Concussions were another topic for discussion at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) meetings. While concussions continue to be on the rise and are most commonly seen among athletes involved in contact sports such as football, soccer, cheerleading and lacrosse, much of the literature has focused on when an athlete should return to play. The AAP just published a report now looking at when an athlete should return to academics and school, rather than focusing solely on return to the field.
While a concussion is a closed head injury sustained due to a blow to the head, students appear physically normal. There is not a scan or a physical exam that will diagnose a concussion but rather a constellation of physical symptoms that point to a concussion. Athletes will often complain of headaches, blurred vision, noise and light sensitivity, dizziness and mood changes. These symptoms typically improve within 1-3 weeks after suffering a concussion, but during this time it may be difficult for a student to learn.
While the athlete is concerned about getting back to their sport, another challenge is returning to school and a rigorous course schedule. Therefore, it is important that parents, doctors and coaches understand that kids with concussions may have a hard time concentrating or learning new material. They may also have problems with recall and testing. Returning to full throttle academics may also cause an increase in post-concussion symptoms. Slow and steady may be the best way to get a student back to learning.
It may be necessary to adjust a student’s academic schedule and allow them a gradual transition back to academics, just like has been proposed for return to play. There needs to be collaboration with school, parent and child about how much their schedule should be modified.
Dr. Mark Halstead, lead author of report summed it up well when he stated, “the goal is to minimize disruptions to the student’s life and return the student to school as soon as possible, and as symptoms improve, to increase the student’s social, mental and physical activities.
These guidelines will help pediatricians guide their concussed patients back to school and learning, before heading back to the field.