Early attention impairment and recovery profiles after childhood traumatic brain injury

J Head Trauma Rehabil. May-Jun 2012;27(3):199-209. doi: 10.1097/HTR.0b013e31821a9d2b.


Objectives: To examine recovery of attention from 3 to 6 months postinjury; to identify effects of injury severity and time since injury on performance; to explore whether complex attention skills (eg, shifting, divided attention, attentional control) are more vulnerable to traumatic brain injury (TBI), and slower to recover than simple attention skills (eg, attentional capacity, selective attention, sustained attention).

Design: Prospective longitudinal investigation.

Participants: A total of 205 school-aged children with TBI were divided into groups according to injury severity (mild = 63%, moderate = 27%, severe = 10%).

Setting: Emergency departments of 3 metropolitan children's hospitals across Australia.

Main measures: Standardized clinical measures of both simple and complex attention were administered at 3 months and 6 months postinjury.

Results: Attention skills were vulnerable to the impact of TBI. More severe injury affected attention skills most negatively. Significant recovery was observed over time. There were few interaction effects, with severity groups exhibiting similar levels of recovery over the 6 months post-TBI. No differences in recovery trajectories were detected for simple and complex attention.

Conclusions: These findings have important clinical and educational implications, suggesting that children with TBI, and particularly those with more serious injuries, are most vulnerable to attention deficits in the acute stages postinjury. It is important that schools and families are aware of these limitations and structure expectations accordingly. For example, gradual return to school should be considered, and in the early stages of recovery, children should be provided with sufficient rest time, with reduced expectations for tasks such as homework.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Multicenter Study

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adolescent
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / epidemiology
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / etiology
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / physiopathology
  • Attention*
  • Australia
  • Brain Injuries / complications*
  • Brain Injuries / diagnosis*
  • Brain Injuries / rehabilitation
  • Child
  • Cognition Disorders / epidemiology
  • Cognition Disorders / etiology
  • Cognition Disorders / physiopathology
  • Female
  • Hospitals, Pediatric
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Monitoring, Physiologic / methods
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Prognosis
  • Prospective Studies
  • Recovery of Function
  • Risk Assessment
  • Time Factors
  • Trauma Severity Indices