by Michelle West

Traumatic Brain Injury, Part 2

Traumatic Brain Injury or TBI

In this 4-part series of blog posts, The Independence Center will be presenting information on traumatic brain injuries. This series is meant to help those without traumatic brain injuries learn a little about disability etiquette for those with TBIs. “Disability etiquette is a set of guidelines dealing specifically with how to approach people with disabilities.” (Source:

In this second part, The Independence Center has pulled together general information about how to support and successfully interact with a person who has a traumatic brain injury. Please refer to The Independence Center’s first post for general information about TBIs and how a person with a TBI might think and behave.

At The Independence Center, Dr. Kevin Corrigan, who has a traumatic brain injury himself, works in our Independent Living peer support program and leads peer support groups for those with a TBI in Colorado Springs and the Pikes Peak region of Colorado. Below is information that Dr. Corrigan has gained from his personal experience as well as his medical training. This second part presents his insights on how you can support and interact with someone who has a traumatic brain injury, and the third will note how not to interact with someone who has a TBI.

How can I support someone who has a traumatic brain injury?

  • Use open, nonjudgmental, and supportive statements.
    • “I imagine how difficult…”
    • “It must be scary sometimes!”
    • “It’s good to see you!”
  • Give genuine and sincere “positive feedback” whenever possible
  • Be engaging and encouraging, letting people do what they do well!
  • Focus on successes, no matter how big or small. Repeated failures will erode any person’s morale!
  • Catch the person getting it right by saying things like, “I see you’re here on time!”, “I’m glad you remembered our appointment!”
  • Be aware of the person’s fatigue, exhaustion, and “overload.” Be willing to “take breaks!”

Things to practice in your conversations with someone who has a TBI

  • Be a good listener, even if you don’t understand everything the person is saying. What they’re saying may not all add up or make sense to you.
  • Include the person and their ideas.
  • Be repetitive—It’s not rude or condescending!
    • Give summaries
    • Ask for the person with the traumatic brain injury to give you confirmatory summaries back as to what they understood you saying
    • Elicit reflections of understanding
      • “Are you following me?”
      • “Is this all making sense to you?”
      • “Do you have any questions?”
    • SLOW DOWN the stream of ideas!
    • Discuss things one at a time. Multitasking and juggling ideas may be too much.
    • Simplify your requests by offering 2 choices, not 20.
    • Use both written and verbal communication. Write important things down, or have the person with the traumatic brain injury write it down as you dictate.

The good news is there are so many things you can do to support someone who has a TBI! And, understanding the person’s disability is the first step, as noted in The Independence Center’s first post in this series. Hopefully, you’ve gained some further training in this post and increased your knowledge of disability etiquette! If you want more, check back for the next post in this series, part 3, which will give information on what not to do when supporting and interacting with someone with a traumatic brain injury.

If you, or someone you know, has a TBI, please check out The IC’s calendar of events or contact The Independence Center’s peer support program for more information on The Independence Center’s peer support groups for people with traumatic brain injuries!