U of O
The Center on Brain Injury
Research & Training

Social Challenges Following Brain Injury

students brain injury

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Social deficits are a common and heart-breaking effect of TBI. Social function is tied to specific neurological circuits in the frontal lobes and limbic systems of the brain. The frontal lobes are particularly vulnerable in TBI and are often damaged impacting the injured student’s social function. 

The ability to interact socially includes knowing that other people have thoughts, beliefs, emotions, intentions, and desires. Being able to read other people based on their words, behavior, and facial expressions and adjusting one’s actions based on those readings can be challenging for students with brain injuries . Many students with brain injuries have trouble with one or more of the areas of social competence.Difficulty with even one area can negatively impact a student’s overall social competence. 

Strategies To Help Students With Social Challenges 

It is important to help students overcome their social challenges in a supportive and caring way.

Understand the problem, and help the student’s peers do the sameA child might misread a peer’s teasing gesture as a threat and react aggressively. In cases like this, faulty social perception leads to socially awkward situations. Peers with some understanding of the student’s social challenges and how they can cause problems can help prevent some of the more devastating consequences of social mistakes. Explain to the student’s peers that it is a result of the brain injury, and suggest strategies they can use when awkward situations arise. Most students are willing to help if they know what to do. 

Be clear about how easy it is to make mistakes in social situations. Even the most skilled adult can misread cues and situations. Teach students to double-check their perceptions of social situations. This is especially important for students who also struggle with impulse control. It is easy for impulsive students to misread cues and then react without waiting to notice all the evidence. Making a quick verbal double-check habitual can force them to slow down, hear the answer, and then react.

Example: “You look angry to me, are you?” “I think you’re teasing, am I right?” 

Original content modified from LEARNet, a program of the Brain Injury Association of New York State, and funded by the Developmental Disabilities Planning Council. Used with permission. http://www.projectlearnet.org/index.htm