Annually, nearly 700,000 U.S. children and adolescents experience a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Many of them struggle academically, despite failing to qualify for special education services because their cognitive communication impairments are subtle.
In this exploratory study, five adolescents with TBI provided verbal summaries of two expository lectures (compare–contrast, cause–effect) and participated in cognitive and expressive syntax testing. Their performance on these tasks was compared descriptively to that of 50 adolescents with typical development.
For adolescents with TBI, mean summary quality scores for both exposition types were at least 1 SD lower than those of adolescents with typical development and notably 2 SDs below for the cause–effect passage. The adolescents with TBI who had below-average cognitive scores showed better performance on compare–contrast summaries compared to cause–effect, whereas the majority of adolescents with typical development showed the opposite tendency.
These results provide preliminary evidence that students with TBI, particularly those with cognitive deficits, may struggle with expository discourse despite acceptable performance on a measure of expressive syntax. This study also indicates that researchers should explore how students with TBI perform on academically relevant discourse tasks in order to inform future assessment and intervention efforts.
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