A lack of data on dysarthria and dysphagia outcomes for children following traumatic brain injury (TBI) limits our clinical evidence base, and poses daily challenges for the speech language pathologist (SLP) managing this group. The present study aimed to examine dysarthria and dysphagia incidence and the clinical presentation of children with these disorders in the acute phase following TBI.
Incidence and characteristics were determined via a comprehensive retrospective medical chart review of children consecutively referred to a tertiary paediatric hospital over an 8-year period. Cases (n= 22 dysarthria, n= 72 dysphagia) and matched controls were compared across ancillary variables (e.g. age, severity of TBI, motor impairment).
Incidence across the entire cohort was low [i.e. dysarthria (1.2%, 22/1895), dysphagia (3.8%, 72/1895)], but was markedly higher for the sub-category of children with severe TBI [e.g. dysphagia (76%, 63/83)]. Speech deficits were reported across respiration, phonation, resonance, articulation and prosody. Swallowing deficits included reduced lip closure, delayed swallow initiation, wet voice and coughing. Language and swallowing deficits were often co-morbid with dysarthria. Motor impairment was frequently co-morbid with both dysarthria and dysphagia. Cases had longer periods of hospitalization, ventilation and supplementary feeding compared with controls.
Despite the low incidence of dysarthria and dysphagia across the entire TBI cohort, this sub-group may place longer-term burden on SLP services, having prolonged periods of ventilation, extended periods of hospitalization and a complex co-morbid clinical presentation compared with controls. The prevalence of co-morbid communication and swallowing impairments suggests a need for integrated rather than single discipline (i.e. dysphagia stream only) SLP services.