Concussion effects on a child’s schoolwork
Concussions can occur outside of sports and there are many implications, beyond returning to practice or a game. One of these is the impact of concussions on students in the classroom.
What is a concussion?
A concussion is a blow to the head that triggers a complex, temporary chemical and cellular reaction in the brain, requiring considerable energy to self-correct. Only a small percentage of concussions involve a loss of consciousness. Concussions certainly occur in sports, but we also see them from falls, playground injuries, car accidents and other sources.
Concussions are diagnosed through a conversation with a health care provider who takes a careful history and looks at symptoms, basic bedside neurological testing and, sometimes, formal testing of the patient’s thinking abilities. In rare cases, a CT scan of the head is also done.
Symptoms of a concussion
Symptoms can include headache, nausea and sometimes vomiting, dizziness, balance issues, visual changes, sensitivity to sound or light, fatigue, sleep changes, irritability and other mood changes and changes in attention and memory. The symptoms tend to be most severe pretty quickly after the injury and improve with time. The recovery begins within hours and most symptoms resolve within a few days. In some cases, symptoms can persist for weeks or even a few months, although it is relatively rare to see symptoms after about a month, in most cases.
The primary treatment for concussion is rest, but in some cases, medications or other therapies may be used on a short term basis to help with symptoms. When it comes to sports-related concussion, there are clear, established criteria on when the athlete should return to play.
Treatment for non-athletes
But what about those who experience a non-sports-related concussion?
Concussions can significantly impact a student in school. It’s important to involve school staff, including the school nurse, school psychologist and guidance counselor after an injury, to help support the student’s recovery.
As mentioned, the primary treatment is graded rest, as the student is recovering, and overstimulation can be a significant issue. School environments can be loud and busy, especially before and after school, during lunch, recess and between class periods. This can overwhelm a concussed student and worsen symptoms. Even within the normal classroom setting, teacher lectures and classwork can be straining to the student, worsening his/her symptoms and slowing recovery.
Right after the injury, when the student is highly symptomatic, time off of school should be considered. In the coming days after the injury, the student can return to school on either a part-time basis, with more of a focus on attending core subjects or for the full day with built in rest periods. They should be given preferential seating, permission to change classes outside of the busy, regular change times and eat lunch in a quiet room away from the cafeteria. Extra time should be allowed for class projects and homework with extended time or excused absences from examinations.
Younger students should be allowed to stay in the classroom or another quiet setting for recess. The student should be excused from physical education and any sports until symptoms fully improve. School staff should be aware of monitoring the student for signs of worsening symptoms and accommodate them, as needed.
It is important to balance the academic requirements of school with appropriate rest to facilitate healing from the concussion. At home, it is essential for parents to monitor the student’s use of video games, texting and social networks to minimize unnecessary stimulation.
To ensure the best and proper recovery, talk to your child’s physician on appropriate steps.
About the Author
Dr. Aaron Malina is a neuropsychologist at Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital in Barrington, and with Northwest Neurology in Lake Barrington and Rolling Meadows.Dr. Malina earned his doctorate from the Illinois Institute of Technology, completed his internship at the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center in Chicago and fellowship in Neuropsychology and Rehabilitation Psychology at the Rehabilitation Institute of Michigan (Detroit Medical Center). Dr. Malina is board certified in Clinical Neuropsychology.