A recent AAP report based on expert opinion, “Returning to Learning Following a Concussion,” offers new guidance for pediatricians caring for children with concussions on how to gradually transition students back to academics after a concussion.
“Students may have problems in particular areas, like how quickly they work, if they can pay attention, and if they can stay organized,” said Dalin Pulsipher, PhD, a pediatric neuropsychologist at Akron Children’s Hospital. “Returning right away can result in increased symptoms, stress and anxiety, which can prolong recovery.”
Research has shown that a school-age child normally recovers from a concussion within 3 weeks. Depending on the severity of symptoms, the gradual transition back to school will vary with every child and injury.
The AAP suggests a symptom checklist can help evaluate a child’s symptoms and their severity to determine an appropriate return-to-learn schedule.
The organization also recommends a collaborative team approach to help a student recover. The team should consist of the child’s pediatrician, family members and school officials who are responsible for the child’s academic schedule and physical activity, such as teachers, guidance counselors and coaches.
“From the medical perspective, that team can review the symptoms and severity and make recommendations,” said Dr. Pulsipher. “The school should try to accommodate the symptoms and how they interfere with keeping up, but also bring information back as to what’s working well or which symptoms are getting worse.”
Though there are no set guidelines as to when children should return to academics, Dr. Pulsipher advises parents to begin transitioning students back to school at least part-time, if possible, no more than 5 to 7 days after a concussion. Otherwise, students may feel as if they’re getting too far behind.
“Socialization and returning to routine activities help with recovery,” he said. “We’ve actually seen missing too much of those things result in anxiety and depression. Finding the right balance between transitioning children back to school in a reasonable amount of time, but also being sensitive to their medical and emotional complaints, is key.”