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Eur J Paediatr Neurol. 1998;2(3):109-16.

Post-traumatic mutism in children: clinical characteristics, pattern of recovery and clinicopathological correlations.

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Department of Paediatrics and Paediatric Surgery, CHUV, Lausanne, Switzerland.


Among the numerous clinical syndromes observed after severe traumatic head injury, post-traumatic mutism is a disorder rarely reported in adults and not studied in any detail in children. We report seven children between the ages of 3 1/2 and 14 years who sustained severe head injury and developed post-traumatic mutism. We aim to give a precise clinical characterization of this disorder, discuss differential diagnosis and correlations with brain imaging and suggest its probable neurological substrate. After a coma lasting from 5 to 25 days, the seven patients who suffered from post-traumatic mutism went through a period of total absence of verbal production lasting from 5 to 94 days, associated with the recovery of non-verbal communication skills and emotional vocalization. During the first days after the recovery of speech, all patients were able to produce correct small sentences with a hypophonic and monotonous voice, moderate dysarthria, word finding difficulties but no signs of aphasia, and preserved oral comprehension. The neurological signs in the acute phase (III nerve paresis in three of seven patients, signs of autonomic dysfunctions in five of seven patients), the results of the brain imaging and the experimental animal data all suggest the involvement of mesencephalic structures as playing a key role in the aetiology of post-traumatic mutism.

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