The Child Brain Injury Trust’s Annual Conference took place on 27 March in Birmingham. Lisa Turan, Chief Executive Officer of CBIT, opened proceedings, which this year looked at personal experiences of the impact of child brain injury and practical guidance. Lisa highlighted the challenges for head injury services in general, in the light of the closure of specialist brain injury provisions, such as the specialist neurological rehabilitation unit at Bath’s Royal National Hospital for Rheumatic Disease (RNHRD).
First speaker of the day was Mary Taylor-White, who spoke with openness and passion about her experiences since her son suffered a brain injury following cardiac complications at birth. Mary motivated the audience about being positive and she conveyed the pride felt when watching a child with an acquired brain injury push through barriers. Her son has Bálint’s syndrome, which distorts his visual perception, aphasia, which leads to difficulties with reading and writing, and also hemiplegic migraines. Mary emphasised the need for any parent or carer to take a break, ask for help and take care of themselves, so that they can provide the support their child needs.
Next, Consultant Clinical Psychologist Peter Tucker spoke about the impact of an acquired brain injury on development of autonomy in adolescents, particularly emotions, behaviour and values. In the usual developmental path, a child is at first dependent on parents then, as they reach teenage years, they rely more heavily on peers before becoming more self-reliant in late teenage years. Peter discussed the impact of a brain injury and how it causes a reversal of this process, with parents believing that their adolescent child is more vulnerable. He explained that parents can help their child develop autonomy by setting clear and consistent expectations, communicating, staying calm and involving the child in their decision-making.
Consultant Paediatric Neuropsychologist Judith Middleton then spoke about the way that the family changes after acquired brain injury in childhood. She discussed the effects of brain injuries on family dynamics and how complex this can be, with changes in the structure and power balance of the family, with the family’s ‘web’ of support altering after a child sustains a brain injury.
Elaine Gough from SENSE, a voluntary organisation that works with deaf-blind people, spoke about education following acquired brain injury. She addressed the ways in which the system is changing, as outlined in the draft Bill on Special Education Needs, to be included as part of the Children and Families Bill that was announced in the Queen’s Speech on 9 May 2012. There are a number of important issues in terms of the shifting legal landscape; these include:
- New integrated assessment, to include social, education and health needs;
- Education, Health and Care Plans;
- Personal Budgets.
Louise Wilkinson, the Child Brain Injury Trust’s Training Manager, followed by addressing the hidden nature of child brain injury and noting that rehabilitation in school settings is very important.
Beverly Turner, Daily Telegraph columnist and wife of Olympic rower James Cracknell, then spoke movingly about her journey since her husband suffered a brain injury in July 2010 and explored its effects on her and her family.
Katie Byard, Consultant Clinical Psychologist with Recolo, which provides neuropsychological rehabilitation for children, spoke about the importance of the family in brain injury rehabilitation. Brain trauma has a significant emotional impact on everyone, and family life and responsibilities are changed forever. She noted that there is an ever-expanding evidence base linking positive outcomes in brain-injured children and their families to psychological support at both an individual and family level.
Carol Hawley, Principle Research Fellow at Warwick University, discussed outcomes for families affected by brain injury from an international perspective, drawing on the latest research from countries represented by the International Paediatric Brain Injury Society. She focused on practical solutions, as well as examining the research findings.
Anita Rose, Consultant Neuropsychologist and Director of Services at Titleworth Neuro spoke about empowerment, not only of those who have neurological conditions but also of health professionals working in neurology. One major concern in neurological diagnosis of children (particularly acquired brain injury) is managing transitions in a positive way, for example, preparing a child for senior school and the transition from adolescence to adulthood.
Lee Ryan from Frenkel Topping closed the proceedings by speaking about welfare benefits, before the Chair provided some final comments emphasising the importance of facing the future together.
The conference presentations can be downloaded from CBIT’s website.
Lyons Davidson’s Head Injury Department specialises in dealing with head injury claims on behalf of the injured party. For more information contact Laura Merry by email: [email protected] or phone: 0117 904 5718.