Traumatic brain injury is not “pretending”, Clementine Ford.

Well, this is one of the most enormous pieces of disability fail I’ve seen in the mainstream media for quite a while; and it comes not from Andrew Bolt and friends, but from someone who calls herself a feminist.

I don’t give a rat’s arse if you think you’re a feminist or a progressive. If you’ve previously hosted a Down Under Feminists Carnival. If you’re a reader here.

If you mock a kid with a disability; if you call the sequelae of traumatic brain injury “pretending”; if you say that parents these days are no good because they won’t kiss a broken skull with blood pouring from the nose and ears as a “boo-boo” and tell the kid to suck it up and go outside to play; I will call you the fuck out.

Today’s AdelaideNow includes this steaming turd of a blog post, about a family awarded $850 000 compensation after their child fell from an unsafe bunk bed and suffered a skull fracture and traumatic brain injury: CLEMENTINE FORD: Bunk beds, broomsticks and bye byes.

Once upon a time, children climbed trees, promptly fell from them and were told to buckle up about it.

Sadly, those days are gone. Children now are bundled home from the hospital, wrapped in cotton wool and kept their for the rest of their formative years. Any scrape or injury that befalls them is elevated to a monumental level of CATASTROPHE! while their parents predictably freak out over the potential long lasting damage such a trauma will cause their little Hilda or Hugo. […]

I fret for the future of our children. At the same time as being more honest about our emotions in modern society, we are teaching them to be precious about EVERYTHING. Not every injury, fall or scrape will cause long lasting emotional trauma, but we are teaching them to pretend it does and consequently believe it.

What we should be doing when things like this happen is give them a cuddle and then tell them to run outside and play to forget about it. I would bet you $850,000 that that’s exactly what they’ll do.

There’s a hefty dose of parent-shaming, which we’ve come to expect from Clementine’s AdelaideNow blog. But I’m more interested in the ableism aspects right now. Three minutes of research on Google News revealed that this child did not have a minor bruise followed by an emotional and psychological breakdown, as this article states. He was picked up by his parents the day after the sleepover with blood coming from his nose and ears, with a skull fracture, with a traumatic brain injury. The injury has caused neurological damage with longstanding sequelae, including cognitive damage and personality/behavioural changes. The boy has been unable to complete high school. That is all we know from the news; no doubt the court has access to a lot more medical details.

Acquired brain injury/Traumatic brain injury is one of the most common yet one of the most overlooked invisible disabilities. It is not ok to talk about people with TBI as though they’re just coddled little woosy-wookums who need to suck it up and stop faking their problems. And when you do that to a child? When you disrespect him and his family like that? NOT COOL. This is hate speech.

Clementine Ford/Audrey Apple, attitudes like yours are one of my major barriers in MY life. You may “fear for the future of our children”. So do I, but for very different reasons; should there be people like you around if my kid ever develops a disability, I fear for him.

And I fear for you. Because odds are you’re going to end up with a disability yourself one day, and then you’ll start finding out what it’s like to deal with people with these attitudes. Having this attitude yourself will hamper your adjustment to your disability, and may make you more prone to developing depression when you realise that you don’t have control over it, and you beat yourself up about that lack of control over and over and over again. Your magical thinking about preventing disability by pretending it isn’t happening might comfort you right now, but it’s exactly that: magical thinking.

It’s not too late to withdraw this article and start educating yourself. Start with the radical notion that people with disabilities are human. A real apology won’t fix the damage done, but if you also do the work, it might help you stop yourself from doing more damage in the future.

Remember that this could be you or your loved one tomorrow.


Read more about acquired brain injury here:

What Is Acquired Brain Injury? at the Brain Injury Association of NSW

Introduction to Traumatic Brain Injury at

Children and Acquired Brain Injury – Fact Sheet at

Traumatic brain injury at Wikipedia (good, well-referenced article)


Note that this thread is NOT about the mechanism of injury, the litigation, or the award. It is about this conception of people with invisible disabilities as “coddled” and “pretending”. This thread is a safe space for people with disabilities.

