How to help concussed athletes return to learn
After a concussion it’s common for parents to ask when their child/athlete can return to their sport, but the more important question is when can they return to learn.
They are “student athletes” – “students” first and “athletes” second. If your child cannot function in school and keep up with a full academic load, then they are not ready to go back out onto the playing field.
Concussed students often experience difficulties in the school setting. A concussion disrupts the normal function of the brain affecting the student’s ability to think, concentrate, remember and efficiently process even the basic of concepts. Cognitive difficulties, such as learning new tasks or remembering previously learned material, may pose real challenges in the classroom.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has offered some great guidance as to when students with concussion should return to school. They caution that during the first few days following a concussion your student may be too symptomatic to attend school. Don’t push it. As symptoms become more tolerable and manageable with time, a student should be encouraged to ease back into the school setting. Unfortunately there’s not a standard timeline as to when to do this. You have to judge this based on your child’s individual symptoms.
The Academy’s recommendation is that when your child has lessened or tolerable concussion symptoms for up to 30-45 minutes at a time, they are ready to try returning to the classroom. Socially, students want and need to be at school around their friends feeling a sense of normal routine, but academically their brains may not be able to keep up. Most students will require a gradual return to learn process that will include clearly defined academic accommodations.
It’s very likely that returning to the school environment will aggravate the brain and intensify symptoms. The school environment itself often over-stimulates the brain with exposure to bright lights, technology and noisy common areas. Sometimes simple accommodations like waiting to transition between classes until after the bell rings, or coming into school a few minutes late so not to start the day with a surge of noisy activity can make a big difference for students.
Unfortunately, because most students look physically normal after a concussion, school officials and teachers often fail to recognize the need for academic or environmental adjustments. You will need to advocate for your student. Ask for guidance and written accommodations from your physician to help ease the transition back to the school.
Supporting a child’s recovery from concussion requires a collaborative, team approach between school professionals, health care professionals, parents and the students themselves. It’s important that the school have two teams (academic and physical) working in tandem with your family and medical team. The academic team includes your child’s teachers, counselors, necessary specialists, and administrators. The physical team includes the school nurse, athletic trainers, coaches, PE teacher, school psychologists, and other therapists/specialists that may be needed. The recovery team should work together to craft a unique return to learn plan for your student. It’s imperative that during the time your child is concussed that testing be discussed. Students should not take standardized tests, mid-terms/finals, or college admissions test during this time. These can have long-lasting impact on your student’s academic standing.
Remember, returning to school does NOT mean returning to play. In order to reduce the risk of another brain injury, a student must be removed from all school and club sports, physical education classes, dance classes and all physical play at recess. No student should consider returning to play until they are able to full function symptom-free in the classroom.
You can contact Paige Havens by email: Havensp@bellsouth.net or call 678-938-4279