A novel approach for families coping with brain injury

Griffith University psychologists have co-authored a book designed to fill a much-needed gap in assisting families where one child has suffered a sudden brain injury.

Griffith PhD student Jennifer Tunstall and School of Psychology Head Associate Professor David Shum said the book aimed to help children cope with changes that occurred in their lives as a result from their sibling’s brain injury.

Told from the perspective of the family cat “Fuzzles”, the book covered common occurrences such as increased chores, changes in family meals, reduced attention from parents and changes in personality or physicality of their injured sibling.

In Australia, two to three in every 1,000 children suffered from a brain injury, the majority of which were caused by motor vehicle accidents and falls.

Ms Tunstall said while the sibling of an injured child would benefit from reading the book alone, more benefit would be achieved if the child read the book with an adult.

“The book has been designed as an entry-point for discussion about children’s feelings on how their lives have changed since their brother’s or sister’s injury,” Ms Tunstall said. “Many children do not confide their fears and feelings to adults and suffer in silence. Before writing this book, I searched for a book written to help children cope with these issues, but the only book I could find was one on written from the injured child’s viewpoint.”

As part of the writing process, Ms Tunstall conducted research to identify problems faced by siblings of brain-injured children.

“At the time there was little information for this specific group, most resources centred around issues faced by children with siblings who had disabilities from birth,” she said. Although issues are similar, the big difference is that a childhood brain injury produces sudden and often catastrophic changes to family life. The other large difference is that there is often a period of marked improvement in the injured child’s condition, which is why the book encourages siblings to look out for ‘good things’.”

Brightly illustrated by Griffith University PhD candidate Andrea Quinn, the book will be sold for $16.50 through the Applied Cognitive Neuroscience Research Centre, Griffith University and through the Australian Academic Press, Brisbane. Fully funded by Griffith University, the proceeds from book sales will go towards research into brain injury and the promotion of brain injury awareness.

Call Jennifer Tunstall on 07 3875 3341 or David Shum on 07 3875 3370 to obtain copies.

About the book
When Dan suffers a brain injury, all family members are affected. Dan, his brother, sister, mother, father, and Fuzzles the cat, too. Fuzzles describes how family life changes and how the family copes with those changes. There are practical changes, such as visits to the hospital that interrupt family routine, and extra chores that the brother and sister must now do. There are cognitive changes, such as confusion and memory problems. And there are emotional changes, such as feelings of anger and loss. But the family discovers that talking about their worries, problems and feelings helps them cope.

About the authors
A Masters graduate, Jenny Tunstall is a psychologist who has previously investigated the effect of a genetic condition on children’s cognitive abilities. Like her previous children’s book, My Mum had a Stroke, this book combines Jenny’s interest in helping people with brain dysfunction with her enjoyment of communicating with children. Jenny is currently pursuing her Doctoral studies in the area of brain injury.

Associate Professor David Shum is a psychologist specialising in the area of neuropsychology. He has worked with both children and adults with traumatic brain injury since he obtained his PhD from the University of Queensland in 1992. David is an Associate Professor at the School of Applied Psychology, Griffith University. As a parent with two children and having worked extensively with children with brain injuries, David believes family support is one of the most important factors in both the recovery of children with traumatic brain injury and in the adjustment of the family.

About the illustrator
Andrea Quinn is a psychologist and PhD candidate at Griffith University. Andrea has worked with marginalised children in settings such as Indigenous education, behaviour management and domestic violence shelters. She has also been involved in work-entry programs for youth with acquired brain injury. Andrea is an experienced pastel portraitist and draws upon her artistic skills in her work as a practitioner, psychologist and consultant.

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