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Recovery and Rehabilitation in Children after Encephalitis

Families may feel that returning home will make everything ‘normal’ again. However both the child and the family may find there is a great deal of adjusting required to a new situation. Children may behave differently, demand attention and have unexpected outbursts.

The younger the child, the harder it is for them to explain how they feel. Some children will quickly make a good recovery despite being very ill and it is the parents who may take longer to adjust after such a traumatic experience. Brothers and sisters, particularly young children, may need extra attention and understanding because they can experience anxiety and feelings of isolation.

The brain takes much longer to recover from an injury than other parts of the body such as muscles, bones or skin. This is because new nerve cells do not generate easily and renewed neural networks may not function in the same way. Unlike other parts of the body you cannot see your child’s brain repairing and may assume all is back to normal when in fact some areas are still in recovery.

A lengthy period of rest and quiet will aid your child’s recovery, avoiding information overload which could set back the process. Good nutrition is important for brain repair. Nutrients that are especially important are antioxidants (found in fresh fruit and vegetables) and omega 3’s (found in fatty fish).

Plan a gradual return to school/nursery; don’t worry about your child getting behind at school, they will catch up far quicker when they are further recovered. Try to schedule rest periods into your child’s day; tiredness is the brain’s way of shutting down to continue with repair. Becoming overtired may slow down the repair process and can be the reason for difficult behaviour. If your child’s normal sleep pattern is disrupted you may need to seek medical help.

Some children may need a considerable amount of neurorehabilitation after Encephalitis. The type of therapy and the setting for rehabilitation needed will depend on the individual needs of the child. It may be part of the hospital, a specialist rehabilitation centre or a community service. The main aim of rehabilitation is to help your child develop new skills, habits and strategies for coping with their remaining difficulties and provide them with as much independence as possible.

There is no set timetable for recovery – every experience is different - nor a sure answer from specialists of the level of recovery. This uncertainty can make parents feel frustrated and stressed. Dramatic improvements can happen. But it is very important to be patient and aware of what is needed from your child and yourself as part of the rehabilitation process.

The Encephalitis Society is the operating name of the Encephalitis Support Group which is a registered Charity and Company Limited by Guarantee.

Registered in England and Wales No. 4189027. Registered Office as above. Registered Charity No. 1087843.