What does brain injury ‘awareness’ mean anyway?

By: MARK KONING

June is brain injury awareness month and the fact that a focus is being put on this acquired disability is wonderful! I think it is great to have a time frame where a lifelong injury, such as brain injury, is put forward so that it is a little more prominent in people’s minds. So that we pay a little more attention to the hardships and struggles, the success stories, the services rendered, the caregivers and the survivors. It is a time to listen to and respect one another, a time to discover and learn new things, a time to share and a time to make new and important connections.

photo credit:  Brain Injury Association of Massachusetts Blog
photo credit: Brain Injury Association of Massachusetts Blog

But I think the question is how far beyond the already existing brain injury community does any awareness go?

According to Wikipedia:

Awareness is the ability to perceive, to feel, or to be conscious of events, objects, thoughts, emotions, or sensory patterns. In this level of consciousness, sense data can be confirmed by an observer without necessarily implying understanding. More broadly, it is the state or quality of being aware of something.

And there is the trouble. Do see it? Did you read it? “… [W]ithout necessarily implying understanding.”

When it comes to an issue such as brain injury, just how aware can one be without understanding? The answer, in my opinion, is that you can’t be.

So when I refer to the above ‘community’ I am referring to brain injury survivors, the dedicated caregivers, the service providers, rehab workers, therapists, etc. Unless you participate, unless you have an open mind, unless you ask questions and listen to the answers,  are you truly aware?

Just because you know of brain injury, doesn’t mean you know what brain injury is.

I have lived with a brain injury for many years and I have had people tell me that they understand ABI, but then turn around and question my challenges when it comes to keeping up a quick pace, why I have difficulties retaining certain information, or why I would require certain accommodations.

I am also a caregiver to my mom who recently acquired a brain injury. I recall a time when someone said they knew of her injury yet couldn’t understand why she needed my assistance with communicating.

Awareness is great, but it unfortunately does not mean understanding. In fairness, I suppose brain injury understanding month does not sound, or flow, as well. But that is really what it needs to be – understanding – because awareness doesn’t quite live up to what is trying to be accomplished by having this month dedicated to brain injury.

So I challenge you to ask questions, to listen, to try and empathize and to keep an open mind. Let’s grow together.

Mark’s passion to lend a helping hand, offer advice and give back, has developed into a moral and social responsibility with the goal of sharing, inspiring and growing, for others as well as himself. His experience as a Survivor, Caregiver, Mentor and Writer, has led to his credibility as an ABI Advocate and author of his life’s story, Challenging Barriers & Walking the Path. Follow him on Twitter @Mark_Koning or go to www.markkoning.com.

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