When children and teenagers get a concussion, they are generally told to rest, both physically and cognitively (brain work like thinking, reasoning, or remembering), for a specified period to help them recover. Healthcare providers, athletic trainers, and coaches are encouraged to follow a set of guidelines before allowing a child or adolescent athlete to return to practice or competition – commonly referred to as “return-to-play” guidelines. The decision on when an athlete can safety return to school following concussion, however, is often based off the child’s own judgement and trial and error.
Unlike the return-to-play process, the return-to-school process is typically not under direct supervision of a healthcare provider. There is often a lack of clear guidance on when children should return to school post-concussion. This often creates uncertainty about how much mental rest is needed before a child or adolescent should begin the return-to-school process post-injury.
A short period of physical and mental rest after a concussion may help facilitate recovery in children and adolescents. There is a critical need for evidence-based guidelines on when, and how, a child should transition from a period of mental rest to the return-to-school process post-concussion.
Academic accommodations for youth following concussion are important to help families navigate the return-to-school process. However, sometimes there is a disconnect between the availability of academic accommodations and the use of these accommodations. It appears that some concussed children and adolescents do not turn in their accommodation requests to relevant school officials, while other concussed youth have teachers who refuse to provide the supports and reasonable academic accommodations required by concussed youth post-injury.
If your child has a concussion, you should ask the healthcare provider managing your child’s concussion to provide clear guidance on when your child can safely return-to-school following their injury. This may mean checking in with them every few days by phone or email with updates on your child’s symptoms.
Parent-child and family-school communication is also essential throughout a child’s recovery from concussion. Parents should maintain open communication with their child, the physician, and school officials throughout their child’s concussion recovery, especially during the gradual reintroduction of both mental and physical activities and school re-entry.
Schools should create a standardized return-to-school policy and procedures. Schools should also train teachers and school officials on how to incorporate academic accommodations into their teaching practice.
Laura Dattner is a research writer in the Center for Injury Research and Policy. With both a health communications and public health background, she works to translate pediatric injury research into meaningful, accurate messages which motivate the public to make positive behavior changes.
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