Every 30 minutes, a child or young person will acquire a brain injury. This could be the result of an accident, an illness such as meningitis or encephalitis, a poisoning, a stroke or a brain tumour. A brain injury has a devastating and life-long impact on the child and their whole family. Bones can mend and scars can heal but a brain injury stays with you for life and impacts on everything you think, feel and do. The Child Brain Injury Trust is the charity that supports children, young people, their families and professionals and helps them come to terms with what has happened and how to deal with the uncertainty that the future may hold.
Acquired brain injury in children
The brain is the most complex organ in the human body. It controls movement, thoughts, feelings, behaviour, memory, speech, sight, hearing and other senses.
If a child’s brain gets injured as a result of accident, illness (such as meningitis or encephalitis), poisoning, stroke or tumour, it is referred to as an acquired brain injury (ABI).i If the cause is a bump or knock to the head, it can also be referred to as a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Brain injury is also sometimes referred to as a head injury.
In adults the effects of brain injury generally show soon after the event, but for children it can be very different ‐ it can take months or years for the injury to become obvious. There are two reasons why it may take longer for the effects to show in children:
- It is only when the injured part of the brain develops fully that the extent of a brain injury can be known – brain development continues throughout childhood and adolescence.
- Teenage years are when most young people use experiences to begin to fine‐tune skills such as independence and the ability to plan their life. For young people with an acquired brain injury, difficulties in these areas can become obvious during this time.
Acquired brain injury affects every individual differently, but common effects include:
- Tiredness and fatigue
- Doing things at a slower pace
- Taking longer to process information
- Difficulties concentrating, being easily distracted
- Forgetfulness, particularly in relation to new information and recent events
- Following verbal instructions
- Organising and planning
- Acting on impulse, without thinking through the consequences
- Sexually inappropriate behaviour
Each individual with ABI may have a different combination of symptoms from the list above. These difficulties are likely to have a significant effect on daily life and education. It is important that everyone who works with a child with an ABI understands these effects and recognises that the issues are linked, and can develop or lessen over time.