difficult labor may also lead your medical care team to try to speed the delivery process by pulling on the baby’s arms, head, and neck. This is a difficult balance to manage — too slow and the baby risks brain damage due to asphyxiation, too fast and there’s a risk of physical trauma to the baby’s brain.
In some cases, about 1 in 20 deliveries, the doctor may use vacuum suction or a pair of forceps to grip the baby’s head. These tools may be useful for getting a baby through a tight pelvis and birth canal, but they can be dangerous. Improper use of forceps, vacuum, or other tools can squeeze the baby’s skull and damage the brain underneath. (R)
When you’re pregnant, what affects you also affects the baby. That includes any infections you may have. Maternal infections are linked to low birth weights and premature births. Infections contracted by the mother may be passed to the child. Babies’ immune systems aren’t as strong as those of adults, so a minor infection for the mother may cause serious health problems for the child.
First, maternal infection may cause a fever in both the mother and the child. Our brains are very sensitive to temperature and the fever and swelling of an infection can damage the fetus’s brain. Some types of infection can pass from mother to child through the umbilical cord, including syphilis and chlamydia. These infections may reach the fetus’s brain and cause serious damage.
Some infections that affect fetuses are found in common foods, so check out our list of foods to watch out for while pregnant.
If you’re pregnant and feeling unwell, you should always visit a doctor to check for infections that might affect your little one.
See also: Immune System Boost for Baby? Get a Dog
As with diseases, babies are more sensitive to toxins than adults. Our livers and kidneys are prepared to filter our blood, but fetuses and newborns don’t have the same ability. Toxins that don’t affect adults can serious damage a baby’s brain. This is called “toxic encephalopathy.” (R)
Some chemicals that can cause toxic encephalopathy are found in everyday household products such as perfumes, cleaning solutions, and paint. Toxins can be inhaled, eaten, or absorbed through the skin. They may come from your food, like mercury in some types of fish (though 2-3 servings of fish per week are still recommended for women by the Food and Drug Administration). They may be in the air, like fumes from paint or bleach. It’s important to be aware of your surroundings when pregnant to avoid dangerous fumes and products. (R)
Alcohol and drugs are also toxins to fetuses and newborns and can cause severe brain damage. Drinking during pregnancy can cause “fetal alcohol syndrome,” which involves physical deformities and mental retardation. Drug use can have similar effects. Even some prescription and over-the-counter drugs are not safe for fetuses, so remember to check with your doctor before taking any medication while pregnant.
Jaundice is a condition caused by an excess of bilirubin in the blood. The liver usually filters bilirubin out of the blood but babies’ livers are sometimes not mature enough to manage it. Jaundice causes the baby’s eyes and skin to turn yellow. (R)
Mild cases of jaundice are common, especially in premature babies. These mild cases will typically clear up on their own and don’t require any treatment. However, severe cases of jaundice can cause brain damage.
Bilirubin is toxic to the brain. If the level of bilirubin in the baby’s blood is high enough, bilirubin can pass into the brain and cause “acute bilirubin encephalopathy” — brain damage. Acute bilirubin encephalopathy may also be referred to as “kernicterus.”
The brain damage associated with acute bilirubin encephalopathy may be extremely severe and cause cerebral palsy, seizures, and more. It may even be fatal. (R)
Jaundice is treatable and acute bilirubin encephalopathy can be prevented. Symptoms of jaundice include:
- yellow tint to skin or eyes
- unusually high-pitched crying
- difficulty suckling or swallowing
If you notice any of these symptoms, you should seek medical attention immediately.
While we typically associate strokes with older adults, they can also occur in children and even fetuses. As in adults, strokes in fetuses cause brain damage. Strokes happen when blood flow to the brain stops briefly, depriving the brain of blood and oxygen.
When a fetus or newborn suffers a stroke, it’s called a “perinatal stroke.” Perinatal strokes usually occur during or just after delivery and may be triggered by lack of oxygen. Perinatal strokes may also be caused by certain heart defects, blood disorders, and infections. Traumatic brain injury during delivery can also trigger a stroke. Finally, perinatal strokes may be caused by malformed blood vessels in the brain, which are subject to breakage and aneurysm. (R)
Maternal health problems such as preeclampsia (high blood pressure during the pregnancy), infections, drug and alcohol use, and diabetes increase the risk of perinatal stroke.
