Sports Medicine

Return to Learn after Concussion

September 15, 2017

Return to Learn after Concussion

Discussing concussions in the past has focused on when the athlete could return to playing safely, however, recent years have shifted the conversation to how and when the player should return to school, and that makes sense. While athletics are important in many ways, academics are life long tools. Think about it like this—if you sprain your ankle in a volleyball game, should you run the mile in PE class the next day? The task of walking would be difficult, let alone running. The same principle of recovery applies to head injuries. A concussion disrupts the way the brain processes information, so taking that test in history class the next day might be a struggle. Strategies have been developed to help aid student-athletes back to school in a process called Return to Learn.

After a concussion, it might be helpful to have the student stay at home for a day or two if their symptoms are too much for the school environment. Walking in noisy hallways, listening to lectures, watching a PowerPoint of notes, etc. can cause an individual to feel an increase of symptoms such as a headache, dizziness, and nausea among others. Staying away from those simulators in the first day or two post-injury often times reduces the overall recovery time. To help student-athletes return to the classroom, schools have developed Concussion Management Teams (CMTs). The role of the CMT is to aid the student in finding a balance between schoolwork and recovery. The CMT can consist of athletic trainers, school nurses, counselors, administrators, teachers, or other school personnel that may help to manage the health or academics of students.

When a student-athlete returns to school, the CMT should notify all the teachers that have him/her in class of the recent injury. This awareness for teachers is helpful because not only can they modify assignments or classwork, but they can also notice when the student needs a break from the learning environment. Teachers also report any concerns to the CMT. Short-term academic adjustments could include postponing testing, extending due dates for assignments, shortening assignments, or providing notes instead of having the student take notes. What is important is that any accommodations are decided on an individual basis for each student, as no two situations are the same. In most cases, temporary modifications to daily work are sufficient.

Just like delaying activity for a healing sprained ankle, allowing the brain to recover without added stress has proven to benefit student-athletes. When a student has returned to the classroom successfully, then focus will turn to returning the athlete back to sport. The involvement of a CMT in the school setting has professionals of different backgrounds working together to do what is best for students. The process of return to learn and implementation of CMTs has put emphasis on what matters most because in the role of student-athlete, student comes first.

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