Student Achievement

Gradual Return to Academics Urged for Concussed Student-Athletes

By Bryan Toporek — October 27, 2013 3 min read
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After sustaining a concussion, a student-athlete may need to be eased back into his or her normal academic routine, suggests a new clinical report from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The report, released Sunday at the AAP National Conference & Exhibition, examines how a concussion can affect the learning ability of a student-athlete. By doing so, the AAP hopes to provide guidance to medical professionals, educators, parents, and student-athletes about proper post-concussion management.

Some of the signs or symptoms of concussions, including sensitivity to light, headaches, difficulty concentrating, and lightheadedness, have clear impacts on a student-athlete’s learning ability, the academy suggests. Forcing a student-athlete to return to his or her normal classroom routine immediately after sustaining a concussion could also delay his or her recovery from the injury, as cognitive rest is considered the best course of action for recovery.

“Students appear physically normal after a concussion, so it may be difficult for teachers and administrators to understand the extent of the child’s injuries and recognize the potential need for academic adjustments,” said Dr. Mark Halstead, a lead author of the report, in a statement. “But we know that children who’ve had a concussion may have trouble learning new material and remembering what they’ve learned, and returning to academics may worsen concussion symptoms.”

After a concussed student-athlete returns to school, the AAP recommends the formation of a multi-disciplinary team to help facilitate his or her recovery from the injury. Ideally, the team would consist of four main components: a “family team” (students, parents, guardians, etc.); a “medical team” (a concussion specialist, neurologist, or school physician); a “school academic team” (teachers, counselors, school nurses, and school administrators); and a “school physical activity team” (coaches, athletic trainers, and physical education teachers).

Together, all of the different stakeholders would track the recovery progression of each concussed student-athlete on a case-by-case basis. Most student-athletes will recover from a concussion within three weeks of sustaining the injury, according to the AAP, but those with the most severe symptoms could be forced to stay home from school entirely.

“Every concussion is unique and symptoms will vary from student to student, so managing a student’s return to the classroom will require an individualized approach,” said Dr. Halstead in a statement. “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.”

The AAP’s report echoes some of the more recent recommendations from major medical groups in regard to youth-athlete concussion management. For instance, the latest consensus statement on concussion in sport, released back in March, also recommends that student-athletes should take a gradual approach to returning to school and social activity after sustaining a concussion.

Additionally, a position statement on concussion in sport released earlier this year by the American Medical Society of Sports Medicine suggested that “students will require cognitive rest and may require academic accommodations such as reduced workload and extended time for tests while recovering from a concussion.”

Return-to-play decisions tend to attract most of the attention when it comes to concussed student-athletes, but as the AAP’s new clinical report reminds us, academics should also come into consideration.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Schooled in Sports blog.