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Returning to school after a concussion

Concussions impact each student’s academics differently

Your child or student may need a period of 24-48 hours of cognitive rest.

For 24-48 hours following a concussion, your child may need cognitive rest. After this initial rest period, your child may begin to progress back into school based on their tolerance for mental activity that does not worsen symptoms. 

Cognitive rest involves taking a break from any activities that are mentally stimulating. After injury, the brain must work harder to accomplish tasks. This extra stress on the brain can cause concussion symptoms to worsen. During the initial period of cognitive rest, limit the following:

  • Reading, writing and studying
  • Computer and tablet usage
  • Playing video games, watching TV
  • Texting or using a smartphone
  • Listening to music, audio books and podcasts

Supporting a student recovering from a concussion requires a collaborative approach among those involved with your child's day-to-day life

A personalized plan for each child is key

The timeline for each student to return to academics will be different and should be made on an individual basis by the treating physician.  While most students will not be significantly limited in school after injury, concussions can affect a student’s ability to concentrate as well as learn and perform well in the classroom. Each student will have a personalized plan to return to the classroom to prevent symptoms from getting worse.

Establish a 'Return to Learn' team

It is recommended to establish a collaborative multi-disciplinary team to provide support for a student with a concussion returning to the classroom. Each member of the team has the ability to provide a specialized area of support that a student may need when returning to school. The team may include:

  • Student
  • Physician                               
  • Parent/Guardian(s)
  • Education consultant
  • School counselor
  • Athletic trainer
  • School nurse
  • Speech therapists
  • Sports coaches

How might concussion symptoms affect my child's academics?

Concussions can affect the ability to concentrate, remember and process new material. These difficulties are usually temporary and improve with time. Each student is affected differently following injury, however, common ways concussions may affect a student’s academics include:

  • Becoming tired and mentally fatigued more easily
  • Becoming easily overwhelmed when presented with a lot of new material or multiple tasks
  • Being easily distracted
  • Having trouble completing more than one task at a time
  • Having trouble using smart boards or computers to take notes and complete assignments
  • Taking longer to learn new material and complete assignments or exams
  • Needing more repetition to learn new material
  • Having trouble with multi-tasking (such as listening to the teacher while taking notes)
  • Getting frustrated and/or irritated more easily

How can I help my child return safely to school after a concussion?

Children and teens who return to school after a concussion may need to:

  • Take rest breaks as needed
  • Spend fewer hours at school
  • Be given more time to take tests or complete assignments
  • Receive help with schoolwork
  • Reduce time spent reading, writing, or on the computer

As your child’s symptoms decrease, the extra help or support can be removed gradually.

Communication is key

Be in regular communication with your child’s school regarding injury progress, any accommodations they may need and how they are doing in the classroom.  Identifying issues that may come up with your child’s return to academics in a timely manner will allow the Return to Learn team to make the necessary adjustments to your child’s academic plan in their recovery.

Following a concussion, it is important to you maintain regular communication with the school.

  • Have a contact person at the school, such as a nurse or school counselor, with whom you can share information and updates.
  • Communicate all absences, including doctor’s appointments.
  • If your child’s physician has recommended accommodations for the classroom, communicate those to the school.
  • Give the school a copy of the academic accommodations form that has been completed by the physician.
  • If symptoms come back in the classroom, tell your child to communicate that to their teachers. Share this information with your point of contact with the school as well.

As a teacher or school professional, what should I look for when a student returns to school after this brain injury?

Watch for:

  • Increased problems paying attention or concentrating
  • Increased problems remembering or learning new information
  • Longer time needed to complete tasks or assignments
  • Difficulty organizing tasks
  • Inappropriate or impulsive behavior during class
  • Greater irritability
  • Less ability to cope with stress or being more emotional than usual

It's normal that they might feel frustrated because they can't return to their daily lives right away. Offer them support and encouragement as they work through their emotions.

Additional resources for parents and school professionals:

If you suspect your child or teen has a concussion or brain injury, follow these steps:

If you suspect your child or teen has a concussion or brain injury, follow these steps:

  1. Seek medical attention right away by calling 804-628-4878 or 855-742-4878 (toll-free)
  2. Keep your child out of play
  3. Ask us for written instructions on helping your child return to school. You can give the instructions to your child’s school nurse and teacher(s) and return-to-play instructions to the coach and/or athletic trainer.

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What signs and symptoms will my child have?

What signs and symptoms will my child have?

Concussion symptoms are unique to each individual, but there are common symptoms you should be aware of.

If you believe your child has a traumatic brain injury or concussion, call your child's doctor immediately.

Read common concussion symptoms

Frequently asked questions about brain injuries

We understand as a parent you might have a lot of questions around brain injuries. How do I know how severe the brain injury is? When can my child return to sports? How can I make sure they recover safely?

We answer your top questions here