What problems can I expect my child to have after encephalitis?
Encephalitis can disrupt the thinking functions of your child / young person’s brain such as alertness, concentration, attention and learning, memory, reasoning, planning and problem-solving. There may also be problems with physical functions such as with speech and language, epilepsy and movement.
Children and young people’s brains are still developing. Although encephalitis may slow down or disrupt some brain functions, other brain functions may be completely untouched. Some areas of the brain affected by encephalitis may have already developed; or they may be in the process of development; or they may have still to undergo development. There can therefore be an immediate loss of a brain function, a slowing of the development of a brain function or a disruption in the normal development of a future brain function.
Because some brain functions can be totally unaffected there can be unpredictable and unexpected spurts of progress (in the areas not affected) together with specific problems. Some children also have difficulty integrating and structuring information. Poor judgment and loss of emotional control are also typical and can make the child / young person appear to be emotionally disturbed.
Problems following encephalitis are also unlike those that are experienced by children / young people who have been born with general or specific learning difficulties. Children / young people who have been ill with encephalitis have an experience of life and image of themselves as a normal child but the illness may have changed their ability to learn and to cope with life. The speed with which they learn and acquire knowledge may be slower than before. Many children / young people are well aware of this in terms of schoolwork appearing harder than before. This awareness of what has been lost can be emotionally disturbing for the child / young person.
Because of this multiplicity of effects a comprehensive neuropsychological assessment should be undertaken by a specialist psychologist.
A typical assessment will cover the following areas:
1 . Speech-motor apparatus (i.e., articulation).
2. Language (i.e., expressive, receptive and pragmatic skills).
3. Attainments (i.e., literacy and numeracy).
4. Memory (i.e., verbal and non-verbal, recall and recognition).
5. Attention (i.e., sustained and selective attention, intentional 'switching').
6. Visuo-spatial/perceptual skills (i.e., discrimination of colour, form, orientations in space, and constructional skills).
7. Motor skills (i.e., fine and gross motor skills).
8. Executive function (i.e., self-regulation, planning and organisational ability).
Your Hospital Doctor / GP / Child Development team can refer your child / young person for a neuropsychological assessment. The assessment should lead to a programme of support in dealing with any problems identified.
Questions relating to specific problems