Student athletes need break from classes after concussion

"We focus so much on getting these kids back onto the field that we don't always think about the challenges associated with getting back into the classroom," says Mark Halstead. "In addition to physical rest, children recovering from a concussion also need cognitive rest." (Credit: John McStravick/Flickr)

After suffering a concussion, student athletes may need to take a break from the classroom as well as the field.

In a clinical report presented at the American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference and Exhibition in Orlando, researchers recommend that academic accommodations be made for children and adolescents recovering from concussions.

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“We focus so much on getting these kids back onto the field that we don’t always think about the challenges associated with getting back into the classroom,” says Mark E. Halstead, assistant professor of pediatrics and orthopedics at Washington University School of Medicine and a sports medicine specialist at St. Louis Children’s Hospital.

“In addition to physical rest, children recovering from a concussion also need cognitive rest. They can struggle in school and often have difficulty focusing and concentrating for several days or weeks.”

Research shows that most school-aged children recover from a concussion in about three weeks. But that is only an average.

Many children have symptoms such as headaches, blurred vision, neck pain, or sadness that last longer. Individual children, Halstead says, need to be monitored, and how quickly they return to full participation in the classroom must be tailored to how they feel.

Longer recovery

More research is needed on the effects of cognitive rest as kids with concussions return to learning, but using available tools, teachers, parents, and health professionals can get a good idea of what adjustments in school a child might need in the days and weeks following brain injury.

“Some kids may not be able to handle a full classroom period,” Halstead says. “Or they may need a shortened school day. Others may need rest periods in the school nurse’s office.

“The goal is to keep symptom flare-ups to a minimum and make sure children are not exacerbating symptoms by trying to do too much. Not resting the brain could prolong the length of time it takes to recover fully.”

The clinical report, published in the journal Pediatrics, calls for a collaborative approach in helping students return to the classroom after a concussion. It should include the child’s pediatrician, family members, and school staff responsible for both academics and physical activity.

A checklist could be used to help evaluate what symptoms the student is experiencing and how severe they are. One of the most important things caregivers can do  is to ask recovering children or adolescents how they feel, Halstead says.

“It is impossible to know if they have blurry vision or trouble comprehending what they’re reading. We have to rely on that child or adolescent to tell us.”

Source: Washington University in St. Louis