The development of intimate relationships in adolescent girls and women with traumatic brain injury: a framework to guide gender specific rehabilitation and enhance positive social outcomes
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BACKGROUND: Traumatic brain injury is a neurological disorder of biopsychosocial nature influenced by sex and gender interactions across the lifespan. Traumatic brain injury sustained during adolescence can result in cognitive and social communication impairments that compromise the development and maintenance of intimate social relationships. This can increase both short and long-term vulnerability to poor mental health, social isolation, lack of meaningful friendships, exploitation, and abuse. Females with traumatic brain injury experience greater loss of confidence and have increased risk of victimization, sexual abuse, and violence. This paper aims to provide a framework to inform gender specific rehabilitation of social communication and intimacy, to enhance positive social outcomes for girls and women with Traumatic Brain Injury. METHODS: The framework is developed through presentation of a conceptual, multi-dimensional model of intimacy and discussion of current evidence regarding trauma-related cognitive/social-communication impairments and considerations regarding social media. RESULTS: Intimacy is strongly influenced by today's technology-informed "youth culture" and for those with Traumatic Brain Injury, is impacted by cognitive and social communication impairments. Females experience different challenges in recovery and experience of intimacy. There is a need to support girls and women with Traumatic Brain Injury as they develop intimate relationships. CONCLUSIONS: This framework can guide the development of female gender-specific rehabilitation and inform future research to promote positive social outcomes. Implications for rehabilitation Intimate relationships are a critical component of mental health and an important part of human development; however, the challenges faced by adolescent girls and woman with TBI in developing and maintaining intimate relationships are often overlooked in traditional rehabilitation programs. A multi-dimensional model of intimacy will help rehabilitation professionals understand the complexities of interventions needed to support healthy intimacy, as well as for harm prevention. Rehabilitation professionals play an important role in advocating for gender-specific supports and interventions. There is a need for early interventions, grounded in today's technological and social media culture, that will support healthy intimacy for adolescent girls and women with TBI.
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