The physical effects of a brain injury can often be clear to see and are sometimes, therefore, more straightforward to provide support for. But the cognitive effects may not be as clear and may be difficult to describe or identify.

A brain injury could potentially cause the following effects:

  • Difficulty in maintaining attention to tasks and reduced motivation to start tasks and reduced executive functioning which can affect planning, problem solving, reasoning, decision-making and self-monitoring. For example they may lose their train of thought and go off at a tangent or be very rigid in their thinking
  • Reduced ability to process information
  • Problems with short term and working memory, making it difficult to follow instructions
  • Reduced concentration – difficulty multi-tasking
  • Language difficulties – expressive and receptive including finding it difficult to follow a discussion or follow rules
  • Specific learning difficulties with reading, writing or spelling
  • Visual-perceptual skills – difficulty making sense of visual information which can impact many areas of development e.g. independence skills
  • Motor skills including fine and gross motor skills
  • Reduced empathy – affecting socialisation and confidence
  • Mood swings and frustration

If you are concerned about any of the above symptoms, talk to your child’s doctor and they will be able to advise further.

‘Hidden’ effects of a brain injury

Many difficulties from the list above would not always be obvious to the bystander. Hidden disabilities can be difficult for others to understand and there is a risk that the child/young person could be mistakenly labelled as ‘naughty’ or ‘attention-seeking’ and parents could be thought of as over-protective. Brain injury can affect the child’s personality, their friendships, self-esteem and their ability to do things for themselves. It can result in over dependence and emotional outbursts.

Symptoms can also be fluid after a brain injury, meaning that the child’s difficulties can change over time, often coupled with the usual growth spurts and problems with puberty. Each stage can come with its own unique set of challenges. Often, the difficulties do not become apparent until later. Schools may believe they are putting adequate support in place but problems can sometimes surface a couple of terms in.

The more severe a brain injury, the more prominent the long-term effects are likely to be.

Communication problems as a result of brain injury

Communication problems are common after a brain injury. Communication relies on several skills and many parts of the brain are involved. A brain injury affecting one or several parts can lead to communication problems which may be difficult to identify. Signs to look out for include difficulties with perception, spelling, memory, planning and organising thought, low confidence and difficulties with social skills.

The effect of a brain injury on Executive functioning skills

Executive functioning skills can also be affected by a brain injury and are not always easily understood. Executive functioning difficulties are weaknesses in skills that are key to learning, for example, setting goals, planning work/steps to be taken and getting things done. Broken down, the skills required for these tasks includes paying attention, organising, planning and prioritising, starting tasks and staying focused on them to completion and regulating emotions. The signs of problems with executive functioning are often similar to ADHD and can include forgetting what has just been said, having problems following tasks or a sequence of steps, panic setting in when rules or routines change, having trouble switching from one task to another, getting overly emotional and fixating on things, difficulty organising thoughts, losing belongings and not being able to manage their time.

Of course, children develop executive functioning skills over time. It would be normal for a pre-schooler to have difficulty managing their emotions, for child at Key Stage 1 to get easily distracted and for a teenager to forget to complete homework occasionally but you may notice a more pronounced change following a brain injury.

Childhood brain injury and emotional effects

Emotional effects can perhaps be the most difficult to deal with, often, because they are more difficult to see than the more obvious problems affecting speech and physical issues. Some families will see personality changes, mood swings, depression, anxiety and frustration or anger. It is important to put support in place to address these issues early on.

Physical effects of brain injury

The physical effects of a brain injury can include problems with mobility requiring a wheelchair or walker or perhaps the support of a learning support worker to ensure the child can navigate the school environment safely. Weak or stiff limbs will affect the child’s ability to take part in practical subjects and affect their independence skills. The child may have weakness on one side which means that support is needed with personal care and getting changed. Muscle weaknesses may affect continence and ataxia may cause uncontrolled movement affecting handwriting and difficulty carrying out basic tasks. The child may appear clumsy.

Brain injury and fatigue

Lastly, fatigue is a problem related to all those suffering from a brain injury. A quiet room may be required at school, or the option to miss classes and the ability to catch on missed work. The school will need to be understanding as some flexibility may be required. Additional support may be required from a trained Teaching Assistant who can liaise with teachers to ensure important work is not missed.

Invariably, all these difficulties can affect a child’s self-confidence and emotional stability and it is important that the child is well supported for a return to school.

Produced by Laxmi Patel of Boyes Turner’s Education Team

Laxmi Patel leads Boyes Turner’s leading Education team. An expert in special educational needs, Laxmi works closely with parents, schools, local authorities and case managers to ensure that children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities receive the support they need to achieve their potential in their education.

Boyes Turner

Brain Injury Group members Boyes Turner is a Reading based full service law firm with a dedicated Education team who help families get the extra help and support require for their children with special educational needs and disabilities.

How can Brain Injury Group help you?

If you’ve been affected by brain injury and need free legal or welfare advice, there are several ways to get in touch:

  1. Call us on 0800 612 9660 or 01737 852203
  2. Email us at [email protected]
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What is the Brain Injury Group?

The Brain Injury Group exists to support individuals and families affected by brain injury and the health and social care professionals working in this specialist field. Our mission is to provide anyone affected by brain injury with access to advice on legal, financial and welfare benefit issues delivered by proven experts in the field who have been chosen not only for their skills and knowledge, but also for their passion and dedication to helping people.