Managing Your Symptoms in School

Key Points:

  • It is safe to be back at school while you are recovering from your concussion.
  • Try different strategies for managing your symptoms while at school, including “brain breaks”.

Managing Your Symptoms in the School Environment

How will you participate in school at a level that does not make your symptoms worse?

It is safe to be at school while you are still recovering from your concussion, but your ability to manage your symptoms while in school must be your number one priority. This means that you might have to do things differently than before.

The strategies you will learn here will make a big difference in your recovery. You’ve got this!

How to attend school when:

You feel tired, have a headache or experience sensitivity to light or noises.

Physical symptoms resulting from your concussion might make it hard for you to get through a whole class or even a whole day in school. You might also find it hard to walk through the noisy hallways, read/take notes, pay attention, and/or keep up with your classmates. Try to figure out what makes your physical symptoms worse, then reduce your exposure to these triggers.

Try the following strategies:

Re: Sleep disturbance

  • Consider when it is your best time to be in school and make arrangements with your school team for either a late start or shortened day in school
  • Take frequent rest breaks (as needed or preplanned)

Re: Headaches

  • Take a “brain break” before your headache gets worse
  • Carry a water bottle around with you in school, or keep one at your desk, so that you can stay hydrated throughout the day
  • Go to a quiet space in the school, when needed

Re: Noise sensitivity

  • Temporarily avoid noisier classes (eg. Music, Woodwork, Auto and Band). When your noise sensitivity improves, you can reintroduce these classes.
  • Use ear buds, or noise cancelling headphones
  • Temporarily avoid school assemblies, pep rallies, and other noisy events
  • Go to a quiet room for recess and lunch, and ask a small group of friends to join you
  • Ask permission to arrive late and/or be dismissed from class 5 minutes early to avoid the crowded hallways

Re: Light sensitivity

  • Decrease your screen brightness when using technology
  • Wear a ball cap and/or sunglasses
  • Sit away from the windows in your classroom (preferably with your back to the windows)

Re: Visual changes

  • Enlarge text size while using technology
  • Ask your teacher for copies of class notes, or photocopy your friend’s notes
It’s hard to concentrate, hard to remember, or hard to learn new things.

You may notice some changes in your thinking skills, such as having a harder time staying focused, having a harder time understanding and remembering information you learned, or feeling “foggy”.

These changes can be frustrating, especially when learning used to come easy to you and now you must work harder and longer to achieve the same outcome. This is normal and temporary, and these symptoms are expected to improve and resolve as you recover from your concussion.

These symptoms can be especially worrisome because they can impact your performance and grades.

Try the following strategies:

Re: Attention/concentration

  • Go to a quiet space when completing school work
  • Working on only one task at a time
  • Work for short chunks of time and take breaks often
  • Incorporate short movement breaks throughout your day
  • Minimize distractions during periods of concentration. Try turning off the music and/or tv, and keep your cell phone on silent and in another room while you’re completing your task.

Re: Memory

  • Write down your tasks and to-dos. Try using a calendar, agenda, or smartphone to organize and track important information, and make it a habit to look at and input important tasks every day.
  • Set an alarm for reminders
  • Review your notes often and write down information in your own words
  • Try “memory strategies” to support new learning. See Study Strategies for ideas

Ask your school point person for testing accommodations while you are recovering from concussion.

Re: Speed of Processing Information

  • Prioritize your time and energy to complete important school work and tasks
  • Take advantage of extra support offered at school (eg. FLEX time, learning support, peer tutoring)
  • Seek additional support outside of school, such as tutoring

Set realistic goals throughout the week for completing tasks based on what you are able to do. Do not leave everything for later - you don’t want to find yourself at the end of the term with a huge backlog of work that needs to be completed. This will lead to frustration and anxiety - which is not helpful for your recovery.

You are feeling sad, stressed, or worried.

It is quite normal to feel down or irritable after a concussion. The injury itself causes symptoms, but also a lot of disruptions to your life, such as: time off from school, restrictions in sports, and limitations with friends. The good news is that you can work through these feelings with help from family, teachers, counsellors and friends.

Try the following strategies:

  • Take breaks throughout the day
  • Find something to look forward to while at school, such as a quiet lunch with a friend, or a short walk
  • Have a weekly check in with your school counsellor to talk about how you’re doing
  • Stick to a routine and remember to incorporate some fun into the week
  • Talk to someone you trust like a parent, friend, or counsellor

Stay socially connected. See Social Connections and Meaningful Activities for more information.

Take a Brain Break

Taking “brain breaks📝To take a short break from what you are currently doing, and do something that “resets” the brain or makes you feel better.” throughout the school day will help limit your symptoms and prevent flare ups, so that you don’t have to miss school. It is helpful to stop your activity, and leave your class to take a break before your symptoms get worse.

Try these ideas during your break:

  • Go for a short walk
  • Get fresh air
  • Get a drink of water
  • Try some relaxation exercises

5-10 minutes should be enough time for a “brain break”. When your “brain break” is over, you can return to your class. As you recover, you will need fewer, and shorter, breaks throughout the day.

See Self-Manager: Brain Breaks for more information.

Online Learning Considerations

Using technology for completing school work after your concussion, will require special consideration.

Try the following strategies:

  • Use a device with a large screen (such a desktop computer instead of smartphone) to reduce eye strain
  • Set up a consistent daily school/academic schedule
  • Use blue light filtering glasses, dim screen brightness, and/or use a night screen program
  • Take frequent eye breaks from the screen and frequent brain breaks throughout the day
  • Record your online session (if the platform allows) and review the lesson as needed
  • Turn off the camera (keep audio) and take vision breaks as needed
  • Familiarize yourself with, and use, accessibility features such as text enlargement, text to speech, or immersive reader
  • Access online tutoring support as needed
  • Take movement breaks as needed.

Click to view and download this Tip Sheet for Home Learning [PDF].

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