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About Brain Injury
by Gwyn Leder
I grew up in a middle-class, college educated family. I was a fairly healthy and normal baby and child. The first five years of my life were fairly normal. The only notable three things of concern during those first few years were a lack of oxygen when I was born, an underdeveloped nervous system and a fall off a slide when I was about 3 years old. My mother took me to the hopsital after the fall, and x-rays showed nothing to be wrong with me. I was unconcious for only a few minutes. The only other injury to my head was a fall off a horse in 1970. I was unconcious for a few minutes again, went to the doctor and again, nothing was found to be wrong with me.
From about second grade I knew I was somehow different than everyone else. Although I passed each grade, I started having a difficult time in school. I was about an average to slightly below average student, and I knew I was smarter than a lot of my classmates, yet was not getting the grades to prove it. Throughout 12 years of school, I was convinced by others I was lazy and not trying hard enough (and yes, I came down with a good case of depression, which went away and came back again later on in life). I graduated from high school in 1971 (which now makes me 46-sigh), and spent three years at the University of Minnesota before quitting.
I went to work in 1974. I waitressed for a short time, and then let my mother talk me into entering the wonderful world of secretarial and clerical work. Between 1975 and 1984 I was either fired or forced to quit more jobs than I care to think about (I think I totaled 35 jobs in all since starting work in 1970). I was unemployed for about 1 year between July 1982 and July 1983. In June, 1984, I was fired from one more job and that was a turning point in my life. I got another job within 3 weeks, but I also decided to go to Jewish Vocational Services for Career Counseling and Jewish Family Services for depression.
It was my counselor at Jewish Vocational Services that encouraged me to seek help from the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation. She thought I had possible learning disabilities. At first I was resistant, because I thought that having learning disabilities meant that you had a problem with reading - and reading is something I don't have a problem with. I finally agreed after working at a temp job in which I heard about another person whose problems where exactly like mine, and she was a graduate of a local private college.
I have been a client of Rehabilitation Services three times. All times the testing came out the same - the names change slightly. The first time, my counselor said I had Minimal Brain Disfunction, the second time I didnt get testing, and this third time around, my new counselor said the diagnosis was Organic Brain Syndrome, or brain damage. Basically, the right frontal lobe of my brain is very slightly damaged. The three areas in which I have the most trouble are hand-eye coordination, spatial relationships, and short term memory. Since I was never in an "accident" that caused damage to my brain, I never went through some sort of rehabilitation program. I have had to learn coping skills all on my own.
I worked full time for an answering service (clerical job) for three years (March 3, 2000 was my 3 year anniversary) . We educated each other. They taught me to have patience and I taught them that you can be disabled and have an invisable disability. For what its worth, this job was a real misfit as far the brain injury goes, but I became one of their best phone reps (I am so proud of that one). And I am working on my B.A. in Political Science at Metropolitan State University (a degree I started on in 1971— 29 years in the works).
My current rehabilitation counselor has helped me go to school to be a Legal Assistant (I graduated on the Dean's List). I started in May 2000 as a Receptionist/Legal Assistant in a small firm in downtown Minneapolis. Unfortunately, in July my position was eliminated and they were unable to find me another job with the company. Back to square one.
The toughest part about my disability is that I look and act so "normal" that people (especially at work) do not understand that I am disabled. I have always need to remind my co-workers that I need extra help (even though my rehab counselor has tried to explain this to them).