Categories: Miscellaneous


40 replies

  1. I spent a fair whack of my professional life as a physio working in neurological rehab. The people who refused to believe that someone could have significant brain impairment even though they looked superficially normal was one of the major stresses in the lives of patients and their carers. It happened with some of our elderly stroke cases as well as with our younger TBI cases – if the person didn’t have an obvious physical incapacity many people just refused to accept that they had any real injury at all.
    It’s depressing beyond measure to see the same ignorance in the mainstream press.

  2. I fell off a bunk bed on my head at 9, and (after I was checked out medically and was fine apart from a Phantom of the Opera style graze covering half my face) my parents told me off. This was appropriate because I didn’t have an acquired brain injury. If the boy had suffered these injuries in a car accident would it be more respected because it wasn’t “being precious” or would he be a malingerer soaking up public TAC funds? This article and the LJ warnings debate mean that it’s been a seriously depressing week for invisible disabilities and intersectionality.

  3. It truly boggles me that she could see (if she did) the reports showing he sustained a skull fracture and was bleeding profusely and think this was just a bump on the head.
    In my work, I’ve got cases for people with traumatic brain injury; one of my colleagues has a file that had to be re-opened because it wasn’t until the injured person’s employer pointed out serious personality changes which prompted us to ask his doctor to do some further testing which revealed the injuries.
    I have a rant about the usual reaction to the amount of these sorts of awards (OMGHOWMUCH?!? and the like), but it’s not appropriate for the thread, so I’m just going stick to boggling at the “pretending” and “coddling” language, because really, that’s enough to make me see red.

  4. I’ve never had any contact with anybody with a head injury, but even I know that if there’s blood coming out of somebody’s ear canals after a head injury then it’s “call the ambulance” time! That level of fail in a journalist is utterly horrific.
    My – probably baseless and naieve – hope is that she wanted to rant about the coddling thing and grabbed the first case that she thought fit to add “a human touch” to the article, without doing the proper research on the actual case. But then I’ve been known to be an optimist at times…

  5. I heard about this a few hours ago through Lauredhel’s Twitter feed and I can’t get this out of my mind. It’s just too much.

  6. This is unfathomable for me: I had serious childhood accidents and was evaluated carefully for head injuries with appropriate medical attention and parental thankfulness that I escaped with concussions and it was never suggested that serious alarm and prompt medical care wasn’t called for.
    I am sorry to hear (with my TAB privilege) that it is not shocking to people with invisible disabilities. The text seems to have some kind of magical thinking: reasoning falsely and horribly from “parents should not protect their children from all risks no matter how remote” to “no child [PWD] has ever been hurt or become disabled, they were all just fussing at their parental [caring] enablers.”

  7. Oh, Mary, it is far from news to we PWD, I’m afraid. I was appalled to read about this instance but far from surprised.

  8. Having an invisible disability that causes me to break bones with so much as a sneeze, I grew up being accused of ‘faking it’ when I turned up at school with yet another bandage or cast. Because you know, using crutches and being excluded from activities is FUN! I think my peers were echoing the attitudes of parents indoctrinated in the same thinking as the author of the above article – that disabled or injured people are often just overreacting to normal life incidents.
    Of course my parents couldn’t win – when I was injury free and looked healthy, they were ‘mollycoddling”. When I suffered a break, it was their fault for not protecting me enough. Gah, I too, hope the article’s author never has any firsthand experience of these attitudes.

