As youth sports leagues and clubs do a better job of identifying athletes with concussions, schools are having to react with policies that allow injured students to heal.
My Sunday story on youth sports concussions featured Holy Angels sophomore Shannon Wynne, who missed more than one month of school after she was beaned in the head with a soccer ball Sept. 22 and suffered extreme headaches and other concussion symptoms.
Wynne had to shut down all activities -- no homework, no television, nothing that could tax her brain and bring the headaches back. After a month of inactivity, an anxious Wynne felt better and tried to use the long Oct. 20-23 MEA weekend to cram in the homework she missed. The headaches surged back, and it wasn't until Thanksgiving that Wynne was healthy enough to return to school.
Behind this story was a high school that was willing and able to let Wynne stay at home and rest. Holy Angels principal Heidi Foley said the school adopted a new policy for sports concussions and head injuries just this fall. The first step is roughly two days of rest at home.
"We expect them to stay home for the first couple of days following a diagnosis with complete rest, which means no homework, no computer, no television, no going to their afterschool job, no activities," she said. "We sort of feel if you're injured to the point where you can't do academic work, then don’t partake in these other things either."
If students then appear ready to return to school or attempt homework, guidance counselors will often talk with their teachers and restrict their studies to essential lessons for the remainder of the week. While repetition is valuable in understanding calculus, for example, students with head injuries would only be asked to do a couple problems in order to keep their concussion symptoms at bay, Foley said.
In many cases, that one week of rest and classwork restriction is enough. Students then have two weeks in which to catch up on any unexcused schoolwork that they missed. If students such as Wynne continue to struggle with concussion symptoms, though, the school works out further accommodations. For those trying to recover while going to school, elective or PE courses might be dropped so the students could concentrate on core subjects, Foley said.
While Holy Angels had supported concussed students in the past, Foley said the new policy has helped by defining the specific ways that school officials, coaches, teachers and others can play a role. The policy also sets clear responsibilities for the students.
"You’ve got to let your brain rest," Foley said. "That’s pretty hard for a teenager."
Holy Angels' policy was modeled after guidelines published in the October issue of High School Today and proposed by Dr. William Heinz, a sports medicine expert in Portland, Maine. Heinz said the focus after a concussion often centers on when young athletes can return to play, but equal care needs to be given on when they should return to class.
"Too often, student-athletes try to return to class, take tests/quizzes or work on assigned projects before their brain has recovered from their injury," he wrote. "This only delays their healing and their return to function."