5 Tips for Trainers with Brain Injured Employees or Students

Brain injury doesn’t have to be scary if you are informed. I’m not just an employer, I’m also a brain injury survivor, but thriving in the demanding corporate world. It’s not just possible, it’s achievable.

With returning veterans, an aging demographic, football injuries and epidemics like West Nile, brain injury is more common. More than 1.4 million Americans suffer brain injury of some form each year, according to John Hopkins. Many survivors have a host of residuals, including memory loss, cognitive disorders, balance issues, behavioral changes or vision issues, among a host of others. But it doesn’t mean that life’s over, nor being a contribution to the workforce. Here are 5 suggestions for working with those of us with a little extra challenge.

The aftermath of brain injury affects everyone differently and often the symptoms or residuals are invisible to others. As an trainer, teacher or employer, it’s important to understand that some of the residuals from acquired brain injury (ABI) or traumatic brain injury (TBI) may affect the person’s ability to express themselves, to comprehend new information or to follow complex – or even simple -instructions.

Tip #1: Check in often with the employee or student — While you may be providing what you deem as “simple information,” the survivor may not be following everything you’re saying. Pause occasionally to check for understanding or if you’re going too fast. Over time you’ll understand their specific needs/limitations and easily accommodate without it being uncomfortable. If you’re gentle in your approach, the employee or student will likely open up more to you or even joke about some of their deficiencies.

Tip #2: Silence is okay – no need to “fill in the blank” — One typical residual for brain injury survivors is aphasia, which is trouble finding the words to express an idea or name an object as common as as a pen. As a survivor, I know how embarrassing it is to know a word, yet not be able to recall it in a timely manner. This is quite frustrating to the employee or student and can hinder the learning process while the survivor focuses on their injury versus what the trainer is trying to share. Do them a favor: give them space to fill in the silence unless they specifically ask for help.

Tip #3: Apply the basics: one person at a time, please — This is probably helpful to everyone, not just someone with a brain injury. Many survivors have concentration issues that plague them. The more voices, the more confusion. If you apply the basics that only one person speaks at a time, you’ll make the environment much more optimal. Even consider this at dinners or social settings. If your employee or student with ABI or TBI clams up, the likelihood is that they are not following the dialogue, not disinterested. Some of these basics are in the Afterword of “Brain Wreck.”

Tip #4: Time for a break! — Even without TBI or ABI, information overload is easy in our data-filled electronic world. Be the fun and understanding trainer. Encourage 15-minute breaks every hour or two. This will help reinforce learning and understanding and make your employee more productive (and potentially loyal). Recharging the batteries is a good thing.

Tip #5: Give the gift of building someone’s self esteem — For employees or students just returning to the workforce or school after brain injury, this is a scary experience. “What will my colleagues think of me?” “What if they think I’m a freak?” “What if I’m in over my head?” Believe me, they’re much more scared of a misstep than you are. You are in a position of giving the the gift of self confidence back with each new opportunity and challenge you present in their recovery journey.

Closing message to employers of employees with brain injury

Like a pro football player returning after injury, we find a way to push on and succeed. Just because an injury involves the center of our thinking, it does not result in hopelessness or lack of ability. Many of us remain corporate bulldogs despite the annoying residuals. These same principles apply for teachers working with students with brain injury or even seizures. I applaud those who give us a chance. Kudos to you for your gallant efforts to keep brain injury survivors in the workplace and successful in the classroom.

Copyright Majamo Publishing, LLC 2013. All rights reserved.

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