  9. I had an argument with a professor that basically went like this:
    We were reading a text about medeival Europe, and the author was carefully explaining every attitude he was discussing with sources and footnotes. He then talked about how a lot of people, for various reasons, took to a lifestyle on the road. He described this lifestyle as being dangerous, from work-related injurites, to being attacked by brigands, to just the risks of being in the areas between towns where wild animals could injur you.
    He then went on for a whole paragraph about how these people woud fake being disabled in order to get pity from people in town, with absolutely nothing to back this up.
    I tried to talk to m professor about how dangerous this attitude is – a lot of people assume that anyone who’s using a wheelchair or any other mobility aid when panhandling/begging is faking, and there are incidents every year where people with disabilities are attacked or their mobility-aids grabbed out from under them to “prove” they’re not crippled (as you all know, wheelchair users can never ever walk, or they’re faking).
    She, who is a feminist, a progressive, and otherwise very good, proceeded to explain that people fake being disabled all the time, and thus this article didn’t have to “prove” that assertion.
    … Yeah.

  10. Yes, that’s the constant refrain of the welfare debate in the UK as well. The justification for getting rid of Incapacity Benefit was that “there couldn’t possibly” be that many more incapacitated people than 30 years ago (even though all recipients had jumped through pretty thorough medical exams and investigations in order to qualify). So it has been replaced with something far stricter. PWD with clear and obvious and neatly classifiable conditions will still have some protection, but those with chronic health conditions and invisible disabilities are likely to get chucked straight onto unemployment.
    I was once EVICTED because my landlady thought I was faking my disability for benefits. We’ve recently had months of UK Government Ministers in the media saying they are completely sure people like me are faking it in order to get their welfare “reform” measures through parliament. It’s difficult to describe to someone TAB exactly how that makes you feel.

  11. Would this arsehole like to come and meet my son, brain-injured from the age of three months, tell him his hemiparesis (also known as hemiplegia) is a load of rubbish and he just needs to start using his right arm and leg properly, damn it, like the rest of us because there’s nothing wrong with him?
    Sigh. 😦

  12. Where it’s OBVIOUS there’s a problem ghostlove, they’ll accept that. But expect to be told the condition isn’t actually that severe, it’s just that your boy “isn’t trying hard enough” (TM).

  13. Oh, Ghostlove, and everyone else, I’m so sorry. Especially with the added messages that if your child has a disability, it’s somehow YOUR fault – especially if YOU are mom.
    Gosh, if only you didn’t coddle your child so much, your child would be normal.
    I have issues with Don’s mom, but wow, am I ever aware of the looks and abuse she got for having a kid with a disability – including, of course, that oh-so-common “You’re just over-reacting, the kid looks fine to me” from doctors up until his diagnosis. Not that there were any apologies for the way they treated her.
    Arg. Just… arg. How the hell do we get out from under this stupid stupid mess?

  14. It’s difficult to describe to someone TAB exactly how that makes you feel.
    And if you do, you may find it being cited as evidence that you’re faking, anyway.

  15. What, you mean an “if you were REALLY disabled you wouldn’t be able to knock me to the ground, wrap your hands around my throat and bounce my skull off the pathement repeatedly” kind of thing?

  16. What a jerk. The comments there are pretty awful too.

  17. O/T, but I’m also pretty appalled by this sort of thing
    kept their for the rest of their formative years
    Sorry, but aaargh!
    Back on topic: CF seems to be morphing from one purported topic to another when criticised. Originally it was “children these days are too coddled, plus it’s an insult to pay that much when someone whose relative was killed only got 72,000.” Then it was “OK he really was injured, but it was still too much money, and who is to say the owners of the bunk bed were liable?” Which is a completely different argument. It’s possible to be on opposite sides of the “Were the owners of the bed liable” argument without minimising and mocking the child’s injuries / parents reaction.
    There is nothing more scary for a parent than a head injury. A personality change, where you feel you’ve “lost” the child you had, is a tragedy.
    This is the sort of thing that tempts me to come out with the pabulum “when you’ve got sprogs yourself, you’ll understand”; but comments from intelligent childfree people here and on the Sarah Hanson-Young thread at LP prove that is not the case. You just need to think a bit.

  18. Oh, and this zero-sum way of thinking always gets me. The killed worker had an unfair payout, therefore, to be even fairer, the child should have got less. Huh? Can’t we simply say the worker’s payout was unfair and should have been more? These two cases were not related!

