Right now, as children start returning to school, life as a parent of a child with an Acquired Brain Injury may feel more anxious than ever before. For many families, shielding has come to an end as siblings return to the classroom and the safe, protected bubbles of home life becomes exposed.
Nicola Steel, Registered Sick Children’s Nurse and Child Brain Injury Rehabilitation Service Case Manager works closely with families from the early days when they are in hospital through to settling them back in at home and sees these anxieties in action. “Families are now at a point where shielding has stopped and many are questioning how they get out into the big wide world. They’re weighing up the risk versus not holding the family back and that can be a worrying time.”
This isn’t just a fear within the pandemic; families with very vulnerable children feel the fear every day and have to put their trust in other people to look out for their child. COVID-19 brings additional challenges and precautions to take but what can families do to move forward, especially when siblings within the home have been missing out on routine, learning and social interactions.
Nicola says “My advice to parents is ‘let’s try and enjoy this time’. I talk to them about the importance of building confidence through taking small steps. As long as they know they’re still following the guidelines they can be safe in the knowledge they are doing everything they can to protect their child. Going for an ice cream, going to the park or getting out for a walk are all important ways to normalise things for children and can be done safely.”
“Staying in control is important to families following Acquired Brain Injury. Coming out of lockdown has made many families feel more nervous and out of control and so I’ve been working with parents to help them see that it’s ok to question people on their behaviour and saying no to social gatherings. I have one family where the father feels completely comfortable asking people coming in to his home to wash their hands for longer which is great. I think in society we sometimes shy away from speaking up but these families have learnt from the very early stages of Acquired Brain injury to make their voice heard.”
“People should be open and honest with wider family and friends too. It is important they have conversations about what they’re comfortable with and what their new social norms are.”
If the family are taking the right precautions and feel confident in keeping their children safe, what other anxieties might present in the family?
Nicola works with one child with Acquired Brain Injury where the sibling is returning to school for the first time since March. The family have been shielding so the child didn’t return to school like his classmates before the summer holidays. He’s had no play dates and has not socialised with other children so for six months his social life has been his family and those professionals who were able to come in to the home.
“We’ve been building up to the return to school in small step; explaining that the classroom may look and feel different and talking about social bubbles at school. It’s important to keep it simple and reassure the parents that it’s ok for the sibling to be excited about the return to school and be excited when they come home from school – it’s also important for the parents to remember not to ‘grill’ them when they get home. That’s a lot of pressure to put on the sibling who may feel torn when they report back on their day. When they come home from school it’s an opportunity to re-group as a family and celebrate the day and the sibling’s experiences and achievements.”
For the child with Acquired Brain Injury, they will feel that things are different but may not understand why. Where they are confused it’s important not to frighten them about the changes and keep calm. Nicola says “Children are resilient but they will feel things are anxious in the home. I encourage families to use picture cards to explain new routines and emphasise the importance of keeping things simple.”
With open and honest conversations happening at home and small steps taken, what can be done outside of the home and what role does the school play?
Nicola’s advice is to make sure that the school understand the situation at home and keep the lines of communication open when there is a child within a family with complex needs. She says “As a case manager it’s my role to support the family and I will offer to speak to the school to help communicate the child’s and parents’ anxieties and concerns. It can sometimes help the family and the school if there is an outsider there to also explain the situation from a clinical perspective and ensure risk has been assessed.”
With no one knowing how long we’ll be living with COVID-19 and what the winter brings, life could be put on hold for some time but with support, openness and communication, children with Acquired Brain Injury and their families can start to take steps to living the life they had pre-lockdown.
To find out more about how our specialist Acquired Brain Injury case managers can support, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01327 223817.