When meningitis strikes, its consequences can be deadly unless swift action is taken to admit the sufferer to hospital for urgent intravenous antibiotics. Meningitis and its associated condition of septicaemia can kill and cause permanent disability. Prompt treatment saves lives and reduces the risk of long-term damage, but survivors of serious infection from the illness may suffer continuing disability from the injury to their brain.
How does brain injury from meningitis affect speech, language and communication?
Speech, language and communication problems are common after a brain injury and vary depending on the affected area and severity of the damage to the brain. The skills needed to speak, interpret and use language and understand the more subtle, social cues and conversational ‘rules’ relating to communication continue to develop as the child grows older. The full effects of an acquired brain injury (ABI) on the child’s speech, language and communication may, therefore, take time to become apparent.
After ABI some children will retain the ability to speak at their pre-injury level, particularly if the brain is still able to control the muscles which physically control the formation of speech. Whilst their speech might appear normal, they may encounter a variety of hidden difficulties which hinder their ability to communicate. These problems can come from damage to areas of the brain which directly control understanding and use of speech and language but can also be affected by memory, attention and concentration deficits and fatigue which often follow ABI. Reading and writing can be affected by post ABI coordination and visual problems affecting the ability to hold or control a pen. The child may have no insight into their problems and feel frustrated and isolated as they struggle to communicate, to keep up at school and to interact with their friends.
Specific problems in speech, language and communication
Meningitis Now’s helpful factsheets explain some of the ways in which a child’s ability to communicate might be impaired by brain injury after meningitis.
Aphasia affects the production and understanding of speech, and the ability to read and write. Receptive aphasia is an impairment of the understanding of language. Expressive aphasia is an impairment of the use of language.
Children with receptive aphasia might demonstrate the following without realising what they are doing:
- Being able to speak fluently but using words in the wrong order
- Having varying levels of skill in different areas of language
- Needing to use non-verbal skills to communicate, such as pictures or gestures
- Using incorrect or made-up words, which makes their speech hard for others to understand
- Struggling to recognise written letters or words or to understand simple sentences – affecting reading
Children with expressive aphasia might:
- Have limited fluency of speech and vocabulary and speak in short, simple sentences
- Be able to understand language but not be able to use it
- Struggle to name people and objects and be unable to use cues to help
- Struggle to write certain letters, or put letters in the wrong order in words
Dysarthria is where the physical ability to speak is impaired when the area of the brain which controls the muscles used for speech is damaged. Dysarthria can cause varying levels of impairment from slurring to complete loss of speech.
Dyspraxia is difficulty with planned and coordinated movements which might prevent the child from being able to say what they are thinking.
More complex ‘executive function’ impairments can hinder problem solving or understanding the nuances of language (such as jokes). The child might need more time to process information, affecting their ability to learn and keep up at school.
Following ABI they might struggle with social interaction and friendships owing to difficulties understanding the unspoken ‘rules’ of social communication, such as taking turns to speak, using appropriate language and understanding body language or facial expressions.
At Boyes Turner we understand the importance of assessing and understanding the full extent of each individual client’s injuries and needs. Only by doing so can we ensure that their compensation meets their lifelong needs, whether for care, special educational support, assistive technology, therapies, adapted accommodation, specialist equipment or prostheses.
Where our clients have suffered an acquired brain injury following negligent delays in diagnosis and treatment of meningitis, other errors in medical care or as a result of an accident caused by another’s fault, Boyes Turner’s brain injury lawyers work with experts in a range of disciplines, including speech and language therapy, assistive technology, educational psychology, neuropsychology, physiotherapy and occupational therapy to understand and assess the value of the claim. Where liability is established, or the Rehabilitation Code can be invoked depending on the cause of the injury, we obtain interim payments to provide early rehabilitation and meet the family’s immediate needs without having to wait for final settlement of the claim.
If you are caring for someone who has suffered a brain injury then please contact our specialist solicitors by email firstname.lastname@example.org