  19. There’s an “if” fauxpology up on the original article now.

  20. I sent a comment and then I got an email saying they were going to publish my email address and if I didn’t want them to I should tell them.

  21. Linda Radfem: That’s if you don’t want your “email to be published”, meaning your message. They don’t publish email addresses as far as I can see.

  22. What? email addresses are never published by any forum for obvious reasons. WTF?

  23. “Please note that your response will be considered for inclusion in the Sunday Mail’s ‘Letter to the Editors’ pages. If you do not want your email to be published, please send an email to Natasha at, including a copy of your original email. ”
    Ah I read it wrong. They probably should say “if you do not want your comment to be published”.

  24. I agree that Clem was wrong to understate the seriousness of the injury in that case, but I have to take issue with this:
    ”I don’t give a rat’s arse if you think you’re a feminist or a progressive.”
    If you “think” you’re a feminist or a progressive? What’s she written that makes you doubt it?

  25. Jeremy: Progressivism includes all people, including people with disabilities. Feminism includes all women, including mothers. Feminism includes people with disabilities, too.
    You might also note that Clementine did not “understate the seriousness of the injury”; she completely denied it, and put it down to coddling and preciousness.

  26. Actual progressives don’t have something invested in mocking people with disabilities, saying they’re pretending, or that a child who was so badly injured there was blood coming of his ears and nose needed a kiss on his boo boo. Actual progressives understand that people with disabities are accused of pretending all the time, and understand how much abuse mothers of children with disabilities get, especially when that disabilites is caused by an accident, and consider that as well.
    Is this thread going to devolve into “please justify to me why people with disabilities would be irritated this?” I hope not – actual progressives would also realize that a lot of discussions about people with disabilities tend to turn into “but I didn’t mean it like that” and “please explain the past 10 years of disability activism to me” and would chose not to derail this thread. They would instead do some reading on the topic, using google to find highly-linked posts if they weren’t up to reading some good books on the subject.

  27. Word, Anna.

  28. Nomnivore – What the fuck? Pointing out that BRAIN DAMAGE isn’t a fucking bump on the head is calling people harpies, now? I don’t know what blog you’re reading, but as a “non-mother” who has no intention of being a mother, I’m calling you the fuck out. Show me where anyone here said women who don’t breastfeed are harpies, and show me one instance of shaming childfree folks about anything other than calling out specific folks for shaming MOTHERS, and I may consider the idea that you’re not completely failcakes at reading comprehension.

  29. nomnivore: If you’re planning to respond to Jennifer, take this to an open thread instead of continuing the derail here.

  30. Hey, Lauredhel, how did you talk a commenter into working in hemiparesis and hemiplegia over here, too?
    What an awful, awful article. I have not read her other articles, so I think the best case scenario has to be that she is an extremely inept researcher and didn’t know he was seriously injured, but I can’t imagine how this could be. Instead it seems to be destructive on many levels. It is hostile and dismissive to people with disabilities, and it is awful advice for parents.
    I am no paranoiac when it comes to my children, but a traumatic head injury? Come on. There are some things you can’t just walk off. There are stories I have heard from friends whose parents doubted their injuries as a child that I think border between neglect and abuse. I was told I was faking and had to walk (hop) on a broken foot all day at school once. My mother was horrified when she picked me up at after care 10 hours later, and didn’t sue the school for some reason. Another friend’s mom told her she was faking breaking both (!!) wrists and tried to make her carry in the groceries. Her father came home and, again, was horrified, and eventually ended up divorcing the crazy mother.
    We don’t need to reinforce these kinds of attitudes while wringing our hands and saying “but think of the children.”

