BIRRDsong Speakers Panel bringing story to public schools

Listen to this post: 

While I’m highlighting work that peers with brain injury do, let me tell you about a gem here in Portland: BIRRDsong (Brain-injury Information Referral and Resource Development).

BIRRDsong is a non-profit serving the Portland Metro area. It started in 2004 when a handful of brain injury survivors and family members talked about the need to have real peer-driven support. Marih Alyn-Claire and Joan Miller were two of the co-founders I’ve spent a lot of time with. I came into the organization in 2011 and didn’t have the pleasure of getting to know the other co-founders. But I thank them tremendously for their work!

There are lots of support groups for brain injury survivors and peers as well as for family in Portland. We have a group that’s open to anyone and a closed group only for family, friends, and care partners. Both meet at 9:30 am on the 1st Saturday of every month. We also have the only Spanish-language peer support group in the area, Puertas de Esperanza (Doors of Hope).

For more info, visit You can find contact information and our Mission and Vision statements in English and Spanish, local resources, a blog, and a calendar of events in the Portland area.

I really want to also highlight our Speakers Panel. It’s made of peers living with the effects of brain injury. We’ve spoken in public schools a few times and are excited to branch out to more public and private schools, homeschooling groups, PTA meetings, assemblies, and wherever we can share our experiences. Right now, we’re focused on school-aged populations and families. We’ll grow our audiences as our panel grows. While there are a lot of motivational speakers who share their story of surviving brain injury in order to inspire audiences, that’s not our Panel’s work. Our Speakers Panel uses personal story to talk to students, teachers, parents, and the community about brain injury prevention, recognition, and support.

Of course prevention is a huge goal. But you can lecture about prevention until your voice runs out, and life still happens. We talk about recognition because there seems to be a culture of silence around brain injury. For students coming back to school after a severe TBI, sometimes their friends won’t talk to them anymore. I don’t mean they won’t talk about brain injury. I mean some people get abandoned by friends who are too frightened or don’t know how to interact with a changed person. Likewise, mild TBIs are still seen as just “getting your bell rung” by a lot of people. For students who are struggling, they may not want to speak up. Maybe they’re embarrassed that they’re not strong enough to be recovered yet. Or people don’t even make the connection between hits to the head and difficulties in school and social life. And we talk about support because, frankly, life still happens, and people shouldn’t be dropped because they have a hard time. In my own opinion, it’s never enough to only talk about prevention. I feel obligated to let people know that they don’t need to be alone or confused in dealing with brain injury.

Here’s a sweet video created in collaboration with BIRRDsong by one of Professor Enie Vaisburd’s media classes at Pacific University.

Please read about our panel and some of the members by clicking this sentence.

BIRRDsong is here for adults with any level or type of brain injury, family, care partners, friends, people studying to become clinicians, anyone. For school-aged folks across Oregon, CBIRT’s TBI Teams is there for you! CBIRT is the Center on Brain Injury Research and Training at University of Oregon. Teachers can find training and resource materials on their site about recognizing signs of someone with brain injury and strategies for supporting their education and experiences. If you’re in touch with the Oregon TBI Teams, they’ll work with teachers, families, and peers to figure out the best way to support them to participate as fully as possible. Amazing stuff!

We’re looking for more school-aged and young adult members on our Speakers Panel. If you can’t make it to presentations during the school day, we can film your speech and present it on video! Your personal information will be kept confidential, and you can even present anonymously if you prefer. Please contact Fern Wilgus, BIRRDsong Board member at, if you’re interested in joining our Panel! Our goal is to have people on the panel who represent all of the rich diversity of our brain injury community:  cultural diversity as well as diversity of type of brain injury and experiences around it. Join us!