Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 16 September 2014

Awareness will improve lives of injured children

If the heartbreaking death of schoolboy Ben Robinson helps to raise knowledge of Acquired Brain Injury, then that will be his lasting legacy, writes Lisa Turan

The tragic story of Ben Robinson, who died suddenly as a result of Secondary Impact Syndrome, captured the hearts of the country.

I thought it incredibly brave of his parents to speak to the cameras and awaiting media, when their grief and loss was still so raw.

Their wish to raise awareness of the link between contact sports and brain injury is admirable – to try to prevent other families from going through the same loss.

Secondary Impact Syndrome is, thankfully, incredibly rare and nobody could have predicted what happened to Ben. But concussions on the sports field are all too common.

That's not to say we recommend that children and young people don't take part in such sports, but that parents, teachers and pupils themselves need to be aware of the signs to look out for.

We would hope that guidelines are put into place to prevent this sort of accident happening again.

Our suggestion would be that, once any child or young person sustains a knock to the head, they are immediately removed from the field of play until responsible adults can be assured of their health.

We know that young people are keen to dust themselves off and carry on, but there are occasions when this decision should be taken out of their hands.

We serve to support local children, families and professionals whose lives have been impacted by childhood Acquired Brain Injury (ABI). This could be as a result of illness, such as meningitis, stroke, or accident. The most common cause of such injuries is road traffic accidents, but we work with many children who have been injured through sporting injuries, too.

Thankfully, most will make a great physical recovery and eventually return to school. However, some continue to struggle with motor skills and stability and taking part in sports can be a real challenge.

Some parents may begin to notice small changes in their children and often it can be a long time – perhaps even years – since the accident, so links to the brain injury can often be missed. This is because the young person's brain is still developing and changing.

Minor injuries, like concussion, where the child hasn't had a long stay in hospital, can also slip through the net.

We are working to raise awareness with hospital staff and family doctors. If you think your child might have a brain injury, talk to your doctor about it.

A young person with an ABI may tire more easily, leading to problems with concentration and taking on instructions. There may also be issues with memory, where a child can remember information they learned prior to the accident, but struggle to take on new information.

This can be frustrating for everyone around them and especially for the young person themselves.

Sometimes, subtle changes in personality occur; essentially the family need to get to know a new person. We want to highlight that every child is different – there is no textbook to explain how to deal with someone who has a brain injury, but we are here to help.

We work with almost 150 families across Northern Ireland and supply training to the child, or young person, themselves, their family and the professionals who support them.

We can assist with the purchase of specialist equipment to help out at home. We also provide support through events and activities, giving parents and children a chance to meet others in a similar situation.

Of course, prevention is better than cure. If we can get one more child to wear a cycle helmet, or to look twice when crossing the road, then one less family will face this kind of challenge.

In order to do this, we need your help. If you would be interested in finding out more, or booking training for your school, or sports club, then get in touch.

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