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Does The Term "Cultural Diversity" Apply In Brain Injury? - March 29, 2013


By: David Demarest, Ph.D.

Clinical Neuropsychologist at On With Life

Yes, but not just in the way that you might think!  We work with persons and their families in rehabilitation who come from various minority ethnic groups, races, and religious backgrounds. It is also worth considering that when individuals experience a significant brain injury it can affect their language skills – both understanding others and expressing their own thoughts and feelings. Their personalities can change, and their “social customs” and typical ways of behaving can change. Sometimes all of these things change dramatically! It can be argued that brain injury changes people enough that they now have a different kind of “culture.” Consequently, our approach to and interactions with persons with brain injury need to be re-conceptualized to help them relearn social customs to be successful in their world again. 

The changes in behavior and thinking/cognition that commonly occur with a significant brain injury can cause survivors to be “culturally diverse” from how they were before, and from the mainstream.  

So what does this mean for rehabilitation of the person with a significant brain injury?  It means that they may need to be “reacculturated” into the ways of healthy thinking and acting again, so that they can work back into society in a socially acceptable manner.  Perhaps the most important real-life implication of seeing persons with brain injury as “culturally diverse” is that we learn to work with them in some senses, as we would work with person from a different ethnic, language, or racial background.  We meet them “where they’re at” without expectations that they behave, think, speak and communicate as they did before.  

We realize that interacting with someone who may be considered culturally different takes patience on both sides! It is our job to learn their “new language,” with all its intricacies and differences by trying new ways of communicating, using gestures, words, actions, visual material, etc.

It is also important to recognize that the diversity with which persons with brain injury may present is not always something that needs to be targeted for change. Difference or diversity in and of itself can be a wonderful thing providing richness in interactions and acceptance of other human beings! When we accept diversities in communication, functional skills, interests and personalities, we all benefit as human beings.