Why Do So Few States Have “Return-To-Learn” Laws For Concussed Students

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Return-to-Learn after Concussion

Every single state in America has established some form of “return-to-play” laws intended to protect young athletes who have experienced a concussion. However, most states have failed to set out any guidelines for when a child should return to the classroom after an injury, according to a new report published in today’s online issue of Pediatrics.

The researchers say only eight states have established “return-to-learn” laws which help manage a concussed child’s reintegration into school and academic work.

These findings show that the focus on concussions in athletics may be creating a gap. As the authors say, some children who experience concussions are athletes, but all of them are students.

“Some kids suffer concussions during recreational activities, others are injured in accidents,” said senior researcher Dr. Monica Vavilala. “They’re not all athletes. But they are all students.”

Vavilala is director of the Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center, as well as a professor of pediatrics, anesthesiology, and pain medicine at the University of Washington School of medicine in Seattle.

So-called “return-to-play” laws are important for ensuring that injured children are allowed to heal fully before rejoining the team on the field. But, physical activity is only one aspect of concussion recovery. The path back to mental strain can be just as important.

Dr. Mark Halstead, director of the sports concussion program at Washington University in St. Louis, says it is a misconception that it is unsafe for concussed children to get back to the classroom soon after an injury.

“They don’t need to be sitting quietly in a dark room,” Halstead said. In fact, this can be counterproductive and lead to anxiety about falling behind in school. “We just don’t want them to jump right into a full academic workload.”

Instead, Halstead suggests that every student may have unique needs while recovering from a concussion. Rather than completely removing them from school, you can address these needs and limit participation where necessary.

“One child might have some trouble with academics, another might be bothered by the noise in music class,” he explained.

Halstead co-authored an editorial appearing alongside the study in Pediatrics.

The researchers found that only eight states have created return-to-learn laws: Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New York, Vermont, and Virginia. They also discovered that only two states require concussion education for school – personnel. Unfortunately, these laws target coaches and/or nurses rather than teachers.

“If educators aren’t trained, how will they know what to do?” Vavilala said.

Vavilala advocates for “return-to-learn” legislation, saying state laws could help dedicate resources towards educating and training teachers about concussion management.

While legislation may help prepare educators, both doctors say there are already established strategies for helping kids transition back to school following a concussion.

“I encourage the kids I treat to communicate with their teachers about their symptoms,” Halstead said. “Talk to them before or after class, or email with them. Let them know if you’re having any problems.”

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