Brain damage is not always the result of an outside trauma. In some cases, the brain forms abnormally in the womb. Brain malformations may be caused by genetic mutations or by introduction of toxins into the brain at an early stage of development.
What are the signs of brain damage in infants?
When an adult is injured, signs such as confusion and difficulty speaking can indicate brain damage. In babies, doctors must use physical signs and symptoms to determine if the child has suffered brain damage. Some symptoms are evident at or shortly after birth, while others take time to show.
Physical indicators of brain damage include an abnormally large or small head, seizures, and difficulty focusing the eyes. If your doctor suspects your little one has suffered a physical trauma during delivery (one of the most common causes of traumatic brain injury is instrumental delivery), she may use an MRI or CT scan to look for bleeding or swelling in the brain or skull fractures. (R)
If delivery was long and traumatic or if the mother or baby suffered a serious infection, the baby is at an increased risk for brain damage. Your doctor may ask you to look for signs such as lethargy, trouble sleeping while lying down, extreme fussiness, and trouble feeding. These are indicators that the baby has suffered some damage.
Diagnosis in Infancy or Early Childhood
There may not be any physical symptoms of brain damage or the symptoms may be very difficult to detect right at birth. Some types of damage will only become apparent as your little one grows and develops.
The more severe the damage, the more severe the symptoms. Mild brain damage may not ever be noticeable. More serious cases may cause noticeable physical and cognitive disabilities and may require regular medical care. In extreme cases, a child with brain damage may never be able to live independently.
If you notice symptoms of brain damage in your child, you should seek medical attention immediately to find the cause and prevent more serious side effects.
Brain damage can cause a range of physical symptoms, including seizures, tremors, paralysis, and sleep disorders. It can also cause headaches, although it is very difficult to determine if a baby has a headache.
Brain damage can affect your child’s coordination and muscle control. These are called “neuromotor problems,” conditions of the nervous system. Children with brain damage may have delayed physical milestones such as sitting up, crawling, and walking. Brain damage can affect the ability to initiate and control muscle movements, making it hard to perform everyday tasks such as picking up a fork or putting on clothes. Children with severe brain damage may never be able to do these things without assistance. (R)
Brain damage may also affect your child’s physical development in other ways. Some types of brain damage cause paralysis of some or all of the limbs. Paralyzed limbs are often stunted and may be deformed due to atypical growth processes. Children with severe brain damage may be unable to control bodily functions such as urination, bowel movements, and drooling.
Cognitive and Intellectual Functions
Brain damage often causes developmental delays. Some children with mild brain damage will have difficulty concentrating, paying attention, and controlling their impulses. These symptoms are similar to ADD and ADHD — many children aren’t diagnosed with brain damage until they enter school and are diagnosed with these or similar learning disabilities. Damage to the brain may cause glitches that make reading or math more difficult for the child. Brain damage may also cause memory and retention problems. Children with brain damage may struggle to learn critical thinking skills. (R)
Sensory perceptions may be affected by brain damage. For example, brain damage often increases the child’s sensitivity to pain, light, and other stimuli. Children with brain damage may struggle with depth perception and balance.
More severe brain damage can affect the child’s ability to communicate clearly or to speak at all. They may be unable to learn to read or write (due to either cognitive or physical symptoms) and may need to be placed in special education classes.
Brain damage can also cause emotional and behavioral disturbances such as extreme aggression and anger. Children with brain damage may act out in socially inappropriate ways and struggle to control their impulses. These are called “neurobehavioral problems” and are often controllable with therapy and medication.
Specific Conditions Caused by Brain Damage
In some cases, brain damage causes a specific condition with a specific set of symptoms. Cerebral palsy is a condition caused by damage to the part of the brain that controls movement and coordination. Children with cerebral palsy may have tremors and seizures. Children with severe cerebral palsy may be unable to stand or walk on their own and may require intensive care.
Brain damage can also cause seizure disorders, or “epilepsy.” Seizures are caused by unusual electrical activity in the brain. We commonly think of seizures as shaking and twitching, but not every seizure causes convulsions. Seizures may also cause loss of balance, uncontrollable eye movements, loss of bladder and bowel control, and temporary breathing trouble. Some seizures just cause behavioral changes, such as rocking back and forth and not responding to stimuli.
