Although not true in all cases, many times a brain injury is an invisible injury. Just by looking and even sometimes talking to someone, you may not know about the struggles, pain, embarrassment and unhappiness that can reside in someone that has to work hard just to make it through simple tasks. A brain injury often has no outward signs or symptoms, unless you really pay attention.
Unfortunately for many individuals living with a brain injury, people are often quick to judge - an odd laugh, an inappropriate statement, or an angry outburst can cause the people around them to make comments, send weird looks, and make judgments and assumptions, without even asking why.
Why did this happen? Why did they act that way? Why did they do that?
Instead of why questions, individuals are faced with "what" questions - what is wrong with you? What do you think you are doing? What is your problem?
There is a significant difference between those questions - and the difference is judgment.
Instead of asking why something is happening, it is presumed that the person is bad, wrong or somehow has a problem.
We are fortunate that we have had very few incidents where we have felt judged by something that has happened with Frank. I know for a fact that many of the families that we know across the country have not been so lucky - they have been faced with ridicule, embarrassment, name calling, and intimidation. I know that these moments are not only difficult for the individual with the brain injury to deal with, but the family and friends surrounding that person are just as impacted my these interactions.
Although we have been lucky to be spared many of these moments with Frank, we are not as lucky when it comes to our son. Children with behavioral disorders have an invisible disability as well, and when they "lose it" life comes crashing down on the entire family. Without a visible problem, these kids are immediately judged as bad kids, with bad parents, and the "my child would never" statements start to fly.
This week our kid lost it, in public, in a spectacular moment of complete derailment - and life for him is over. While reeling from what had happened, I stood by trying to get him controlled enough to move forward and get home, and I was hit with the judgment. People that we met this year all of a sudden vanished - no longer part of the group, no longer part of the team, judged for the action, instead of asking why.
I think being a speech therapist has always brought me to a place of understanding - a teenager yelling in Target for me is not immediately a bad kid. Maybe this kid is injured, maybe they have autism, maybe they are developmentally delayed; there are a lot of other things this yelling teenager could be, other than a bad kid.
Unfortunately, many people seem to just head to the place of bad kid, and for the parent that is a very lonely place.
I am grateful that we don't have many of these moments, but the ones we do have leave a lasting impression on others. It makes it hard to keep friends, play sports, and find people and families that understand.
We are very thankful for the friends that have accepted Frank with his injury, and for the friends that understand that a typical looking kid isn't always a typical kid.