10 Ways to Accommodate a Traumatic Brain Injury Survivor at Parties
With the holidays, I have been reflecting at how far I have come. There was a time where I had to avoid parties and gatherings because I would be faced with too much “flooding” — fatigue, migraines, aphasia, and much more. My inability to attend parties and gatherings began putting a lot of strain on my relationships. Over time, I noticed that certain accommodations made it so much easier for me at a party. I was then able to attend longer and more frequently. I thought I would share a few tips that really helped me in hopes of helping someone else.
1. Offer to give them a ride.
Many survivors can’t drive — I was one of them for a couple years. It can be hard or pricey to find a way to a party. Not to mention the survivor could experience sensory overload with all the conversations, foods, lights and different surroundings from the party. Even if they can usually drive, it may be harder to see or cognitively function after they leave. Just be prepared or have a plan in place if they need to leave early or aren’t feeling well.
2. Offer them a seat towards the corner or end of the table.
By offering a seat at the end of the table, the survivor can come and go as they need. As I mentioned above, the sensory overload can be extremely overwhelming. Sometimes I felt like my head was going to blow off if I had to process one more thing, and I’m sure a few other survivors can relate. Being able to leave the table to recollect myself has paid off many times.
3. Have a dark quiet room for them to use.
When the survivor comes to your house, show them a space where they can unwind. I have been at a few parties where I had to seek salvation somewhere dark and quiet. If you have a room with a door that shuts it’s even better, so people aren’t walking in on them. I have had a few instances where it was too much and I found myself shedding some tears. It was so awkward if someone walked up, and the last thing I wanted to do is explain myself, or lie and say “I’m fine.”
4. Turn off flashing holiday decor.
A lot of TBI survivors have seizures. Lights that flash can induce seizures. Even if the survivor doesn’t have seizures, the flashing lights can trigger migraine headaches among other things. Low lighting is usually best, but don’t be afraid to ask the survivor if any lighting needs to be adjusted.
5. Leave your judgment at the door.
It is very likely the survivor could already be exhausted before they even arrive. If they aren’t dressed very fancy, or if they forgot to do something, be kind to them. You may not understand everything they are going through. Be courteous; they’ve been through a lot to be here!
6. Don’t give them too many tasks.
Usually my family has potlucks for holiday parties and gatherings. It’s great because everyone can help out, but it isn’t always easy for a survivor to cook. Many times my family stepped up and made the dish I attempted, or bought the paper plates I forgot. There were periods where I felt ashamed or incompetent because I couldn’t complete the task. Everyone was very supportive, but keep in mind other survivors could be feeling this way too.
7. Avoid insulting conversations.
I can’t tell you how many times I have been pinned down with uneducated questions like:
How come you aren’t working yet? Are you ever going to get a job? Do you plan to just sit on the couch all day for the rest of your life? When are you going to get back to “normal?” When are you going to quit milking your injury and move out of mommy and daddy’s house?
I can’t tell you how insulting some of these questions were. First off, brain injury is something you have for life. It doesn’t just go away. Yes, some parts can be recovered and with time I have improved in many areas. There were many times where I was struggling with basics like eating, staying awake, going to the bathroom etc. It took every ounce of energy I had to just show up to an event. I did it to maintain some sort of relationship and to see the very people that spit their venomous words at me. I would always brush it off to avoid confrontation — I mean it is the holidays. But it was very hurtful and brought to light how distant they really had become in my life.
Some helpful questions may be: How have you been feeling lately? I noticed we haven’t talked or seen each other much lately; is there anything I can do to fix that? I’m sure it must be really hard that you can’t work even though you want to. How are you doing with that?
8. Don’t take anything personally.
One of the symptoms of neuro fatigue is to have anger impulses. The brain goes into fight or flight and does what it needs to in order to protect itself. Curse words and hateful things can be said, and the survivor may not have any recollection of saying them. Don’t take anything personally. In fact, take it as a clue that the survivor has been overstimulated and needs to rest and wind down until their brain can come into a more balanced state.
9. Be mindful of service dogs.
Many survivors who have service dogs and need to have them at the party too. Don’t be afraid to go the extra mile and set out a water bowl for the dog. Also, please don’t feed them any table scraps without permission. They go through a lot of training and the survivor depends on them. Be mindful that they are on duty.
10. Ask if the survivor and/or their caregivers need anything.
There are many other things survivors can experience that I haven’t covered, including PTSD, anxiety, short-term memory loss, balance issues, special dietary needs etc. The caretaker is going through a lot because everything is on their plate, and they have a job to take care of someone 24/7 which can be extremely taxing. Take this time of the year to pay it forward and give them a night of relaxing fun.
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Getty image by Shironosov.