Beyond the initial impact, sometimes the effects of a Traumatic Brain Injury are not obvious at first but become more noticeable later when critical thinking and social interaction increases at school. While teens who have experienced a Traumatic Brain Injury are eager to return to school, they often struggle more with identity issues than academic issues. Following a TBI, many teens struggle to reintegrate safely into activities they used to enjoy, require a higher level of support from caretakers, and worry that other people will treat them as fragile.
Some changes that may occur after a TBI may include:
- Physical changes: fatigue, headaches, slower processing, heightened sensory sensitivity
- Cognitive changes: forgetfulness, difficulty learning new material, problems with organization, easily distracted
- Emotional changes: difficulty expressing or communicating emotion, depression, loss of motivation
- Behavioral changes: irritability, inability to deal with unexpected changes in routine
Impact on Identity
Problems with memory and energy levels may make it difficult for teens to feel like themselves. They may have a hard time remembering things they used to enjoy or feeling the same level of reward from these activities when they try them again. Feeling distant from relationships and activities that shaped their sense of self significantly affects one’s self-esteem.
Until your child decides he is ready to return to school, he may not recognize the impact his TBI has had on many areas of his everyday life. He may worry that he will be exposed, judged, or seen as incompetent when he returns to a traditional school setting.
Part of recovery from a TBI is allowing oneself to grieve the things they feel they have lost. While many individuals struggle with wanting to be themselves again, learning how to redefine their sense of self after significant identity changes is essential to self-acceptance and personal growth.
Ways to Support Your Son After a TBI:
- Don’t treat him differently. Although he may have gone through significant changes, he may feel confused by his experiences. Attempts to maintain similar social connections and a similar routine can help him find a sense of familiarity. Reminding him of how he’s changed or what he was like “before” may contribute to a sense of shame and distance from himself.
- Inform who needs to know. Most teens don’t like to draw attention to medical issues; however, it is important for teachers to understand how to better accommodate his needs and signs to look out for. Depending on how he sustained the injury and the severity of it, his peers may have witnessed the event or heard about it through social media. It can feel overwhelming for people to bombard him with questions, even if they come from a place of care and concern.
- Allow him to rest and reintegrate on his own timing. Rushing back into one’s daily routine can disrupt the healing process. Your son may be determined to return to normalcy but may underestimate the challenges he may face socially, emotionally, and academically. Encourage him to monitor his own progress by keeping a journal to express himself during the experience.
- Look for alternative school options. Many teens who experience Traumatic Brain Injuries miss a significant amount of class immediately following the incident and through aftercare appointments that put them at risk of falling behind academically. They may struggle to understand and advocate for their needs. Residential programs for teens struggling with brain injuries and neurodevelopmental disorders offer a supportive environment for teens to regain autonomy and rediscover their strengths.
New Focus Academy Can Help
New Focus Academy is a residential treatment center with academic support for boys ages 12-18 who struggle with neurodevelopmental disorders, traumatic brain injuries and emotional issues. The mission of the program is to use positive reinforcement to increase the student’s self-esteem and independence. We teach students methods to improve their functional living skills including self-care, homework, chores, and leisure planning. We help to empower these students by teaching and practicing social, coping, organizational, and self-care skills in a small, safe environment.
If your teen is struggling with identity issues after a traumatic brain injury, call (844) 313-6749 for more information.