Clinical Features of Disorders of Consciousness in Young Children

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Objectives: To investigate behavioral and demographic features of levels of consciousness in young children with brain injury, including the classifications of consciousness: conscious state (CS), minimally conscious state (MCS), and vegetative state (VS), and to investigate the course of recovery in children with disorders of consciousness (DOC). Design: Retrospective chart review and post hoc analysis. Setting: Pediatric inpatient rehabilitation unit. Participants: Children aged 6 months to 5 years (N=54) admitted for inpatient rehabilitation directly from an acute care hospital following new neurologic injury from 2011 to 2016. Interventions: Not applicable. Main Outcome Measures: Clinically abstracted behavioral features of DOC and levels of consciousness at admission and discharge, based on established guidelines from the Aspen Neurobehavioral Conference Workgroup. Results: Children in MCS were younger than children in CS. Commonly observed behaviors in children in VS were mouth movements or vocalizations, flexion withdrawal or motor posturing, visual or auditory startle, and localization to sound. Common features of MCS were contingent affect, visual fixation or pursuit, automatic motor behavior, and contingent communicative intent. No children in MCS showed command following or intelligible verbalizations. All children in CS showed functional object use, while functional communication was observed in a subset. By discharge, more than half of children in VS emerged to MCS, and a third emerged from MCS to CS. No child emerged from VS to CS. Conclusions: Visual and motor skills may be most applicable, and language-based skills may be least applicable for the assessment of DOC in very young children. Accurate classifications of consciousness may have important prognostic implications, and additional research is needed to develop clear guidelines for assessment of DOC in this population.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalArchives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 2019



  • Consciousness disorders
  • Neuropsychology
  • Rehabilitation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation
  • Rehabilitation

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