Navigating the Return to School After Concussion

Today’s blog is written by Jami Stelman Uretsky, the mother of Madeline Uretsky, an Ambassador Speaker for BIA-MA who is still recovering from a concussion she suffered in October 2011. Jami is an active participant in the brain injury and concussion conversation and provides concussion information and support for caregivers and parents on her Facebook and Twitter pages. To contact Jami, e-mail concussionmom@gmail.com.

While much focus is paid to student athletes returning to their sports, the difficulties encountered in returning to the classroom are also significant, yet sometimes ignored. Oftentimes, a student will return to his or her schoolwork while still experiencing concussion symptoms, thereby making schoolwork and simply being in school quite difficult.

Things that would normally go unnoticed become exacerbated when suffering from a concussion. For example, the commotion before school, the bell ringing, crowded hallways, locker doors slamming shut, walking on a hard floor and up stairs, sitting in a classroom with bright sunlight and fluorescent lighting, carrying a heavy backpack, focusing in a classroom while other students are talking, seeing a crowd of people with brightly colored clothing, and a noisy lunchroom are just some of the things encountered daily at school that can increase both symptoms and stress.

Oftentimes, after a concussion, the brain is altered and a student may have new learning issues that need to be addressed, as well as a lack of confidence in his or her ability due to the nature of the injury. The student may also stress over the work that he or she has missed and must make up. It is imperative for schools to be accommodating and cognizant of these issues so that students can return with some level of confidence that they will be successful.

Specific accommodations can include but are not limited to:
1. Untimed test taking
2. Taking tests outside of the classroom in a quiet space
3. Question prompters to help with memory issues
4. Breaking up long tests into smaller parts
5. Making up only essential pieces of work as opposed to all homework
6. Offering the student extra time to complete assignments
7. Offering the student the opportunity to leave the classroom to go to the nurse to manage increasing symptoms
8. Recording lectures and/or use of a laptop or tablet for note-taking
9. Allowing the student to leave the classroom before the bell rings to avoid the hallway commotion
10. Offering the student choice of seating in the classroom
11. Allowing non-essential classes to be used as study periods or tutoring time
12. Making class participation optional during the recovery period

The school nurse, guidance counselor, teachers and administration must be made aware of each individual situation upon the student’s return. The involvement of the school is imperative to a student’s success because while experiencing symptoms, it is difficult to advocate for oneself. Notes from doctors can help to streamline this transition because oftentimes, they will mandate how many classes should be taken, as well as test taking and homework restrictions. If a student has been absent for a period of time, and there is a lot of work to be made up, guidance should be the central point of communication, rather than a student having to deal with each teacher individually. The guidance counselor and administration can then determine the flow of work, which will help to reduce the stress level of the student, and keep the workload manageable.

These are just some of the accommodations and guidelines that will contribute to a student’s success upon their return to school from a brain injury.

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