Social function in children and adolescents after traumatic brain injury: a systematic review 1989-2011

J Neurotrauma. 2012 May 1;29(7):1277-91. doi: 10.1089/neu.2011.2144. Epub 2012 Apr 2.


Clinical reports and case studies suggest that traumatic brain injury (TBI) can have significant social consequences, with social dysfunction reported to be the most debilitating problem for child and adolescent survivors. From a social neuroscience perspective, evidence suggests that social skills are not localized to a specific brain region, but are mediated by an integrated neural network. Many components of this network are susceptible to disruption in the context of TBI. In early development, a brain injury can disrupt this neural network while it is in the process of being established, resulting in social dysfunction. In order to clarify the prevalence and nature of social dysfunction after child TBI, studies of social outcomes in children and adolescents after TBI over the last 23 years have been reviewed. Despite casting a wide net initially, only 28 articles met review criteria. These studies were characterized by methodological weaknesses, including variations in definitions of TBI, limited assessment tools, reliance on parent reports, small sample sizes, and absent control groups. Despite these limitations, the weight of evidence confirmed an elevated risk of social impairment in the context of moderate and severe injury. While rarely examined, younger age at insult, pathology to frontal regions and the corpus callosum, and social disadvantage and family dysfunction may also increase the likelihood of social difficulties. More research is needed to obtain an accurate picture of social outcomes post-brain injury.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Brain Injuries / complications*
  • Brain Injuries / physiopathology
  • Brain Injuries / psychology*
  • Child
  • Humans
  • Nerve Net / injuries
  • Nerve Net / physiopathology
  • Social Behavior Disorders / etiology*
  • Social Behavior Disorders / physiopathology
  • Social Behavior Disorders / psychology*