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 Students with Concussions

'Return to Learn' Program Helps Students with Concussions
Students with concussions are told to rest and avoid many of their normal, enjoyable activities. These temporary lifestyle changes can be difficult for girls, says Roberta Longpré, Branksome Hall's Head, Student Services.

Students with concussions are told to rest and avoid many of their normal, enjoyable activities. These temporary lifestyle changes can be difficult for girls, says Roberta Longpré, Branksome Hall's Head, Student Services.

After sustaining a concussion, students need a stepped approach to return to activities such as sports, studying and attending classes. To aid students in their transition back to school, Branksome has developed a five-step program called "Return to Learn," which takes students from complete rest to full integration in classroom activities.

The program is based on the "Return to Play" program, established by the national non-profit organization ThinkFirst to help those with concussions manage their symptoms and return to normal life.

Five Steps
The five steps of Branksome's Return to Learn program begin with complete rest, where school work is limited and a student must refrain from all physical activity. Steps Two to Four see a student returning to school partial days, increasing to full days. Each student's workload is monitored and her Learning Strategies teacher collaborates with her other teachers to create a feasible schedule that fits with recovery.

The final step is considered full integration, when a student can resume a full workload and begin playing sports in moderation at the discretion of her parents and doctor. If a student begins to experience reoccurring symptoms as she moves through the five steps, she will often need to go back to the previous step to allow for a safer recovery.

Learning Strategies teachers Jane-Anne Tateishi or Lauren Caldwell meet individually with students who have suffered concussions to help them manage their symptoms, recovery and school work.

"After a student has been diagnosed with a concussion, when ready, the student or her parents will contact our school nurse to plan her return to school," says Mrs. Tateishi. "In order to return, a doctor's note is submitted, stating it is safe to do so. On the scheduled return to school day, the student and her parents first meet with the school nurse, a Learning Strategies teacher and the student's guidance counsellor. The purpose of this meeting is to review the Return to Learn guidelines with the student and her family."

Patience and Support Needed
Mrs. Tateishi knows how important patience and support can be, as there are many unknown factors while recovering from a concussion. Each girl's symptoms and recovery path are unique to her, so flexibility in managing her Return to Learn is key.

"Students want to go back to class, so we have to monitor to help them decide if they are ready," she says. "They often are anxious about falling behind and need a lot of reassurance that they will have plenty of time to catch up when they are well."

Mrs. Tateishi also knows that recovering from a concussion doesn't involve just physical healing. "Recovery is an emotional process," she says. "Many of our students have suffered sports-related concussions and are athletes who are involved with many extra-curricular activities. Having to temporarily withdraw from activities they enjoy can be very hard on our students. During recovery, we have to teach them to take it one day at a time and to give themselves permission to rest."

The Learning Strategies teacher meets daily with the student during her Return to Learn in order to get to know the student and guide her through the recovery process. Learning Strategies uses a Symptom Rating Scale where a student can self-assess the severity of her symptoms such as headaches, dizziness and light sensitivity on a scale from 1 to 10. This helps encourage direct feedback from the student and assists with monitoring improvement and knowing if symptoms have been exacerbated. "This is a key part of the program, because if the symptoms become exacerbated, then the student is most likely doing too much and needs to slow down," says Mrs. Tateishi.

Mrs. Tateishi adds that compassion and understanding are important during the recovery process.

"The student and her family have experienced a trauma. The Student Services team works to support both the student and her family directly," she says. "I feel fortunate to be able to help students during this challenging time and I am inspired by the incredible strength and determination they apply to their recovery."

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