Adolescence is awkward, yet it transforms our identity. Parents vacillate between holding on and letting go as their child packs up to leave home. Adolescents struggle with increased independent decision-making about career choices, living separately from family, creating new friendships, and exploring romantic ties.
Children often enjoy a gradual passage from adolescence to adulthood as parents continue to help financially or offer other types of support. If this process seems slow for the impatient youth eager to face the world, how might it feel for teens and young adults with brain injury?
Parents have nagging questions and continual worries about their young adult children after a brain injury. Will their child ever drive, earn a paycheck, graduate from college, or find a partner? Yet, as parents anguish over the risks involved in these milestones, they desperately desire them for their children.
I'm movin' out...
The most notable difference between young people after a brain injury and other young people is their living situation. Instead of living in a dorm, an apartment with friends, or with a romantic partner or spouse, many young adults with brain injury need a long time of recovery, rehabilitation, support, and even supervision that changes life’s direction. Once in school, they may have to take a lighter class load or attend college close to home. Juggling a new living situation and a new social community along with academic challenges may simply be too much in spite of the burning desire to “just be like everyone else.”
Needs of young adults
Many parents worry that their maturing child is more vulnerable about sex and sexuality because of the brain injury. Cognitive, emotional, behavioral, physical, and psychosocial factors may all affect sexuality. Sexual signals, verbal comments, or physical gestures can easily be misinterpreted when judgment, impulse control, and social skills haven been affected by a brain injury. As young adults find it difficult to meet the expectations of romantic partners, they may shy away from intimacy or overcompensate by throwing themselves recklessly into social pursuits without considering risks or consequences.
How can families help?
All parents wonder if they have made the best decisions and second guess themselves at times. This also applies to parents whose child has a brain injury. Parents can’t protect their child forever — growing up is always risky. The challenge for parents is assessing and managing the risks — and helping their child learn how to do this as well. Weighing the pros and cons of decisions and behavior is an important part of this process.
It is crucial for parents to understand the importance of sexuality on the quality of life for people with brain injury. Having honest and direct conversations about this topic with adolescents is the first step so survivors can explore their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors about relationships. This will help them develop more satisfying and healthy relationships.
About the Author
Theresa Sacchi Armstrong coordinates the Building Schools' Capacity to Serve Students with Brain Injuries Program at The George Washington University. Theresa has worked with children with acquired brain injuries of all ages within public and private school settings.
This article is condensed from the original published in the magazine Brain Injury Journey – Hope, Help, Healing, Issue 6, Spring 2014, by Lash & Associates Publishing/Training, Inc. You can subscribe for this magazine or read it online at www.lapublishing.com/brain-injury-journey-magazine.
Used with permission from Brain Injury Journey magazine, issue #6, Lash & Associates Publishing/Training, Inc.
Magazine and Subscription Information
Brain Injury Journey is a 32-page, 8 1/2 x 11, full-color magazine that addresses a wide range of topics for military and civilian people with traumatic brain injury and their families and caregivers. Published four times a year starting in April 2013, the magazine is free online or available by printed subscription.
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