Supporting children who have had meningitis

In this blog Susie Aspinall who is an occupational therapist working with the brain injury community team at The Children’s Trust talks about her experiences of supporting young people who have suffered a brain injury following meningitis.

Working with children with an acquired brain injury, I commonly see how children can be affected by meningitis. Meningitis Now highlights that staggeringly 3,200 people are affected by meningitis and septicaemia in the UK and globally around 1,000 people die from meningitis every single day. Much of what I have read about meningitis refers to the cognitive and physical difficulties a child may experience following meningitis but the impact socially and emotionally seems to get forgotten about. Over the last few years, I have worked with a number of children who were diagnosed with meningitis before they started school. They were referred to us a few years down the line when difficulties were beginning to come to the surface. One child that particularly stands out for me is Matthew. When we met Matthew he was in year 5. Despite achieving fairly well academically, there were many difficulties Matthew was experiencing that had not been attributed to his acquired brain injury. Unfortunately, Matthew was yet another child who had been labelled as being ‘naughty’.
Matthew told me how he had no friends, was bullied a lot, received daily detentions and had been excluded from his school residential trip. Working with Matthew we found that he had very low self-esteem and lots of anxieties. He had difficulty controlling his emotions and experienced a lot of anger. A key issue was that Matthew was impulsive and unable to read other people's body language. He would try really hard to interact with his younger sister and show affection, however could not tell when he was being too rough in his play which upset her and then she also didn’t want to play with him.  Matthew had difficulty understanding jokes and difficulties in the playground were often linked to this misinterpretation. Not surprisingly, these issues were having a significant impact on Matthew’s mood and were affecting his participation in home, school and community activities. We were able to support Matthew by helping the adults around him to understand how his difficulties were linked to the meningitis he had when he was a baby. We referred him for psychology support and asked his speech and language therapy service to provide some more support around social skills and friendships. One of the main changes for Matthew was the support from school, a different behavioral approach was implemented which meant Matthew was supported to understand the implications of his actions and the amount of detentions he received reduced significantly. Matthew’s mum hardly ever gets calls about his behavior in school now and she has been able to support more positive interactions with his sister. Meningitis can affect anyone of any age at any time. Meningitis Now highlights that babies, toddlers and young children under five are the most at risk group for meningitis.   They have produced the following video to help raise awareness of the symptoms of meningitis.
You can also download the Meningitis Now symptoms cards here  or download their app for your mobile here. Hopefully some of you reading this blog will download the app or card. By doing this and sharing the details with your friends and family members, you could save a life. 
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