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Shaken Baby Syndrome: A New Tool To Help Identify Abusive Head Trauma


The medical journal Pediatrics recently published study results on a new tool developed to help doctors identify children under two with abusive head trauma. Some call it shaken baby syndrome.

Dr. Glenn Hardesty has witnessed such cases as an emergency room physician at Texas Health Arlington Memorial. He explained the medical and legal reasons for the new tool.

From Dr. Hardesty’s interview:

About abusive head trauma: “The cases that I’ve seen can range from mild cognitive defects all the way up to death.”

What the tool covers: “There’s six things that we look for. Retinal hemorrhages, rib fractures, long bone fractures, apnea, seizures, and bruising around the head and neck.”

Why the need for the tool: “(Abusive head trauma can be) very difficult to pick up. With abuse, there are parts of the story that don’t make sense, and that sense comes from doing this for a long time. And it’s hard to teach that to young doctors and young practitioners. Because of the nature of the accusation, you have to be pretty certain of what you’re seeing and your reasons for calling it child abuse. The tool allows us to do that. The abusive head trauma criteria tend to be things that show ongoing traumatic injury…an ongoing abusive situation.”

For more information:

American Academy of Pediatrics 

Pediatrics: Prediction Tool for Abusive Head Trauma

CDC: Abusive Head Trauma statistics

National Center for Biotechnology Information: Abusive head trauma: the relationship of perpetrators to their victims

Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.