SPRINGFIELD — A brain injury acquired from a trauma or medical condition can disable an individual physically and cognitively, altering who they are to the world with impairments to memory, reasoning, and other brain-based functions such as speech and language.
Rich Johnson is a site manager for one of the residences the Mental Health Assoc. (MHA) has for individuals with acquired brain injury, and the rapport he has developed with each showcases in many ways the theme for March’s Brain Injury Awareness Month, “More Than My Brain Injury.”
Key in developing a relationship with such residents and helping them address their new way of living, he said, is getting to know how they see where they are and what that means to them.
“A lot of the times, when it comes to someone from the outside looking in, it starts with looking at that brain-injury piece, but we go a little bit deeper, looking at the person and the name,” Johnson explained. “We tend to group people, but when we get them on an individual basis, we get a better feel for who they are and what they like to do and where they would ultimately like to go. Once we know that, we can help them navigate and give them the tools to make those better life decisions.”
MHA’s Resource Center also highlights the month’s theme as it provides day programming for individuals, many of them living in MHA’s neighborhood-based group homes, with cognitive and other disabilities from an acquired brain injury or medical condition.
Rhonda Gilbert is the site manager for the center where, Tuesday through Friday, participants get to socialize and take part in activities, like board games and art making, designed to improve mental as well as motor skills. Physical and occupational therapy is also provided.
“It took me time to learn the needs of this population when I began working with them 10 years ago,” Gilbert said. “This person had a regular, everyday life, and then this disability happened one day during the course of their life. It is not what they were born with.”