Concussions: How Much Do Teachers and Staff Know? Apparently, Not Enough!
The start of the school year is just around the corner. My 16-year-old, Luke, is an athlete who suffered two concussions playing football last year, and I’m nervous—not about him doing sports, but over the lack of knowledge about traumatic brain injuries among the administration, teachers and school staff. Coaches, trainers and parents of athletes know the signs and symptoms. When Luke returned to practice after the first concussion, it was his coach who suspected—correctly—that he had suffered a second one. Luke had to pass physical and cognitive tests before even being allowed to begin the return-to-play protocol, a series of guidelines for players to ease back into the game and make sure the brain has healed. But this same level of care was not given to Luke in the classroom. I spent countless hours on the phone, sent emails, demanded and attended meetings with everyone and anyone who had anything to do with his school day. I was constantly amazed at the complete ignorance of the needs of post-concussive students not only from teachers and administrators, but nurses and even the school psychiatrist. I understand that when a student is taking a rigorous schedule of AP and honors classes teachers expect a high level of learning skills and self-discipline. Luke did not lose these abilities; he just needed certain accommodations. I was finally able to get these under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which provides them for students with permanent or temporary physical or mental impairments. However, many of his teachers felt the accommodations allowed under 504 were optional. As one administrator said to me, “When I talk to him, he seems fine.” When a teacher called to say she was concerned Luke was not going to make the due date for a research paper, I asked if she was talking about the class due date or Luke’s due date. (One of his accommodations is extended time.) She said he had plenty of time and did not need the extra time on this assignment. I reminded her that the law said he did. As fall comes back around I am prepared for all the media stories about the role coaches, trainers and parents play in preventing and treating concussion. I applaud those efforts. But I think it is time to educate the administrators and teachers about the long-term effects of concussions and how they impact a student’s ability to learn. Even after I explained my son’s condition to everyone involved in his education they still pushed him to try harder, when trying harder was making his condition worse. We have a return-to-play protocol to get kids back on the field. Now we need a classroom protocol. I asked a concussion specialist at Children’s Hospital about this. He said there are too many people and too much politics to come to an agreement. That makes me sad. I thank God every day that I had the luxury and the ability to devote the entire last year to getting Luke healthy. I pray for the kids whose parents don’t. Becky Patton Logan, author of The Retired Housewives’ Guides, is a mom of two in Olney, Maryland.