Brain damage may cause psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, and psychosis. These disorders may not arise until adolescence or even later and may be marked by symptoms such as extreme lethargy and sadness, behavioral problems, hearing voices, hallucinating, or extreme paranoia. These disorders may also be caused by environmental or genetic factors. (R)
One study found that children who suffered injuries to the cerebellum during pregnancy or delivery had a higher risk of developing autism. The causes of autism are not well understood and experts believe that genetic factors play the largest role in the disorder, but brain damage may increase the risk. (R)
How does my newborn recover from brain damage?
Brain damage is often difficult to treat. Peripheral nerves (nerves the connect the brain and spinal cord to the rest of the body) can sometimes regenerate and heal. It’s much harder to regenerate brain tissue, meaning brain damage may be permanent. (R)
While the damage to the brain may be permanent, treatment is still crucial. Your doctor will find the source of the damage and correct it so that no further damage occurs. Your child may also need treatment for secondary effects of the damage.
Testing for Baby’s Brain Injury
It’s difficult to determine if an infant has suffered a brain injury. One popular test for brain injury in infants is the “Glasgow Coma Scale,” which tests the baby’s neurological state. If the child scores under a 15, your doctor may recommend testing for brain damage. (R)
Your doctor will use MRI and CT scans to get a detailed look at your little one’s brain to find the source of the trouble. These tests will show damage such as skull fractures, swelling, blood clots, contusions, and lesions. Your doctor may also use an electroencephalogram (EEG) to measure the electrical activity in your child’s brain.
Depending on the results of these scans, the doctor may be able to determine the cause of the damage. For example, a skull fracture is an obvious cause. If the cause is not obvious, your child may need further testing to find the root. For example, the doctor may test your child’s blood or spinal fluid for infections or blood disorders that can cause brain damage. (R)
Some types of damage may not be visible on a scan or an EEG. In addition, doctors want to avoid exposing babies to MRI and CT scans if possible and won’t typically order them for a child who scores a 15 or higher on the Glasgow Coma Scale. Doctors may use cognitive and behavioral tests such as tracking the baby’s eye movements and grip to determine if some form of brain damage has occurred.
Brain damage is notoriously difficult to diagnose. In many cases, there are no signs or symptoms until the child reaches school age and is diagnosed with learning or behavioral disabilities.
Some types of brain damage do not require surgery. You’ll work with your child’s doctors to find the appropriate treatment plan.
Your child may benefit from physical therapy to help develop coordination, strength, and control. Occupational therapy can teach you and your child how to live with a disability — ordinary tasks like brushing your teeth can be much harder when brain damage affects your ability to control your muscles. Therapy can also help your child overcome behavioral problems such as aggression and poor impulse control. If your child suffers from a learning disability, therapy and specialized tutoring can help make school easier and less stressful.
If your child’s brain damage was caused by a blood disorder, stroke, jaundice, or infection, your doctor may prescribe medication to control or eliminate that cause.
The possible effects of brain damage are wide-ranging and many of them may also require medication. Your child may need medication for a seizure or movement disorder. In some cases, mood disorders and behavioral problems may be treated with a combination of mood-stabilizing drugs and therapy. Some children may need medication to help regulate blood pressure and hormone levels, depending on which part of the brain is damaged.
Some types of brain damage require surgical intervention. Brain damage requiring surgery is usually caused by physical trauma during delivery or by a perinatal stroke. Surgery can’t repair the damage to the brain but it can stop bleeding in the brain, remove blood clots, repair broken blood vessels, and relieve pressure on the brain.
Brain damage may involve bleeding or a buildup of fluid in the brain. A surgeon may place a small tube called a “shunt” through the skull and into the brain to drain off excess fluid and release pressure. The surgeon may also insert an “ICP monitor,” a device that measures the pressure on the brain.
A “craniotomy” may be used to repair damaged blood vessels and remove blood and blood clots from the brain. In this procedure, the surgeon will remove part of the skull to gain access to the brain. The surgeon will then perform whatever procedure is necessary to repair damage and prevent further damage. The skull will then be replaced and fixed with screws and metal plates. (R)
In rare cases where of severe brain swelling (“edema”), a surgeon may perform a “decompressive craniectomy.” This is a dangerous procedure reserved for extreme, life-threatening cases. When the brain swells, it gets crushed against the inside of the skull. That can cause serious damage and may be fatal. In a decompressive craniectomy, the surgeon will remove a large portion of the skull to allow the baby’s brain to expand without pressing against the skull. (R)
Surgery is always risky for a baby and brain surgery is even more delicate. If your child may need brain surgery, be sure to talk to your doctors and surgeons about the risks associated with the procedure and about any other options available.
