Program teaches school teachers how to deal with a growing problem
(COLUMBUS, Ohio) – Most high school teachers will tell you that many of their students can be distant, withdrawn or irritable at times. But are those students just being teenagers, or are they showing the symptoms of a serious problem? As students across the country head back to school, some doctors are calling on teachers to know the difference - specifically, when it comes to spotting the signs of a concussion.
“Concussions are a huge problem in kids and we’re seeing more and more of them” said Steven Cuff, MD, a Sports Medicine physician at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. In fact, since 1997 the number of high school students treated for concussions has shot up more than 200%* and nowhere are the consequences felt more than at school.
“They’re not able to concentrate in class and their work may really suffer” said Dr. Cuff. “Somebody that was maybe an A student may all the sudden be getting Cs and Ds on tests and quizzes.”
So Dr. Cuff and the Sports Medicine team at Nationwide Children’s Hospital have launched an extensive awareness program to teach school teachers more about the signs and symptoms of concussions. “It’s a program called Concussions in the Classroom” said Dr. Cuff. “What we want to do is really go into these schools and educate the educators and let them know that this kid suffered an injury and they’re not functioning at their normal level.”
During the program, teachers learn from athletic trainers how to spot the symptoms of concussions, like irritability, sadness, being more emotional than usual, and sensitivity to light. They also learn techniques to help students cope, like giving them more time for assignments and taking them seriously when they complain of drowsiness or headaches.
“Most teachers know how to trouble-shoot problems with kids that are having difficulty learning” Cuff said, “but we want them to know that you can’t treat every concussion the same. While most kids will get better within a week or two, there are plenty of kids who struggle for weeks, months, occasionally even years. It can really change many facets of their lives.”
That’s just what happened to Lucy Gonzalez, a senior at Jerome High School in Dublin, Ohio. “I sat there and honestly tried to read” she said, “but I’d just stare at the paper and I’d end up reading the same sentence five times, and I had no idea that I did that.”
Lucy was suffering from the affects of repeated concussions. An accomplished soccer player, Lucy suffered her first concussion during a game when she was 10 years old. In all, she would suffer six concussions in just over six years, forcing her to give up the game she loved and taking a troubling toll on her performance in school.
“It took me so much longer to read and write” she said. “Then, I would read it back and I was like ‘What was I thinking?‘“
Lucy’s parents met with her teachers to let them know her diagnosis and to come up with a plan to help her balance her symptoms with her workload. Knowing what she’s dealing with, Lucy’s teachers are now more likely to let her to rest in class, if needed, and may give her extra time to do assignments. She may also be allowed to sit at the front of the class to cut down on noise and distractions. “It’s extremely beneficial” Lucy says.
If your child suffers a concussion, Dr. Cuff, also a faculty member at The Ohio State University College of Medicine, suggests you let their school know immediately. And, if possible, meet with counselors and teachers to develop a plan to help them heal.
“The vast majority of concussions will get better within a week or two” Cuff said, “but in kids they seem to last a little bit longer, likely because their brains are still developing.
Other tips to consider if your child suffers a concussion:
-Talk to their teachers and make sure to get assignments in advance. Often a child’s physician may recommend half-day attendance or absence from school.
-At home, your child should avoid extensive computer use, texting, video games, television, loud music and listening to music through headphones.
-Do not allow your child to participate in sports or physical activities, including gym class, until cleared by their physician.
-Remember, the key to a speedy recovery is both physical and mental rest.
*Emergency Department Visits for Concussions in Young Child Athletes, Pediatrics, Volume 126, Number 3, September 2010. Retrieved from: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/126/3/e550.full