Edelson Blog

Return to Learn: A Student’s Journey Following a Concussion

Jessica Blasik, Ph.D.

Recovery after sustaining a concussion can vary from individual to individual. Addressing the physical, psychological, and learning needs are important components of helping a student return to the classroom following a concussion. While some children recover more quickly than others following a concussion, younger children typically take longer to recover than older children and adults. Individuals who sustain a concussion may recover fully within 24 hours and have no physical, cognitive, emotional, or balance symptoms. Other individuals may take much longer to recover and may have ongoing problems that span more than just one area. 

Because there are high risks for returning to play too soon following a concussion, such as second impact syndrome, there are well-established guidelines for an athlete to return to play, such as the six-step progression and all 50 states have return to play laws in place to protect student-athletes. However, there are fewer guidelines and less known regarding a student’s return to learning following such an injury.

Not only do physical symptoms of headaches, light, and sound sensitivity, and dizziness tend to affect students who have sustained a concussion, so do the cognitive impacts related to difficulties with attention, concentration/focus, and memory. Many individuals may also experience elevated emotional distress following a blow to the head. Returning to a full day of learning may seem unbearable for the injured student. In these cases, a progressive return to learn approach may be beneficial. Instead of a student returning to school full day and being expected to complete all work assigned, a lighter schedule may be helpful initially, with a gradual progression to full days and workloads.

In addition to a shortened day and/or reduced workload, other accommodations to address symptoms may be put in place. These may include but are not limited to, extra time to complete assessments/homework, delaying test-taking until headaches subside, sunglasses for students with light sensitivity, and quiet places for students to go who are experiencing sensitivity to sound. Students may be kept out of physical education classes and choose to not participate in activities that increase the risk of a blow to the head. These accommodations will certainly vary between different students, grade levels, and schools. If your child has sustained a concussion and is struggling to return to their pre-injury learning patterns, you may wish to suggest a team meeting that includes a school psychologist, if possible, to generate appropriate temporary accommodations. 

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