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Friendships and students with an ABI fact sheet

Friendships and students with an acquired brain injury

A brain injury can impact on a student’s ability to make and maintain friendships in a variety of ways. The issues will be somewhat different for students who are returning to school following the recent acquisition of a brain injury and who have previously utilised appropriate social skills to acquire a network of friends, than for those students who acquired their injury prior to school age, who have no social support network.
Both physical and behavioural changes can restrict a student’s access to, and capacity to resume, social interactions and activities in the way in which they were able to participate prior to the injury. Disinhibition, impulsiveness, decreased frustration tolerance, reduced anger control, poor judgement, decreased motivation and insensitivity to others can be present following brain injury for varying lengths of time, and the effects of these behaviours can put a student at risk of alienating peers and others in the school environment.
Social relationships play an important role in normal child development. Children develop their sense of identity and self-esteem through their relationships with others. When a student’s ability to make and to maintain friendships is no longer the same as it was pre-injury, the effect on self-esteem can be profound. The student may become socially isolated and lack adequate social support at a time when the need for this is greatest.

How do I know if my student is having difficulties with making and maintaining friendships?

  • Increased conflict with peers – with the student with ABI not understanding why the conflict is occurring.
  • Not engaging or sitting with peers at mealtimes.
  • Student reporting bullying.
  • Mood changes as a result of decreased social support (anxiety, depression).

What can I do to help my student overcome difficulties with friendships?

  • Prepare classmates and friends for the changes to expect prior to the student’s return to school. The Rehabilitation Team can assist with this.
  • Organise a “buddy” system with different students buddying up with the injured student to assist with things like getting to different classes, having the correct materials ready, lunch time.
  • Model “inclusive” behaviour in the classroom and playground.
  • Keep in close communication with parents and be prepared to deal with any discriminatory or bullying behaviour immediately.
  • Ensure the injured student has opportunities for rest times at school, as difficult behaviour can occur when the student is fatigued.
  • Incorporate activities that promote social interaction and the development of appropriate social skills into class time.

Contact us

Queensland Paediatric Rehabilitation Service
Queensland Children’s Hospital
Level 6, 501 Stanley Street, South Brisbane 4101
t: 07 3068 2950
t: 07 3068 1111 (general enquiries)
f: 07 3068 3909

In an emergency, always call 000.

If it’s not an emergency but you have any concerns, contact 13 Health (13 43 2584). Qualified staff will give you advice on who to talk to and how quickly you should do it. You can phone 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Developed by the Queensland Paediatric Rehabilitation Service, Children’s Health Queensland. Updated: October 2017. All information contained in this sheet has been supplied by qualified professionals as a guideline for care only. Seek medical advice, as appropriate, for concerns regarding your child’s health.