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Written on 13th June 2019

Nicola Anderson, associate - solicitor with Boyes Turner's specialist medical negligence team discusses what happens when the signs of a childhood brain injury affect adulthood.

What is acquired brain injury or ABI?

Brain injury occurring in childhood can be the result of a trauma, such as a fall or a blow to the head (a traumatic brain injury). Brain injury may also develop following an illness. Regardless of the cause, if there was a period of normal development before the brain was injured, this type of injury is called an acquired brain injury or ABI. 

Which illnesses can cause brain injury?

There are several types of illness which have the potential to cause damage to the brain. For example:

  • Meningitis (a swelling to the lining of the brain, caused by either a viral or bacterial infection);
  • A stroke (interruption to the blood supply to the brain);
  • A brain tumour;
  • Epilepsy;
  • Hypoglycaemia ( very low blood sugar levels).

Is a brain injury always obvious?

The answer is no, not always. On discharge from hospital, children may seem well in themselves and parents will be reassured that a good recovery has been made. If there are any immediate difficulties (for example fatigue, or problems with mobility), the symptoms may be subtle, or they may come and go. Alternatively, there may be no signs at all that the child has suffered a brain injury, with symptoms only becoming apparent years later as their brain develops, and the mental load placed upon them increases.

What are the symptoms of acquired brain injury?

There is no typical case. Every child, and every injury, is different. However, issues arising in childhood may include:

  • Physical problems such as reduced mobility, or difficulty with balance or coordination (for example, the child may appear clumsy);
  • Onset of epilepsy;
  • Impaired speech;
  • Hearing loss;
  • Visual disturbance;
  • Behavioural difficulties, such as defiance, or being impulsive;
  • Mental health problems, including depression and other emotional difficulties, for instance being quick to anger, or prone to anxiety;
  • Fatigue;
  • Difficulty concentrating, recalling information, planning, and learning in general;
  • Finding it difficult to make and maintain friendships.

Whilst this is only a summary of the difficulties children with acquired brain injury may experience, it highlights how diverse the symptoms can be, and how one symptom may feed in to another. For example, a child who is tired will struggle to learn. They may become frustrated by their slow progress and have frequent emotional outbursts, which may worsen during the teenage years. These outbursts will make it difficult for them to maintain relationships with others, both at home and at school, and their mental health may suffer. It is not surprising then that a child’s brain injury, caused years earlier during an acute illness, may be mistaken for other conditions, such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), dyspraxia, or autism. The link with the long forgotten childhood illness may not be immediately apparent.

What should I do if I suspect my child has an acquired brain injury?

It is important to seek support early and to make others aware that your child may have an acquired brain injury. All mainstream schools will have a Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCO) responsible for identifying children with additional needs and they are likely to be a good first port of call, as are support organisations such as The Child Brain Injury Trust and Meningitis Now.

How can Boyes Turner help me secure support for my child within school?

The education team at Boyes Turner are experts in the law relating to Special Educational Needs (SEN). We can assist parents with matters relating to Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCP’s) and securing support within schools.

Can my child claim financial compensation for their acquired brain injury?

It may be possible to bring a claim for financial compensation if it can be established that the child’s brain injury was caused, or contributed to, by the negligence of another, such as:

  • a doctor or hospital trust failing to correctly diagnose and/or correctly treat the initial illness, therefore causing, or increasing the risk of a brain injury (a medical negligence claim);
  • the driver of a vehicle causing a road traffic accident (a claim for personal injury);
  • a local authority, individual or company failing to safely maintain an environment, for example, a playground, or public park (again, a claim for personal injury).

Please do get in touch if you think your child may have a case and our specialist claims team can advise you further.

Are there time limits for bringing a claim?

There are time limits for bringing a claim.  

A child generally has until their 21st birthday to pursue a claim (three years after turning 18),  however, in some circumstances, it may be possible to bring a claim after this. To protect your child’s right to make a claim, advice should always be sought from a brain injury specialist solicitor as soon as possible.

If you are caring for a child who has suffered an acquired brain injury and you would like to find out more about making a claim, contact us by email at