Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 1 November 2014

Brain injury families need strong network of support

Acquired brain injury (ABI) affects one child in every 30. But help is at hand for parents and the children themselves, writes Lisa Turan

The brain controls who we are, what we think, feel and do. It's a little-known fact that, through accident or illness, an estimated one in 30 children and young people in the UK will sustain a brain injury each year. As the injury happens after birth, we call it an acquired brain injury (ABI).

Thankfully, most will make a great physical recovery; they will be discharged from hospital and, eventually, return to school. Life kind of gets back to normal.

Over time, however, there may be some changes in personality and/or behaviour that might be of concern. They may look perfectly fine, but it's obvious that all is not okay.

The full effects of the brain injury may not be known for some time, perhaps even years after the event. This is because the young person's brain is still developing.

Did you know that your brain continues to develop until you are well into your early twenties? It's the not knowing that is hardest for most parents we work with.

Often, it is increasing demands of being at secondary school that brings issues to light. For those with an ABI, it can be very difficult indeed.

A young person with an ABI may often tire more easily, leading to problems with concentration and taking instructions.

There can also be issues with memory, where a child can remember information they learnt prior to brain injury, but then struggle to take on new information.

This can be incredibly frustrating for the young person and confusing for their teachers and family.

Sometimes, changes in personality can also take place; essentially, friends and family have to get to know a slightly different person.

Part of the support the Child Brain Injury Trust provides helps children and young people maintain friends and explains to peers what happens when you have an acquired brain injury.

It's important to say that every child is different; there is no textbook to explain how to deal with someone who has an ABI.

How and where the injury takes place in the brain has a lot to do with it too, so the nature of the damage may vary.

Your skull is only about as thick as three pennies stacked on top of each other, so even if the skull is not fractured, the brain can be jarred, potentially damaging our internal 'wiring'.

When a child returns to school and these non-medical issues arise, it can be hard for parents to know what to do. This is where the Child Brain Injury Trust can help.

We can supply information, support and training to anyone affected by childhood-acquired brain injury. This includes the child, or young person, themselves, their family and the professionals who support them.

We produce factsheets and publications and also offer training workshops and masterclass lectures.

There are events and activities for families to take part in and through our Give a Child a Chance small grants scheme, we can purchase equipment to help children.

Individual family support is delivered through our team of regional child and family support co-ordinators (there are two covering Northern Ireland).

Of course, all the work we do is only possible through the generosity of supporters and we are fortunate in Northern Ireland to receive some funding from the health and social care boards.

However, we want to be able to expand our services, so that we are able to reach more families, offer more events and increase the number of activities to the families we support.

In order to do this, we need your help. If you are interested in doing something for charity, whether it's big or small, why not do it for the Child Brain Injury Trust?

Lisa Turan is chief executive of the Child Brain Injury Trust www.childbraininjurytrust.org.uk

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