The effects of stroke are different for every child. The impact of the stroke depends on the part of the brain affected and the size of the damaged area. However, the most common effects include:
- Mobility problems
- Visual problems
- Communication problems
- Memory and thinking problems
- Concentration problems
- Behaviour changes
- Emotional problems
The effects of a stroke in a baby or very young child may emerge over time. A stroke can affect developmental stages like learning to walk and talk, and sometimes a stroke is only diagnosed when a child shows a developmental delay.
Usually the fastest recovery happens in the early weeks and months following a stroke, but can continue for months or years after a stroke. It takes time and hard work, and rehabilitation therapies are crucial.
Some children will be able to leave hospital quickly, but others will need to stay in for some time. When your child is leaving hospital, you should have help from the hospital paediatric team. A portage service can help babies and young children.
Sadly, as with adult stroke, not every child survives. If you have lost a child through stroke, there are specialist support services that can support you and help you come to terms with your loss. You can call our Helpline 0303 3033 100 to ask for advice on finding help after the death of a child, or just for someone to talk to.
Rehabilitation and recovery
Once your child is well enough, rehabilitation should begin. The recovery and progress each child makes is unique to them, and they should have support to enable them to make the best recovery possible.
Rehabilitation also helps children to learn and develop in the years after a stroke. Rehabilitation may take place in hospital, community, home and school settings. We have downloadable resources for families when working with different types of therapy services on our website.
A physiotherapist can help with movement problems such as weakness and balance problems. The therapist will assess and design a programme to improve muscle strength and movement.
They might use equipment to help your child move more easily, like an ankle foot orthosis (a brace to support the ankle) and hand splints.
Encourage your child to use their affected limbs as much as possible to help recover movement. Repeating therapeutic exercises and activities can make a big difference.
Spasticity affects some children after a stroke. This means that the muscles, often in the arm or lower leg, go into spasm. This can be painful, and may cause problems with walking and using the hand and arm. Physiotherapy and medication such as baclofen can help.
Children can also have botulinum toxin type A injections prescribed by a paediatric consultant. See our guide ‘Physical effects of stroke’ for more information.
Occupational therapists look at ways to help make everyday tasks such as tying shoelaces, getting dressed, washing and eating. The therapist might suggest aids and adaptations to make some tasks easier. A therapist can also give support with adapting school activities to support learning. They can help the child develop strategies to improve concentration and processing information.
Speech and language therapy
A speech and language therapist (SLT) can help by assessing your child, and designing a programme to improve strengths and weaknesses in communication. If your child has severe speech problems other modes of communication such as signing can be used. There are communication devices to assist with speech, which an SLT can advise you about.
Speech and language therapists also support children with eating and drinking if they have swallowing difficulties. They can advise on ways to eat and drink safely and exercises to improve swallowing.
Stroke can also affect a child’s behaviour and emotions. Being aware of the emotional impact of stroke will help you identify any problems. It may take several years for your child to adjust to the effects of their stroke, and adolescence in particular can be a difficult time. A psychologist can help assess and treat emotional problems, especially if a child’s behaviour is affecting home and school life. Talking therapies may help your child understand why they feel the way they do.
Stroke can lead to behavioural changes such as being more irritable or impulsive. These changes in behaviour can also occur some time after the stroke. As your child develops they may become more aware of the differences between them and other children. They might feel worried about having another stroke. Problems with learning and participating in school may highlight problems that they have, which can be difficult to accept. Coping with the physical changes or a disability after stroke can also be challenging.
Your child may have difficulty with learning and concentrating, spatial awareness and memory (called cognitive skills). A psychologist can assess your child’s cognitive ability and make recommendations for supporting them at home and at school. As your child develops, their abilities will change. Follow-up assessments will help identify future problems.