New guidance released this weekend by the American Academy of Pediatrics says student athletes suffering from concussions should be gradually transitioned back into academics.
Unfortunately, most coaches, parents, and young athletes think concussions are not a big deal and do not take the proper precautions, according to the academy. Most people think youth is a period of indestructibility and thus ignore symptoms that could inhibit a child's physical development both on and off the field.
"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 Mark Halstead, MD, FAAP, a lead author of the clinical report. "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."
The academy said sports-related concussion is a common injury that is likely underreported by pediatric and adolescent athletes. Football has the highest incidence of concussion, but girls have higher concussion rates than boys do in similar sports.
The new guidance can be found in the report, "Returning to Learning Following a Concussion." Halstead made his remarks over the weekend in Orlando at the academy's annual convention.
The best way to avoid a concussion is to avoid sports like football, since recent advances in sporting equipment, techniques, and rules for such games cannot prevent concussions from occurring. Young athletes pose a unique challenge, according to the academy report, because their brains are still developing and could be more susceptible to a concussion's effects.
"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 Halstead.
According to the academy, research has shown that a school-age child usually recovers from a concussion within three weeks. If symptoms are severe, some students may need to stay home from school after a concussion. If symptoms or mild or tolerable, the parent may consider returning him or her to school, perhaps with some adjustments. Students with severe or prolonged symptoms lasting more than three weeks may require formal academic accommodations.
Detailed guidance on returning to sports and physical activities is contained in the 2010 academy clinical report, "Sport-Related Concussion in Children and Adolescents." Because relatively little research has been conducted on how concussion affects students' learning, the academy based its report primarily on expert opinion and adapted it from a concussion management program developed at the Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children, Center for Concussion in Denver.
Information for parents about returning to learning after a concussion is available at HealthyChildren.org.