  31. Thank you! For more than two decades, I have been one of the “walking wounded.” For years, it seems, I have tried to make people understand why I do certain things the way I do.
    I suffered a closed head injury as the result of a Motor vehicle accident (MVA) and spent four weeks in a coma, during which time I lost the ability to balance, walk and even talk. Without going into more detail, I basically had to start my life over at the age of 16 at the level of a 2 year-old.
    I recently decided to (try to) be an inspiration — or source of hope — for others who have sustained Traumatic Brain Injuries. It is ludicrous for some in today’s society to think that just because they cannot see an injury, it’s not there. With all the brave men and women who are returning to the States after serving overseas, I thought I have to let people know how their lives may change.
    Poor judgment has plagued me in my recovery. Many instances I did something — without realizing how inappropriate — only to think later, “What the Hell was I thinking when I did that?”
    It’s human nature to assume that when you see a person without a noticeable disability that the person is “normal.” But often I find myself more easily able to empathize with someone who acts out because of my own experiences as a head injury survivor.

  32. Thanks Mark – you are in the same boat as my SIL. (Well, not literally of course) 🙂

  33. Okay, I get disgusted enough when assholes pull the whole “kids are naturally and universally whiny manipulative fakers, so this kid couldn’t possibly really be injured, they’re just doing it for attention” thing when a child breaks a bone or otherwise needs some damn medical attention. When people start in with bullshit about how children with developmental/mental/emotional disorders are just coddled wimpy brats and if their parents would just hit them, or scream at them, or ignore it, like parents did in the good old days, the problems would go away? RAGE. So SERIOUS BRAIN INJURIES causing LASTING DAMAGE are filed under “suck it up you crybaby” too? THERE ARE NO WORDS.

  34. Speaking of privilege, I wonder how much of her outrage with the settlement has to do with the perceived ‘advantage’ of being disabled rather than any misunderstanding about brain injury. You know the one – disability is a free pass to sit on your ass and drink pina coladas at other people’s expense whereas “I” have to slog my guts out every day, in a job I hate just to pay the bills and would be rightly considered a bludger if I didn’t etc. Minimising the significance of the disability is usually an inherent part of this toxic meme (I’m worse off than you but nobody’s throwing money at me).

  35. Joining the conversation late, but: that’s horrific!
    DEM, you may well have hit on something.
    It’s also reflected in comments by Jennifer and Helen above, and it’s probably off-topic to go into detail, but to all the people out there who find large lum-sum payments to people who acquire disabilities “ridiculously large”: that money is “supposed” to cover medical etc expenses FOR THE REST OF THE PERSON’S LIFE.
    It’s not precisely a lottery win.

  36. Good thought Jo. Isn’t it interesting how when someone wins Lotto by chance we all go “Lucky Buggers, wish it was me” but when someone one unluckily aquires a brain injury or disability and gets a payout the response is more often “Bloodsuckers, whingers, bludgers”. Why is someone who buys a ticket and wins more okay by society than someone who is injured in an accident?

  37. [Hoydens – please delete this if it’s strayed too far from topic.]
    I get 5 hours of personal assistance per day, so I can continue to live in the community. (I also get other government supports such as a disability pension and access to the aids and equipment service, but this is just about the 5 hours a day.) It breaks down to 3 hours in the morning which is breakfast-personal care (washing, changing clothes, etc.)-housework-lunch and then 2 hours in the evening which is dinner-housework-dishes. It goes by surprisingly quickly – although 5 hours sounds like a lot, there’s never time for somebody to dash down the street to the supermarket or do things like that. Much organising of resources is required, plus begging family/friends to help.
    Anyway, the cost of this 5 hours a day at government-bargained rates with the personal care agencies (ie: lots less than a private client would pay) is over AU$60,000 per year.
    So if I had been acutely injured and had to pay for this stuff privately, a $600,000 payout would last less than 10 years. For the costs for the rest of my life, I’d be up the creek without a paddle.
    I just wanted to put these “enormous sums of money” into perspective. Disability stuff costs a lot of money.
    And my power wheelchair cost about $10,000, from memory. The government paid for that too, thank heavens, or I wouldn’t have it. But I make it a point to know what things cost. It also needs servicing and replacing of worn out parts about twice a year.

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