It's my life: Brain injuries in teens

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Brain Awareness Week (11-17 Mar) is a global event that aims to increase public awareness of the progress and benefits of brain research.

For children and young adults with conditions of the brain, awareness and compassion go such a long way to helping them enjoy life and to learn and socialise with their families and peers.

In this article, we consider the daily challenges of a teenager recovering from a brain injury. Being aware of these challenges helps others to understand what they’re going through and to better support them.

I need a lot more rest than others my age. I’m not being lazy. I get physical fatigue as well as a “brain fatigue.” It is very difficult and tiring for my brain to think, process, and organise. Fatigue makes it even harder to think.

My stamina fluctuates, even though I may look good on the outside. Cognition is a fragile function for a brain injury survivor. Some days are better than others. Pushing too hard usually leads to setbacks, sometimes to illness.

I am not being difficult if I resist social situationsCrowds, confusion, and loud sounds quickly overload my brain, it doesn’t filter sounds as well as it used to. Limiting my exposure is a coping strategy, not a behavioural problem.

If there is more than one person talking, I may seem uninterested in the conversationThat is because I have trouble following all the different “lines” of discussion. It is exhausting to keep trying to piece it all together. I’m not dumb or rude; my brain is getting overloaded!

If we are talking and I tell you that I need to stop, I need to stop NOW! And it is not because I’m avoiding the subject, it’s just that I need time to process our discussion and “take a break” from all the thinking. Later I will be able to re-join the conversation and really be present for the subject and for you.

Try to notice the circumstances if a behaviour problem arises. “Behaviour problems” are often an indication of my inability to cope with a specific situation and not a mental health issue. I may be frustrated, in pain, overtired or there may be too much confusion or noise for my brain to filter.

Patience is the best gift you can give me. It allows me to work deliberately and at my own pace, allowing me to rebuild pathways in my brain. Rushing and multi-tasking inhibit cognition.

Please listen to me with patience. Try not to interrupt. Allow me to find my words and follow my thoughts. It will help me rebuild my language skills.

Please don’t be condescending or talk to me like I am a child. I’m not stupid, my brain is injured and it doesn’t work as well.  But I am still me and I have my dignity.  

If I seem “rigid,” needing to do tasks the same way all the time; it is because I am retraining my brain. It’s like learning main roads before you can learn the shortcuts. Repeating tasks in the same sequence is a rehabilitation strategy.

If I seem “stuck,” my brain may be stuck in the processing of information. Coaching me, suggesting other options or asking what you can do to help may help me figure it out. Taking over and doing it for me will not be constructive and it will make me feel inadequate. (It may also be an indication that I need to take a break.)

You may not be able to help me do something if helping requires me to frequently interrupt what I am doing to give you directives. I work best on my own, one step at a time and at my own pace.

I sometimes repeat actions, like checking to see if the doors are locked. Repetitions enhance memory. (It can also be a cue that I need to stop and rest.)

If I seem sensitive, it could be due to my emotional ability as a result of my brain injury.

We need hope. We are learning more and more about the amazing brain and there are remarkable stories about healing in the news every day. No one can know for certain what our potential is.

For further information

Brain Injury Australia is the brain injury information and referral gateway: 

https://www.braininjuryaustralia.org.au

https://www.facebook.com/braininjuryaustralia

The Brain Foundation raises funds and awareness of brain disease and disorders:

https://brainfoundation.org.au/disorders/acquired-brain-injury