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Going Back to School After a Concussion
A concussion is a brain injury that leads to symptoms such as headache, dizziness, and confusion. Within a few days of your concussion, you will probably be ready return to school. Your parents and school staff will help you make a plan so that you can ease back into school.
When Can I Go Back to School After a Concussion?
You can go back to school when you can tolerate your symptoms for about 30–45 minutes (about the length of a school period) and you're cleared by your health care provider. Staying out of school too long won’t help you get better faster and can make it harder to get back to school. So if your health care provider says it's OK, it’s time to give school a try.
Even if you're cleared for school, you may not be cleared for sports and other activities where you could get another head injury. Already having a concussion and getting another head injury can lead to a condition called second-impact syndrome. Although very rare, second impact syndrome can cause lasting brain damage and even death. So stay out of sports, gym class, and other activities until your symptoms are completely gone and your health care provider says it's safe to return to sports.
How Can a Concussion Affect Me at School?
Having a concussion can affect you at school in a number of ways:
- You might be more tired than usual.
- You may feel irritable, sad, or emotional.
- You might have trouble concentrating, thinking, or making decisions.
- You could have dizzy spells or headaches.
- You might have trouble with coordination and balance.
- You may have trouble learning new concepts or remembering what you've learned.
What Happens When I Go Back to School?
Your parents, health care provider, teachers, principal, the school nurse, speech pathologist, and psychologist are there to support you as you go back to school. If you play a sport at school, the coach and athletic trainer will also be involved. As a team, you will decide on a plan for what you need.
The plan can include:
- starting with a shorter school day
- taking rest breaks
- avoiding activities that need concentration, such as quizzes or tests
- taking fewer classes
- having extra time for assignments, homework, quizzes, and tests
- school-provided class notes/study guides
- making schoolwork up during vacation
- wearing sunglasses due to light sensitivity
If your concussion symptoms continue for more than about 3 weeks or get worse, you may need a more formalized plan like a:
- 504 plan or IEP (individualized education plan) to make sure you get the services you need
- response to intervention protocol (RTI) to make sure you're getting better as expected
Tips for Dealing With a Concussion at School
To help you focus better and keep any problems under control while you're at school, try these tips:
- Sit where you can focus. Choose a desk near the front of the classroom or a spot where you're less likely to be distracted.
- Write down everything you need to remember. Your memory may not be back to normal, so avoid stress by writing down homework assignments or things you need to do.
- Ask if you can record the lesson. If you have trouble listening and writing notes at the same time, find out if you can record what the teacher says with your phone or a voice recorder.
- If you get new symptoms, your symptoms get worse, or they affect learning, take a break. Go to the school nurse so you can lie down and give your brain a rest. Try going back to class after a few minutes of rest.
- Ease back into things. Start by doing one thing at a time and limiting your workload. Then slowly start doing more and being more active as you get better.
What Else Should I Know?
It’s hard to sit out from sports and to struggle with things that used to be easier. But be patient with yourself. Never hide your symptoms or try to “tough it out." This can make your concussions symptoms last longer.
The best way to get back to all the things you love is to follow the health care provider’s recommendations for rest, return to school, and return to sports. Most students are back to all activities within about a month of their concussion.