Pediatric TBI may lead to reduced social communication and cognition

A pilot study, conducted by researchers at the Kessler Foundation and Children’s Specialized Hospital Research Center (both NJ, USA), suggests children with traumatic brain injury (TBI) have difficulties with social communication.

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In a pilot study published in Frontiers in Neurology, researchers have identified a correlation between impaired social function and pediatric traumatic brain injury (TBI).

Impaired social function is defined by altered social cognition, emotional perception and social communication, which can result in impaired wellbeing, school performance and community integration.

In this study, researchers utilized an assessment tool known as the Social Communication Disorders Checklist (SCDC), which assesses social reciprocity, non-verbal skills, pragmatic language use and behavioral impairments. Parents also completed the Behavioral Assessment System for Children, 2nd addition (BASC-2), which examines behavior and emotional response in social settings.

16 children with TBI and 20 children without TBI (controls) underwent neuropsychological evaluation and completed the Theory of Mind test – to assess their social cognition and ability to recognize and interpret intentionality and inflection. Results suggest that children who had experienced TBI had significantly reduced social communication skills and experienced an increase in behavioral and social issues, when compared with children without TBI. The Theory of Mind test also highlighted a correlation between decreased social communication and reduced social cognition.

"These preliminary findings support our hypothesis that children with TBI, who have problems with social communication, also have problems with social cognition and social functioning," stated lead author Helen Genova (Kessler Foundation).

Genova continued: "This study also suggests that the SCDC has [the] potential for screening children with TBI for deficits in social communication."

To date, there is no gold standard assessment for social communication disorders in pediatric TBI.

"Such a tool would help us understand the complex social and behavioral impact of TBI in the pediatric population and develop interventions that will help clinicians provide optimal long-term care to young patients and their families," Genova concluded. 

Sources: Genova HM, Haight A, Natsheh JY, DeLuca J, Lengenfelder J. The relationship between social communication and social functioning in pediatric TBI: a pilot study. Front. Neurol. (2019);

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Lauren Woolfe

Assistant Editor, Future Science Group

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