Concussion: Academic Accommodations for Students

Concussion: Academic Accommodations for Students

Getting a concussion can affect more than just a person’s status on their team’s roster or their ability to play a sport or work out. One of the hardest parts about having a concussion is dealing with the toll it plays on a student’s academic life.

Depending on the student’s type of concussion, the environmental triggers associated with it (i.e. reading, doing visual work like math or science, or being in a busy classroom or cafeteria) can have a direct effect on their performance in school. Jonathan French, PsyD, of the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program, explains the importance of addressing these issues through academic accommodations.

Academic accomations for students with concussions

The accommodations are used as a way to aide concussed students in the classroom by allowing them to remain actively engaged while gently exercising their brains until fully recovered. “While rest is important, absolute rest [and thus absence from all obligations like school or sports] is not always absolutely the best,” Dr. French explains. “Tailoring the accommodations to the deficits and areas that are causing difficulties will be most helpful.”

Missing school for a prolonged amount of time is detrimental for the patient, from both an academic and social standpoint. “The goal [for the patient] is to miss as little school as possible,” Dr. French says. However, each concussion is different and thus an individualized treatment plan must be tailored, taking into consideration the type of concussion, environmental triggers, the type of student the patient is, their usual academic performance, and the school’s ability to provide any type of accommodations.

Accommodations can vary based on a number of factors and be put in place for testing, homework and schoolwork, and environmental factors within the classroom. Examples of accommodations for testing and homework/schoolwork can include:

  • Giving extra time during testing
  • Reducing the length of a test, or reformatting projects
  • Testing across multiple sessions
  • Reduce the amount of homework/schoolwork in order to facilitate rest

Dr. French says that teachers and doctors can work together to help the student develop their “threshold;” the limit as to how much work can be done and for long until symptoms are evoked.

Environmental accommodations are designed to help the student thrive at school, where many concussion triggers can lurk. These include:

  • Allowing the student to leave class early to avoid crowded hallways
  • Placing the student in a smaller classroom
  • Restricting extra-curricular activities

Accommodations can fail when the appropriate people, such as teachers, counselors, and the school nurse, are not aware of the student’s concussion and how to approach it. People often don’t recognize the seriousness of a concussion and assume that, because the student looks “fine” then they must be okay, explains Dr. French.

Accommodations also fail when the students themselves either resist accommodations for fear of being “treated differently,” or fail to report their symptoms, and thus suffer through school and activities without receiving proper treatment for their concussion.

“The main goal of academic accommodations is to not let the concussion affect the student’s GPA,” says Dr. French. “By engaging in a dialogue about accommodations with the treating physician and the school, a student can find empowerment in ensuring that they are doing what is best for them to heal while continuing to live their lives as close to normally as possible.

“Academic accommodations are just one more tool that should be utilized in smart and productive concussion treatment.”

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