While caring for patients in the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin Concussion Clinic, I often notice that parents and young athletes don’t realize that a concussion affects injured athletes in all phases of life, not just athletics. While progress has been made in concussion awareness and recognition on the athletic field (although there’s still room for improvement), concussion awareness has lagged far behind in the classroom.
A concussion is a brain injury that requires rest to heal and avoid repeat injury. This means no sports, activity or physical exertion. Until symptoms improve, rest also includes no studying, loud music, texting, computer or video game use, hanging out with friends or even attending classes.
It’s important to remember that a young athlete with a concussion will improve more quickly with rest from physical activities and cognitive activities like schoolwork. Concussions affect everyone differently, so the symptoms and the approach to care for each student will be different too.
You wouldn’t expect a student with a knee injury to perform a timed-running activity in gym class, so you also can’t expect a brain-injured student to perform well at school. Simple things like taking notes while paying attention to the teacher often are too difficult for these kids to tolerate.
It’s impossible to predict when that student will be back to normal, but we do know he or she will improve faster with brain rest and school accommodations. Music, choir, band or even a noisy lunchroom can be overwhelming because of excessive noise. The student should effectively use that time for rest in the nurse’s office, any necessary tutoring or study hall.
Our team of sports medicine specialists suggests that families and students openly communicate with school personnel about difficulties and progress. As students begin to move back to full academics, teachers can help the student prioritize new and make-up work, and help set a realistic timeline for completion of all assignments.
Proper management of a student with a concussion is a partnership. Only with this comprehensive approach to treatment can we take the stress off the injured student and allow them to recover more quickly.
– Kevin Walter, MD, pediatric sports medicine specialist, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin
Dr. Walter is the program director of Pediatric and Adolescent Sports Medicine at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin and assistant professor of Orthopedics at the Medical College of Wisconsin.