Social competence in young children with inflicted traumatic brain injury

Dev Neuropsychol. 2004;26(3):707-33. doi: 10.1207/s15326942dn2603_4.


As infants develop skills that allow for increasing independence in social and cognitive domains, they acquire the ability to identify goals, sequence behaviors to carry out goals, and to flexibly use strategies for attaining goals in both social and independent play contexts. Little is known about how brain injury in young children may disrupt the precursors to such executive processes. In this study, we examined social and cognitive competence in 25 infants ages 3 to 23 months who sustained moderate to severe traumatic brain injury (TBI) secondary to physical abuse and in 22 healthy community comparison children. Children with TBI were evaluated an average of 1.6 months after the injury. A toy-centered activity with the examiner was used to capture joint attention and social behavior and an exploratory toy play situation was used to measure independent goal-directed play. The inflicted TBI group showed significant reduction in both social and cognitive domains relative to the comparison group. Canonical correlation analyses disclosed that inflicted TBI was associated with reduction in (a) initiation of social interactions, (b) responsiveness to interactions initiated by the examiner, (c) positive affect, and (d) compliance. The groups performed comparably on indexes of gestural and verbal communication and for the occurrence of negative affect. Joint attention was an area of vulnerability for the TBI group in both social initiation and response contexts. Although general cognitive and motor scores were lower in the inflicted TBI group, the complexity of independent toy play did not differ across groups. Early brain injury causes significant disruption in behaviors regulating initiation and responsiveness in social contexts. Longitudinal follow-up will characterize the long-term consequences of early disruption in joint attention and other behaviors on the development of social and cognitive precursors to executive processes.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Brain Injuries / physiopathology*
  • Brain Injuries / psychology
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Competitive Behavior / physiology*
  • Demography
  • Developmental Disabilities
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Motor Activity / physiology
  • Neuropsychological Tests / statistics & numerical data
  • Play and Playthings
  • Prospective Studies
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Social Behavior*
  • Trauma Severity Indices
  • Verbal Behavior / physiology