by Michelle West


Traumatic Brain Injury, Part 3

Traumatic Brain Injury or TBIIn this series of 4 blog posts, The Independence Center will be sharing information on traumatic brain injuries. The Independence Center’s hope is that this information will help those without traumatic brain injuries learn a little about disability etiquette to apply when supporting and interacting with those who have a TBI. Disability Etiquette “…refers to educating people regarding disabilities, as the biggest barriers people with disabilities encounter are most often – other people.” (Source:

In this third part of the series, The Independence Center presents some tips on what NOT to do when talking to and interfacing with someone who has a traumatic brain injury. Please refer to the other posts that The Independence Center has posted in this series. The first post provides general information about TBIs and how a person with a TBI might think and behave. The second post describes how to successfully interact and support someone with a traumatic brain injury.

At The Independence Center, Dr. Kevin Corrigan, who himself has a traumatic brain injury, is a staff member in our Independent Living peer support program and he leads TBI peer support groups for people who live in the Pikes Peak region of Colorado and in Colorado Springs. See the tips below that Dr. Corrigan has gained, not only from his medical training, but also from his personal experience living with a TBI. This third post in this blog series will give you tips on some things that you should not do when supporting and interacting with someone who has a traumatic brain injury.

Don’t use statements of “false understanding” or “forced/fake empathy”

  • “I lose my keys too.”
  • “Everybody gets lost sometimes!”
  • “It’s just like getting older. ”NO, it’s not. Going from younger brain function to a much older brain function, in an instant, is not typical in any way.

Don’t make assumptions

  • Just because the person with a traumatic brain injury can perform activities that are regimented and require memory, such as dancing and singing, it doesn’t mean they are also organized and regimented in other areas!
  • Just because the person with a TBI can do calculus in his or her sleep doesn’t mean they know what day it is!
  • Don’t pretend to know where the person with a traumatic brain injury is at. Sometimes, they don’t even know where they’re at or who they even are, depending on the severity of their TBI.

Don’t be patronizing, even though your intentions and what you’re saying sounds “nice”

  • “You look ok to me.”
  • “You sound fine.”
  • “It’s just like getting older!”
  • “Everyone gets lost/loses things!”
  • “I forget things too.”


Don’t forget to have FUN with the person!

  • Think of positive, fun things to discuss
  • Ask the person with the TBI, “What was the last thing you did for fun?”
  • Remember to laugh, smile, and treat the person with a TBI as you would anyone else
  • Celebrate the “small victories!”
    • “You made it to our meeting!”
    • You remembered that funny Super Bowl commercial!
    • “That’s awesome that you voted!”, “Look at you fishing!”, “Thanks for taking a walk with me!”, or “I hear you made a friend!”

Remember that you can do a lot to support someone who has a TBI! Now that you have three of the four posts in this series – the first one giving you an understanding of traumatic brain injuries, the second post on how you can support someone with a TBI, and this third post – The Independence Center hopes you’ll engage with someone who has a TBI with more depth and ease.

And remember, check out The IC’s calendar of events or contact The Independence Center’s peer support program if you or someone you know has a traumatic brain injury. The Independence Center is here to help you, whether it’s attending a peer support group for people with traumatic brain injuries or something else!