Heads Up On Concussions: What Educators Need to Know

It can happen in an instant, from something as simple as a fall or a collision in a recreational setting, to a more significant event such as an automobile crash. These events can cause concussion, a type of traumatic brain injury (TBI) that results when a bump, blow, or jolt to the head causes the brain to move back and forth. Many people report “seeing stars” after such a blow, and may find in the coming hours they have increased dizziness, headache, or a sense of feeling tired and wanting to sleep. Over the years, the rate of TBI-related emergency room visits has increased, particularly among youth and children. Experts at the Center for Disease Control estimate that from 2001-2010, the highest increase were for children age four and under, a rate that was almost double the next highest rate for youth ages 15-24 years old. Recovery times vary, from days to weeks to even years.

In this 2016 TED Talk, former football player turned bioengineer David Camarillo shared his experiences of living with head trauma from concussion and what the future of concussion prevention looks like. As he states, concussions have changed his life. “The word concussion evokes a fear these days more so than it ever has, and I know this personally. I played 10 years of football, was struck in the head thousands of times. And I have to tell you, though, what was much worse than that was a pair of bike accidents I had where I suffered concussions, and I'm still dealing with the effects of the most recent one today as I stand in front of you.”

Unlike a broken bone, which is healed by way of a visible cast or sling, people who are suffering from a concussion don’t look like they are suffering from an injury. It is especially difficult for children, who oftentimes cannot articulate what they are feeling or why, to make the necessary modifications to their lifestyle and school environment while they are going through the healing process. Educators need to know how to identify a concussion in their students, and what steps need to be taken to help a student heal from their injury and return to regular classroom activities.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has a great resource for educators to consider when working with students who have suffered a concussion. They wrote, “school professionals, like
you, will often be challenged with helping return a student to school who may still be experiencing concussion symptoms— symptoms that can result in learning problems and poor academic performance. Knowledge of a concussion’s potential effects on a student, and appropriate management of the return-to-school process, is critical for helping students recover from a concussion.”

One of the key barriers to the concussion recovery process is cognitive exertion, making it critical for resting times to be built in to routines. The CDC notes, “Mental and cognitive exertion requires the brain’s energy, and when the brain’s energy is depleted due to injury, symptoms such as headaches and problems concentrating can worsen.” Cognitive rest means that students need to refrain from activities involving the use of  digital screens, which means big limits on the use of computers, televisions, or mobile devices. Other activities that must be limited include driving and reading. Because these activities define the majority of how children and youth spend their time, it makes resting time extremely difficult to enforce or sustain.

Many schools have developed concussion “return to learn” protocols to help students plan appropriate cognitive rest times into their lives. The Brain Injury Association of America includes, on its website, tips for educators and schools to follow when developing return to learn protocols for students who have suffered concussions. They include the following key points:

  • Assure the student he/she will be OK and their symptoms will reduce soon by following a plan for recovery
  • Following the gradual sequence for return to school makes for a most successful outcome for the student
  • Care providers and all school staff should be involved
  • It is important to continuously communicate with healthcare professionals trained in the management of concussion during the recovery period
  • After sustaining a concussion it is very important to avoid any activity that places the student at risk of sustaining another concussion

We know a lot more today about TBI and concussions than we did when David Camarillo was in school. We have a better understanding of what causes concussion, what impact concussion has on the brain, and what steps need to be taken to help people recover from these significant injuries. As a teacher, it is important for you to recognize the signs of a concussion, as well as the steps that you must take to help children recovery from these types of injuries. 

This article was written originally for MultiBriefs Education


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