Ask Kathy M. Archives
A Collection of Questions and Answers from TBI Advice Expert - Kathy Moeller

Topic: Social-Emotional - Social Skills Deficit and Confusion


Dear Kathy M.,

I'm so excited to be back playing volleyball. I've had a break since November, but a BIG part of my social life is watching and playing sports. I was pretty *sad* during the holidays because I had very little contact with my friends.

Well last night I started back with playing volleyball, but I was having a lot of confusion. I wasn't able to find my position on the court and one of my teammates was getting upset that every rotation he had to get me oriented. My eyes started to water, but I remembered there are appropriate and inappropriate times to cry. This was not a good time. I took an upsetting situation and turned it positive. Instead of crying I thanked him for his support, in turn, he continued to help me through the games.

Since I hadn't been out socially in awhile, my social skills were not up to par, either interrupting people (might lose my thought), only catching parts of the group conversation, and then having to say, "What did you say?" The looks told it all -- kind of a questioning, "why are you so out of it?" I was happy just being with the group. Any ideas for how to cope?


Kathy's Response:

Dear Spike,

I take it you picked your e-mail "handle" from your affection for volleyball. Good choice!

As luck would have it, I am a volleyball player too. And when I wanted to get some exercise after being discharged from rehab, I signed up for a community volleyball league, figuring it would be a piece of cake! Well . . . balance and coordination were easier to overcome than remembering my position after we rotated, so I can relate!


"Disclosure" is a choice someone makes to share with other people that one has had an injury, and what its effects are. Some folks with brain injury choose to "disclose," and some don't. Those of us with "invisible" injuries are often tempted to "pass," as they say (ie., not disclose). Some people disclose in some areas and not in others.

In this setting (volleyball league), I chose to "disclose" to the group ahead of time that I might have some problems because of my brain injury, although I thought the problems would be in the areas of coordination, response time or balance. In a million years, I never thought remembering where to stand when we rotated would be a problem! But that's the one that nailed me (I couldn't do an aerobics class for the longest time, either, because I couldn't follow the movements of the instructor).

The volleyball group was very kind about it (it was a "C" league, so they weren't ruthlessly competitive). Even when I didn't "get it" after the first couple of games, I relied on them to simply coach me. I wonder if sharing my story with them ahead of time helped. I'm curious, Spike, if the player who was annoyed with you, knew you had some difficulties with orientation and memory? If not, this might have helped. It sometimes does.

Now, during the first practice, at one of the breaks I decided to try something (a strategy). I borrowed an ink pen, and wrote out a little "court map," with the positions you are supposed to be in, relative to the net, for each spot. My "map" had a little net on it and everything!

This worked well. When the serve changed, all I had to do was look at my hand and I no longer needed a human coach to tell me where to stand. The funny part was that one of the players said it looked like cheating to her at first, except that she couldn't figure out what rule I had broken, so she let it go!

Social skills and insight

You have outstanding self-awareness and insight, Spike. Knowing that there is a time and place to cry (or scream, or flee, whatever), is half the battle for interacting more "normally' in social settings. Sometimes it's harder after an injury to hold the tears back (or the words), but if you knew you wanted to do it, and were able to, more power to you! Your strategy of thanking the gentleman whom you annoyed, for his help, likely put him at a total loss. How can you get annoyed with someone who is being that nice to you, eh?

You mention that your social skills were not "up to par," citing interrupting people and asking people to repeat themselves. Do you have any idea how much this awareness does for you? By being aware of these things, you are in a position to either compensate for the problem, or work around it in some other way -- something that gives you a real edge.

Now, besides disclosing, which I find helpful in social situations, I also work hard at writing both paper and "mental" Memory Notes, so I don't have to interrupt people. I keep a little clipboard with me at all times (even at the gym), so I can jot down things I need or want to say to people so I can interact in small groups more "normally."

As far as asking people to repeat something I may have missed, this is something that does not bother me. I don't know if it bothers some people and not others because of a person's basic personality, or what. But, perhaps if I give you "permission" to ask others to repeat what they have said, perhaps you will give yourself permission too? Maybe just knowing that it's something others do will help you feel comfortable asking people to repeat important information you don't want to miss.

You are going to be fine!

You asked if I had any ideas for how to cope, given that you were "just happy being with the group." I'm going to suggest that you just keep doing what you're doing -- reaching out and networking with your peers -- stretching by trying new things -- focusing on strategies to try -- all these things are going to keep you going on the path you want to be on. Your insight is already excellent and your confidence will continue to improve! All you need now is enough time and space to practice whatever it is you choose to work on.

You're doing a great job, Spike!

Hope this helps,

Kathy M.

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