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Libby's Story

It had started as a normal day of high school, but when the school bus she was riding was rear-ended by the bus behind it, Libby flew forward and hit her forehead on the bar-encased seat in front of her. She did not lose consciousness that afternoon nor spend a night in the hospital, but over the ensuing months, Libby and her family had to learn to come to terms with the consequences of her traumatic brain injury: severe headaches, fatigue, erratic moods and emotions, and loss of short-term memory and executive function.

Worst, the “old” Libby — tough, athletic, and bubbly, a girl who grew up horseback riding and who excelled at the violin — seemed to have been replaced by a girl who would tire and frustrate easily, who would get angry or cry at the drop of a hat, who struggled to do what used to come so easily.

During the next several years, Libby battled at home and school as she tried to find a new “normal.” With support from her family and the sheer determination she had always been known for, Libby graduated with her class.

Know the Facts

Libby was one of the 1.7 million people who sustain a traumatic brain injury each year. In fact, children aged 0 to 4 years and older adolescents aged 15 to 19 years are among the groups most likely to sustain a TBI. And because children’s brains are still developing, the toll of a brain injury on a child can sometimes be more dire than on an adult.

In addition to educating themselves on how to prevent a concussion, parents should know these basic facts:

  • All concussions are serious.
  • Most concussions occur without loss of consciousness.
  • Recognition and proper response to concussions when they first occur can help aid recovery and prevent further injury, or even death.

What to do if your child sustains a concussion

Children with a brain injury can have the same symptoms as adults, but it’s often harder for them to share how they feel. Call your child's doctor if he or she has had a blow to the head and you notice any of these symptoms:

School issues

Sometimes problems from a brain injury can be similar to those related to a learning disability, so getting an accurate diagnosis can all the difference. Problems at school that result from a TBI can include attention and concentration, planning and organization, and social interaction among others.

Our content about children and TBI provides information about children, ages birth through 22 years, who are affected by traumatic brain injury. Children with special needs in this age range may be eligible to receive services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the federal special education law.

Remember that children do best when parents, educators, and health professionals communicate, develop common goals, and work together. But most importantly, parents play the most essential role in their child’s recovery.

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Flat Freda
Flat Freda

See how friends and family rallied around the glowing and fiesty girl they loved — and how that helped during her recovery from a TBI.

My Child's Brain Injury: Why Do I Feel So Sad?
I'm so thankful she survived, but I miss the little girl who used to run and sing and dance. Whenever there is loss, there is grief. Parents of children with brain injury know better than anyone what it is like to have life abruptly changed forever, to start defining things in terms of “before and after.” Grief is often confusing for parents of children who survive brain injury. You may feel angry, guilty, fearful, and vulnerable. You might question, “Why did this happen to my child?” Many parents describe a serious brain injury as a partial death, bringing emotional ups and downs that include elation at each new improvement and mourning for the child who “used to be.” You may also grieve the loss of your family as a “safe haven” where bad things didn’t happen. It is important to know that all these emotions are normal. You are not alone, and there is no “right” way to deal with your grief. You need to mourn in your own way and try to allow other family members to do the same. Everyone is different. Some parents become totally overwhelmed, cry constantly, and avoid friends and neighbors. Others hold it together by concentrating on all the things that need to be done and become whirlwinds of energy and organization, terrified that if they stop they will fall apart. Sometimes parents throw themselves into work, putting in extra hours. Although this might be necessary for financial reasons, often it is a way to avoid the pain. Your reactions may not seem “logical.” But let’s face it — no one is prepared for brain injury. Be gentle with yourself. And, above all else, allow yourself to feel the range of sad, angry, worried, and hopeful feelings that come when your child has had a brain injury. Remember that painful feelings can resurface any time — for example, on the anniversary of the injury, or with other important events such as graduations. Here are some things that can help:
  • Talk with someone who is understanding.This can be a mental health professional, doctor, clergy, or even a good friend. Often parents find comfort in talking with other parents of children with brain injuries.
  • Connect with the Brain Injury Association.You’ll find information and links to brain injury groups in your state. This is a good starting point for gathering resources that can help you cope.
  • Live in the present.Although it is natural to think about “what was” and worry about “what might be,” all you really have is “what is.” Focus on the present moment. Think about the strength you’ve found within yourself and the things you’ve accomplished.
  • Forgive yourself.Acceptance is the final stage of grieving following trauma. It may take a while, and there is no timetable for reaching this stage. Acceptance is not the same as giving in. Acceptance means accepting where you, your child, and your family are now. It involves looking ahead and planning for the future. Forgiving yourself and others is an important part of the process of accepting what happened and moving on.
  • Seek help if your grief becomes too much to bear.Life may never be the same again if your child is seriously injured, particularly if the brain or spinal cord has been damaged. Feeling sad is part of grieving for what has been lost. However, if these feelings of sadness and loss persist and turn into feelings of hopelessness and despair, then it is time to talk with your doctor. You may need help through counseling, support, or medication.
  For another perspective, read the Janelle BreeseBiagioni article, Grief – There is No Way Around It! (from Lash and Associates Publishing/Training, Inc., Family Forum article). Sources:
Lash, Marilyn. 2003. When Your Child is Seriously Injured: The Emotional Impact on Families. Boston, MA: The Floating Hospital for Children and Kiwanis Pediatric Trauma Institute. Wade, Shari L., and Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. 2002. Putting the Pieces Together: An Online Intervention for Pediatric Brain Injury. Materials adapted from study. Schoenbrodt, Lisa. 2001. Children with Traumatic Brain Injury: A Parent’s Guide. Bethesda, MD: Woodbine House.
My Child's Brain Injury: Why Do I Feel So Sad?

"I'm so thankful she survived, but I miss the little girl who used to run and sing and dance."

How Therapy After Brain Injury Can Help Identify the Elephant in the Room
Family therapist Taryn Stejskal talks about the effectiveness of subtly asking the family questions to elicit answers about the "elephant in the room" no one wants to talk about.

See more videos with Dr. Taryn Stejskal.

How Therapy After Brain Injury Can Help Identify the Elephant in the Room

Dr. Taryn Stejskal talks about subtly asking questions to elicit answers about the "elephant in the room" no one wants to talk about.

BrainSTARS: Fine Motor Control
BrainSTARS: Fine Motor Control

Minimize or eliminate fine motor activities that are very difficult for your child with TBI.

BrainLine Kids is funded by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, U.S. Department of Education Award# H133B090010.


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