Oxygen is crucial to the healing process. Even if your baby isn’t having trouble breathing, your doctor may recommend “intubation,” or placing your baby on a ventilator. A ventilator is a machine that breathes for your baby. This eases the strain on your baby’s heart and lungs. More importantly in the case of brain injury, a ventilator can be set to deliver high levels of oxygen to your baby’s blood. That extra boost of oxygen promotes healing and can help your baby recover. (R)
What are the legal issues surrounding brain damage?
Brain damage in a fetus or infant can have many causes. Some of these, such as a genetic mutation, are unavoidable. Others, such as maternal infection or physical trauma, could be avoided with diligent medical care.
We trust our doctors to do the best they can for us and especially for our children, but sometimes they make mistakes. When that mistake hurts your child, you may choose to file a lawsuit against the doctors or other medical care providers at fault.
In general, you file a medical malpractice lawsuit in order to get compensation for a loss. In the case of a birth injury, that compensation may include medical expenses, the child’s future lost earnings, and ongoing therapy and care costs. It may also include intangible elements like pain and suffering. No lawsuit can undo an injury, but the compensation can ease the substantial financial burden associated with birth injuries.
Medical malpractice suits are extremely complicated, so you’ll need to work with an experienced birth injury attorney.
How does a birth injury lawsuit work?
A medical malpractice suit may involve a doctor, a nurse, another medical care provider, a hospital or clinic, or some combination of these. For ease of use, we’ll talk about medical malpractice lawsuits against doctors. Cases filed against other medical care providers and facilities work the same way.
A medical malpractice suit has several elements. First, you’ll have to prove that the doctor had a “duty” to your child. That’s a legal term that means the doctor agreed to take you and the baby on as patients. If the doctor treated you, helped you deliver, or did any testing or monitoring on you or the baby, that’s proof that there was a “doctor-patient relationship” and the doctor had a duty to you and the baby.
Second, you’ll need to show that your child was injured. No matter what the doctor did wrong, you can’t claim compensation if there was no injury. You can use medical records, test results, and the testimony of your child’s care providers to show that your child was actually injured.
Next, you’ll need to show “negligence” on the part of the doctor. In the context of medical malpractice lawsuits, a doctor is negligent when she fails to meet the accepted standard of care. The standard of care is not a concrete set of rules or steps a doctor has to take. Instead, other doctors in the same field of medicine will act as expert witnesses to explain to the court what current best practices are and how your child’s doctor failed to stick to them. This is one of the hardest parts of the case. The standard of care can be difficult to pin down and your doctor will present evidence from other expert witnesses to show that she did, in fact, meet the standard. Some states also have laws to protect doctors who made an error in judgment about a diagnosis or a treatment method.
Finally, you’ll need to show that your doctor’s negligence caused your child’s injury. “Causation” can be difficult to prove, especially in cases related to brain damage. That’s partly because brain damage is very difficult to diagnose. It’s also tough to prove that the brain damage came from the doctor’s actions and not from a genetic mutation, a later physical trauma, an unavoidable medical issue, or some other unrelated cause. An experienced attorney can help show the link between the doctor’s actions and the injury and can rule out other potential causes. Expert witnesses may be called to testify that the doctor’s actions are the most likely cause of the damage.
In a brain damage case, you might show that your doctor failed to get the baby out of the birth canal in time, allowing the baby to asphyxiate. You might show that the doctor failed to run a routine test that would have detected a dangerous infection. You might show that the doctor used forceps improperly and caused physical trauma to the baby’s brain. You might also show that the doctor failed to treat your baby’s jaundice, leading to acute bilirubin encephalopathy.
See also: Proving Your Birth Injury Case
When should I contact a lawyer?
If you believe your child may have suffered brain damage because of the actions of a doctor or other medical care provider, you should speak to an experienced attorney as soon as possible for a case evaluation. Most reputable attorneys will evaluate your case for free.
