How a Concussion Affects School

As a high school counselor I see all kinds of issues students deal with, from social and emotional health to students with attention difficulties.  One issue that is particularly troubling is concussions.  While concussions in football have garnered attention-grabbing headlines in recent years and even led to a multi-billion dollar settlement between the NFL and its players, it’s a much wider problem than most parents realize.  In fact, according to the Brain Injury Research Institute, it’s estimated that there are 1.6-3.8 million sports-related concussion each year!  I want to focus on what a concussion is and how it adversely impacts your student’s academics.

What is a Concussion?

A concussion is a relatively minor brain injury that affects the brain’s functioning.  It’s usually caused by a hit to the head.  Symptoms include headaches, problems with balance and coordination, and a lack of stamina when using higher-level cognitive functioning.  Symptoms from a first-time concussion usually subside within a couple of weeks.

Who is at Risk?

Most of us think that concussions are related to football or other violent sports, but concussions can actually happen to anyone at any time.  I’ve seen students get concussions in soccer, volleyball, and cheerleading.  I’ve even had one student re-concuss himself by lying down to hard on his pillow in his bed!  Students who play contact sports are more at-risk than others, but concussions are not strictly related to sports.  Interestingly, helmets, particularly in football, can only help a little.  It’s not necessarily the hit to the outside of the head that is the problem; rather, it’s your brain hitting the inside of your skull upon impact that causes the concussion.

Unfortunately for those who suffer from concussions, it is much easier to receive a second concussion, and the effects of a second concussion are usually much worse.  It’s not uncommon for the symptoms of a second concussion to last multiple months.

How Do Concussions Affect Academics?

A study in 2015 by Ransom et. al examined 349 students ages 5 to 18 who sustained a concussion.  The results of the study showed that students currently suffering from concussion symptoms had:

  • Problems sustaining concentration
  • Difficulty taking notes
  • More time completing homework
  • Diminished academic skills

Personally, I’ve seen students with concussions suffer from:

  • Increased absences from school
  • Difficulties regulating emotions
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Decrease in appetite

All of these issues directly affect a student’s ability to manage his academics and maintain the best grades possible.  The frustrating part about a concussion is no one can see the injury, so it’s difficult for others to understand what the person is going through.

How to Overcome a Concussion

Like any injury, it’s only a matter of time until the brain heals.  The severity of the concussion will have a huge impact on how quickly a student recovers and gets back to normal classroom activities.  First and foremost, it is imperative that someone get properly diagnosed by a doctor.  This is the easiest way to ensure proper care.

After getting diagnosed, simple steps to recovery include:  avoiding bright lights (especially video games), resting the brain for periods of time throughout the day (this may mean skipping a class or two), taking extended time completing assignments and tests (temporary accommodations), avoid rigorous physical activity (no sports!), and limiting complex cognitive tasks.

As mentioned above, a second concussion is easier to receive than the first, and the second is usually much more serious.  Make sure your student is fully recovered from a concussion before resuming any sort of physical activity.

If the effects of a concussion linger for longer than a couple of weeks, then extra medical attention should be sought.  In extreme cases, temporary withdrawal from school may be a student’s best move.  Unfortunately I’ve seen this happen, but trying to push through a concussion is a very bad and unproductive decision.  Always err on the side of caution when it comes to the brain!

Because sports are such a large part of the school system, concussions are inevitable.  If your student receives one, just take time to focus on health and don’t be tempted to push through it.