A Psychologist’s Reflections on Brain Injury Survivors: They are our Teachers.


One of the special attributes that many people with brain injury (children as well as adults) have is their positive adjustment. Having a brain injury changes everything from the way you walk and talk, to all your life plans. Still, brain injury survivors move on.

I’ve known hundreds of people who have survived a brain injury, and most have developed a joy for life. Very few express despair. Tough moments happen throughout a lifetime of recovery, and life will never be the same, but, as one young man in our school says, “Keep moving forward.” It’s his special mantra, a form of “self-talk,” except he says it aloud. “Keep moving forward,” he says when things are upsetting, are not right, or he made a mistake. “Keep moving forward.”

And then there is another young guy who suffered a series of strokes and secondary injuries in childhood. At first, he struggled to accept using a walker. With some gentle persistence and a lot of patience, he gave it a try, got quite good, and then graduated to some supported steps. He’s quite proud of his progress. But even before that form of recovery, he let us all see his amazing sense of humor, his jokes, and his intelligent wit. He loves puns and wordplay, and he shares them with a beautiful smile. Lots of injury, lots of struggles, but lots of resilience too.

It takes time to make an adjustment like this. It requires an optimistic team and gentle persistence. But when it happens, it’s remarkable and inspiring.

These children are our teachers. Learning from brain injury survivors is one of the best perks of the job. They teach us that life goes on and it is always possible to find joy. Keep moving forward. I hope I can live those lessons as well as they do.

Joseph N. Ricciardi, Psy.D., BCBA-D, CBIST, is the Senior Clinical Director at the
May Center for Brain Injury and Neurobehavioral Disorders in Norwood, Mass.