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Brain Injury and Going Back to Work

Brain injuries do not just happen to football players and members of the military serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Traumatic brain injury is much more widespread than was thought even a few years ago. It also affects victims far longer and more insidiously than was previously believed.

People with brain injuries struggle to return to work or obtain accommodations from employers. What makes things worse is that people who have suffered what they believe to be minor bumps on the head don't always seek medical treatment, not realizing the seriousness of their symptoms.

People often believe - falsely - that if they did not lose consciousness after a blow to the head, they will be fine. Unfortunately, that isn't really the case. But because people believe this, they only start paying attention when bad things begin to happen, such as being fired from their jobs, failing at school or losing a loved one who did not understand what was happening. And even then, they often do not connect what's happening to minor car accident, slip and fall or work injury.

And even when they get a diagnosis, many people don't want to ask for accommodation on the job. They don't want the stigma. And employers are often surprisingly unsympathetic even to requests for minor and temporary schedule adjustments.

Part of the problem is that brain injuries are hidden. This occasionally makes HR departments suspicious and less inclined to accept requests for accommodation at face value, even when physicians get involved.

Brain injured people have lower incomes and are more likely to be unemployed, possibly because they sometimes don't fight back. Even if they have a diagnosis that explains their smaller attention span and decline in abilities they once possessed, they don't always try to figure out how a different schedule or different work assignments might make it possible for them to continue working.

Source: WBEZ91.5, "Returning to work after a brain injury," Nov. 25, 2013.