When you go to speak an attorney, take all of your child’s medical records with you. If you decide to go forward with your case, your attorney will gather other evidence, including more records of treatment and test results. Your attorney will also find expert witnesses to testify about the standard of care and about the link between your doctor’s negligence and your child’s injury. Remember to speak to your attorney about her fees and about how the case will proceed. You can ask about how often you and your child will need to go to court, if at all, and how long the case is likely to take. Take the time to ask all your questions and make sure you understand the answers before you decide whether or not to purse the case.
The law limits the amount of time you have to open a case, so act quickly. This time limit is called the “statute of limitations” and varies by state, but is usually only a couple of years. The statute starts to run when you learn about the injury, so you can still file a suit even if your child didn’t develop symptoms right away.
What questions should I ask my doctor?
“Brain damage” is a scary term. When your child is diagnosed with brain damage, it’s upsetting and overwhelming and you may feel like you’re at a loss as to what to do. To start, ask your doctor these important questions.
1. What care does my child need right now?
Some types of brain damage are not treatable. Others require immediate surgical intervention to repair the source of the damage and make sure it doesn’t get worse. Make sure you know what your child needs and what procedures are being done.
2. What do I need to do to prepare my home?
Children with brain damage may need special monitoring or health equipment, especially after surgery. Ask your doctor about what your child may need and where to get it.
3. How can I help my child?
Your child may benefit from at-home physical therapy and certain types of games and stimulation. Going forward, your child may benefit from physical and occupational therapy to maintain physical health and learn to perform everyday tasks. Ask your doctor what is best for your child’s development.
4. What disabilities will my child have?
It may not be possible to answer this question right away, but keep in touch with your doctors about your little one’s progress and about what disabilities to expect. Your child may have delayed mental and physical development. Many children only suffer minor damage and won’t have serious long-term consequences. Others will have more serious disabilities and may not be able to walk or speak.
Children with brain damage may also suffer from secondary issues such as epilepsy. Ask your doctor what signs you should be watching out for and what care may be necessary. (R)
5. Will my child be able to live independently?
Depending on the severity of the injury, your child may need lifelong support. It’s important to plan for that as soon as possible to ensure that your child is taken care of in the long run.
6. What caused my child’s brain damage?
It won’t always be possible to point to a particular cause, but it’s important to ask your doctor in case a cause can be found. If your child suffers from a genetic mutation or congenital condition, other children you plan to have may be at risk and there may be steps you can take to mitigate that risk. If your child’s injuries were the result of a medical mistake, you may want to sue the relevant medical care provider for the costs caused by the injury.
Your child’s health is on the line, so you should ask all the questions you have and make sure you understand the answers. You need this information in order to properly care for your little one.
What should I expect if my child has brain damage?
Your child has been diagnosed with brain damage. That’s a scary thing. You’re probably worried and scared and wondering what’s going to happen. Every child is different, as is every brain injury, so there’s no single answer to those questions. This guide is designed to give you a general idea of what to expect along the way.
Some types of brain injuries, usually those caused by stroke or physical trauma during birth, will require treatment immediately after delivery. That means your baby may be taken for testing right away. Your doctor may order an MRI or a CT scan to look for damage. Depending on the results of those scans, they may take the baby to the ICU or to surgery.
Your little one may need medication to prevent blood clots and swelling or to treat an infection. Surgery may be required to relieve swelling and pressure or to repair damaged blood vessels and remove clots. Your doctors and nurses should keep you informed of any testing and results. They’ll let you know if surgery is necessary to save the baby’s life or prevent further brain damage.
If your baby needs brain surgery, expect a lengthy hospital stay. The surgery itself is dangerous and difficult and they’ll need to monitor your baby closely afterward. Your little one may also need to stay in the hospital for a while to receive treatment for a blood disorder, infection, or other cause of brain damage. In any case, your child will need constant medical monitoring for at least a few days to ensure that the cause of the damage has been cured or removed and that the damage isn’t getting worse.
Infancy and Early Childhood
If your child has severe brain damage, treatment will likely start early. This may include medication for seizure disorders and other secondary effects as well as physical therapy to maintain joint flexibility, strengthen muscles, and improve balance and coordination. Severe brain damage often causes developmental delays, so your child may be late to sit up, crawl, walk, and talk. Some children will never learn to do those things and will always need help performing basic tasks.
