Concussion care: How to return to school after a concussion safely
When your child sustains a concussion, it can be daunting! You want them to return to school as quickly as possible, while also setting them up for success as they recover. Every child’s concussion recovery is unique and guidance from their doctor or health care provider, in collaboration with the school, will help them return to school safely and effectively.
While this process may seem overwhelming, having a plan and communicating proactively with your child’s medical and academic teams will help ensure recovery stays on track. Here are some ways to go about it.
Communicate with the school immediately that your child has a concussion
After a concussion, the brain isn’t working as efficiently as it usually does. Too much mental activity initially after an injury can overstress the brain, causing it to work harder to accomplish the same tasks as before the concussion. Resting the brain (mental or cognitive rest is the medical term you may hear for this) is recommended for the first 24-48 hours following a concussion. During this initial rest period, it’s important that you contact your child’s school to:
- Discuss the nature of the injury and what your health care provider recommends regarding school attendance, potential academic accommodations and return to physical activity (sports or physical education class). Provide the school a medical note detailing the provider’s recommendations.
- Inquire if your child’s school has a concussion ‘return to learn’ team. If so, work with them to identify a point person, such as a nurse or counselor, to communicate with regarding the injury and recovery.
- Set up a meeting with the ‘return to learn’ point person prior to your child’s return to school. Review the school’s typical return-to-learn process and discuss key contacts and timelines for sharing medical updates and changes to your child’s recovery. Ask about academic support available based on your provider’s recommended accommodations. This is also a good time to find out if there’s any documentation the school may require regarding your child’s potential absences, return to learn recommendations and return to sports recommendations. Many school districts have specific paperwork that will need to be completed by your child’s physician before they can return to the classroom or sport.
Check in with your child to see how they’re progressing
Once your child has returned to the classroom, it’s important to check in with them on a regular basis to see how they’re feeling. Ask them if certain activities are too challenging or if they’re struggling with a specific class. It’s normal for students recovering from concussions to become frustrated, angry, embarrassed or sad because they are having difficulty keeping up with their schoolwork. Checking in on a regular basis will allow you to identify if adjustments need to be made to their academic plan. It is also a time to offer encouragement and support so they may not feel as overwhelmed.
- Regularly check in with your child about how they’re feeling. Ask if their symptoms are improving, getting worse or staying the same. It may be beneficial to have them rank their symptoms on a scale to track their progress. This can also help them identify any academic activities that may be making their symptoms worse. Document the activity that is triggering your child’s symptoms and what symptoms occur. Examples:
- Using a computer: causing eye strain, screen is too bright and increasing headaches after 30 minutes of use
- Reading: dizziness increases during and after trying to read assignments
- Walking in the hallway: loud noise increases headache
- Here is a concussion classroom self-assessment form that may help
- Communicate symptom triggers and how they are affecting your child to the school point person and health care provider. This will help them adjust academic accommodations and supports as necessary.
- Provide any updated medical paperwork to the school regarding changes to the medically recommended academic accommodations.
Continue proactive communication through the concussion recovery process
In addition to regularly checking in with your child, stay in communication with their school. Communicating changes in your child’s recovery progress, new academic accommodations and how your child is doing with homework/assignments is important. Issues that are identified in a timely manner will allow you, your child, your health care provider and the ‘return to learn’ team to adjust the academic plan to optimize recovery.
- Communicate adjustments in your child’s academic plan promptly to the school, including notes from your physician or health care providers.
- Make sure to communicate all absences, including doctors and therapy appointments.
- Regularly check in with the ‘return to learn’ point person to understand how the school is perceiving your child’s progress. Ask about any challenges to recovery or academic success they may have identified and how you can assist at home.
- Check in with your child regarding challenges the school may have identified.
- Communicate to the physician relevant information regarding symptom changes, triggers and how the school has adjusted their academic plan.
As your child’s recovery progresses, and their symptoms decline, academic supports and accommodations will lessen. It’s important to continue to work with your child’s medical and academic teams throughout the course of recovery to make prompt adjustments to their academic plan and promote a successful and timely recovery.
Learn more about concussion care or if you'd like to discuss how we can help your child that has a concussion, give us a call at (804) 628-4878.
By Kassandra Kelly, M.S., LAT, ATC, athletic trainer