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Acquired brain injury in teenagers and young people

Teenage years can be a difficult time for anyone, but for a young person with an acquired brain injury there can be many additional challenges.

Acquired brain injury (ABI) is an injury to the brain that happens after birth. Both meningitis and septicaemia can cause ABI. The brain takes over 20 years to fully develop, so if a child or young person has meningitis, this development can be affected. The changes may not be apparent immediately after illness; it may take months or years for changes to be noticed.

Whether the ABI was caused by meningitis as a baby or young child, or as an older child or teenager, the impact will be ongoing and can be constantly changing as the brain develops and matures.

The physical effects of ABI, such as difficulties with movement and co-ordination, are usually evident and noticeable soon after illness and often before a child or young person is discharged from hospital. However, the more “subtle or hidden” effects of an ABI such as behavioural changes and emotional, learning or communication difficulties can continue to emerge over time. The impact of ABI caused by meningitis is different for each person and depends on many factors including severity of illness, age and developmental stage of the brain.

Read about Learning and Developmental difficulties.

Some children and young people are formally diagnosed with an ABI soon after having meningitis. Others do not have a formal diagnosis, but either they or their parents/carers may have noticed some of the subtle changes described above. It is important that any concerns are raised with either the GP or school/college so that appropriate assessments and plans for support can be made.

The transition from being a child to adulthood can be challenging. There are important decisions to be made about the future, particularly about whether to stay in full time education or start working. These decisions are often accompanied by social pressures from friends, peers and family. For a young person with ABI, these choices can be more complex.

There are also emotional aspects to consider. Some young people with ABI can find social situations difficult; this can leave them feeling isolated from people their own age. It can also be difficult to know whether to talk to other people about having an ABI.

For the parents of a young person with ABI, the transition of their child into adulthood can be a worrying time. Encouraging independence whilst still being practically and emotionally supportive can sometimes be difficult to achieve.

Our Believe and Achieve programme can help young people impacted by meningitis to overcome challenges, make new friends, learn new skills and gain confidence.

We can help

Acquired brain injury can have a significant impact on the child affected, and their family and friends. For support and information, please contact our helpline.

Useful links

https://www.thechildrenstrust.org.uk/brain-injury-information/info-and-advice/approaching-adulthood Transition Information Network (councilfordisabledchildren.org.uk)

Been affected or have a question?

Call our nurse-led helpline on 0808 80 10 388 or email helpline@meningitisnow.org.