If the damage is not severe, you may not even know that your child has suffered brain damage. Children with brain damage may have mood and behavioral troubles, but these can be difficult to distinguish from ordinary childhood behaviors.
What to Expect in School
If your child has severe brain damage, you’ll need to decide which educational option is best for your family. Public schools are required by law to provide accommodation for all students, even those with severe physical and mental disabilities. Depending on your means and where you live, you may also have access to private institutions that specialize in education and care for the severely disabled.
Wherever you decide to send your little one to school, make sure to share complete medical information with the school nurse or medical staff. That includes any diagnosed behavioral or psychiatric disorders as well as physical disabilities. Make sure to provide a complete schedule of any required medications. If your child has a regular schedule of therapy, you’ll need to work with the teacher and school administration to determine how best to keep that schedule.
You should also make an appointment to discuss your child’s specific needs with the teacher. Inform the teacher of any health problems such as epilepsy that may require treatment during the school day and of any physical disabilities. If your child is extremely sensitive, you may want to make a list of any behaviors or objects that may trigger emotional upset — for example, your child may be upset by a specific color or sound — so the teacher is aware and can avoid potential issues.
You may not even be aware that your child has suffered brain damage until school starts. At that point, a teacher or school counselor may notice learning or intellectual disabilities or behavioral problems. You’ll likely want to get an opinion from an outside psychiatrist, learning specialist, or doctor about what may be causing the issue. Brain damage is particularly difficult to diagnose and intellectual and behavioral disorders can have a number of different causes, so you may never get a concrete diagnosis of the underlying cause.
If your child is diagnosed with a learning disability or behavioral problem, you may choose to work with the school or with a private doctor or therapist to create a treatment plan. That may involve therapy or medication. Remember that public schools are required by law to provide facilities for all students, so your child may be entitled to special education classes and teachers. You may also choose a private school with the appropriate facilities.
Children with mild learning or behavioral issues typically respond well to treatment and will be able to succeed in school and beyond.
The Long-Term Outlook for Infant Brain Damage
The long-term prognosis for children with brain damage depends on the severity of the case. Children with very severe brain damage may never be independent; some children may never be able to walk or talk. The less severe the damage, the higher the likelihood that your child will be able to live independently. Your child may always need medication and therapy to manage the consequences of brain damage.
Children with mild damage may hardly be affected in the long term. With appropriate therapy and support, they can overcome minor disabilities and will need no treatment or support in the long term.
The bottom line is that each case will be different. The best thing you can do for your little one is provide all the love and support you can — that’s true no matter what health problems arise.
Infant Brain Damage Resources for Parents
Raising a child with any type of disability can be expensive and frustrating. The good news is that you don’t have to do it alone. Check out some of the resources below for help raising a child with brain damage.
- Medicare and Medicaid: If you can’t afford health insurance, Medicare and Medicaid can help you get the health care your child needs.
- State Disability Services: Each state has an office dedicated to providing needed support services to children with disabilities. These offices can help you find medical care, housing, medical devices, prescriptions, and more. You can find your local office on your state’s official website.
- Social Security Disability: Your child may be entitled to Social Security Disability benefits. These payments can help you cover the cost of your child’s health care and other needs.
- United Healthcare Children’s Foundation (UHCCF): The UHCCF provides financial assistance to families when health insurance doesn’t cover the full cost of care. Your family may receive up to $5,000 each year to cover medical care for your child.
- Partnership for Prescription Assistance Programs: Children with brain damage may need medications for a variety of reasons and sometimes those drugs are not covered by insurance. That’s where the Partnership for Prescription Assistance Programs comes in. It provides access to low- and no-cost medications for patients in need.
- NeedyMeds: NeedyMeds is another resource to help you afford the medications your child needs. It’s a discount card that can cut the costs of prescriptions by up to 80%.
- National Disability Rights Network (NDRN): Disabled people are entitled to health care, appropriate educational programs, and more. The NDRN helps disabled people fight to make sure their rights are honored.
- Online Communities: Online communities for the families of children with brain damage can provide emotional support and parenting tips. Sometimes it just helps to know someone else is going through the same things you are.
There are many more resources available than those we’ve listed here. Search online or talk to your child’s doctor about resources in your area for your child’s specific needs.