Back by popular demand are 5 additional tips for employers whose courage leads them to engaging brain injury survivors in employment opportunities. Ever have a tragic incident in your life and no one calls because they don’t know what to say? Or they assume “everyone else” is there for you, so the phone still doesn’t ring? Many brain injury survivors live this on a daily basis. With these tips, you can make a difference in both their professional and personal lives.
Like cancer, many aspects of brain injury are hidden. How do you help someone with brain injury such as stroke, encephalitis or TBI? People either don’t know what to say, so they say nothing. Or they don’t see the hidden residuals and assume everything’s okay. Through these very simple steps, you could be pivotal in creating a positive work environment for a brain injury survivor.
Tip #1: Visibly chart ideas in group settings — Many survivors have difficulty concentrating and suffer short-term memory loss. When you chart major topics and their sub-themes on a whiteboard (or other medium) during discussions, this can benefit the employee by reinforcing ideas and helping them stay on task. Another suggestion is minimizing side conversations to prevent information overload or unnecessary distractions.
Tip #2: Maintain a calm, professional tone — If there is frontal lobe damage, then maintaining an even-tempered tone is likely important. A survivor with this type of damage can potentially misinterpret tone under stress (and returning to the work scene can be quite stressful). Also, until a rapport is built, it may be necessary to avoid confusion by being explicit in the difference between sarcasm or being facetious and a making serious statement.
Tip #3: Zero in on facial expressions — When you pay attention to facial expressions and body language, you may find visual cues about the employee’s experience. Are they scowling? The likelihood is that the person is struggling to process something new. Are they disinterested? Maybe they lost track because of too fast of a pace. Are they tapping their pen, perhaps distracting you? The employee may be nervous about something and is hoping you’ll notice to spare them the embarrassment of asking. Just by paying attention to visual cues, you are being an advocate to their success. Use a non-intrusive means of asking, such as “I’m thinking it’s time for a break … can you describe your experience so far?” Nothing offensive about that.
Tip #4: Repeat names and revisit main ideas — Most survivors have short-term memory loss, so the more you repeat messages or use people’s names, the more you are ensuring proper comprehension or locking names into the memory bank. This is helpful regardless if you’ve had a brain injury or not. Also breaking down info into smaller pieces can be beneficial. In a group setting of new people, I draw a seating chart and label each person’s name (and sometimes title) so I can discern each role at the table. Encourage your employee with similar tactics.
Tip #5: Set clear objectives — Sounds like a “no brainer,” huh? Executive functions within the brain are prone to “invisible” symptoms. Be prepared to help the employee start a new task, if needed. Set clear goals about your expectations on outcomes. Planning and organizing a task is an effort, as is solving problems that may seem obvious to others – even if they are operating at a highly functioning level. You can help make things “black and white” without being condescending.
Closing message to employers of employees with brain injury
If you’ve read this far, you have a true interest in helping others and I applaud you for that. You have an opportunity to be instrumental in making a brain injury survivor’s work experience a place that’s rewarding instead of defeating. Brain injury is so different from person to person based on the areas of damage, the cause, or length of time between diagnosis and treatment. Residuals from brain injury are often invisible to others, so help your colleague with a brain injury succeed with these tips.