Acquired brain injury is the term for damage to the brain that occurs after birth. This could be a traumatic brain injury, caused by a fall or accident, or the brain injury could be caused by an infection such as meningitis or encephalitis. Other causes include a stroke, oxygen deprivation, brain tumour or poisoning.
Acquired brain injury can cause a range of different problems for a child, and these can vary greatly from child to child. There may may be physical, cognitive, emotional or behaviour impairments, and these may range from slight to quite severe depending on the particular brain injury.
The brain is very complex, and injuries manifest in numerous different ways. Improvements and recovery can also be varied, with some children able to make significant improvements while others are not able to make much improvement at all. Some children with acquired brain injury are able to live a relatively normal life with little support; they may cope in mainstream school with only minor intervention. Others will need continuous help and support.
As well as problems with learning and mobility, it is important to consider that a child with acquired brain injury may also experience a significant emotional impact. Many children with an acquired brain injury can struggle with their emotions and self control. They may also suffer with depression, and there may be other concerns such as social anxiety or low self-esteem.
An acquired brain injury in children may have occurred while the brain was still maturing and this may prevent a child from going on to learn the skills we may expect. It is also important to bear in mind that the effects of acquired brain injury can take a long time to come to the surface. A child may begin to experience new and different problems as they move to secondary school and experience different educational and physical challenges.
Because of the broad range of severity and diversity in acquired brain injury it is hard to make sweeping generalisations as to how a child will cope in school, or what symptoms they may experience. That said, there are some effects that may be expected and can affect learning. These include:
Difficulty with movement and physical weakness
Tiredness and problems with concentration
Behaviour changes such as irritability or inappropriate/impulsive behaviour
Problems with processing information
Emotional problems such as anxiety or depression
Language difficulties - both comprehension and self expression
Difficulty with organising and planning which may affect ability to perform every-day tasks
Problems with empathy and understanding differing points of view
The brain is a wonderfully versatile organ, and many medical professionals believe that over time it may find ways to do things around the injured part. However it is important to bear in mind that this means the uninjured part of the brain is working harder to make up for the injury. This can contribute to a child’s overall tiredness and irritability as well as other emotional problems.