Supporting Your Child’s Return to School

Key Points:

  • Your child does not need to be 100% symptom free to return to school.
  • Consider providing your child’s school with a doctor’s note documenting that a concussion injury has occurred.
  • Your child will benefit from your support and advocacy in requesting temporary accommodations while they recover from their concussion.

Is it safe to send my child back to school?

Caregivers are often worried about sending their children back to school following concussion. However, it is safe to do so.

You may find the following information helpful as you continue to support your child’s recovery from their concussion:

Prolonged absences from school following concussion is discouraged.
  • It is reasonable for your child to miss a few days of school following their concussion, however it is important to encourage your child’s return following their initial period of rest.
  • Prolonged rest may delay recovery and lead to school avoidance/refusal.
Your child does not need to be 100% symptom free in order to return to school.
  • Your child’s symptoms should be improving, and they should understand basic symptom management strategies (for example, how to take brain breaks).
  • Your child will likely be off school for the first couple of days, then it will be important to encourage them to return gradually, and in a limited capacity (eg. one class or one hour) to start. As your child recovers, they will be able to increase their attendance and participation in school until they return to their pre-injury school functioning.
Your child’s school team should be made aware of your child’s concussion injury before they return to school.
  • Your child’s school team will be a valuable source of support and information to you and your child during their recovery.
  • Consider providing your child’s school with a medical note confirming a concussion has occurred. This will ensure your child’s initial absences are excused due to medical reasons; this will also initiate your child’s ‘Return to School Plan'. Here's a medical note template [PDF].
  • Check with your child’s school to see if their school or district has a concussion policy/process to address school return and planning following concussion. It is the role and responsibility of the school team to facilitate the appropriate level of school adjustments when your child is ready to return to school. This will be accomplished through a ‘Return to Learn Plan'.
  • Your child’s ‘Return to Learn Plan’ will be shared with your child’s teachers, to ensure expectations are consistent.

Concussion recovery does not always follow a linear trajectory. Some days will be better than others and this is a normal part of recovery. Expect your child to have some setbacks - it is common for adolescents to over do it one day if they’re feeling good, and pay for it the next day - but this does not mean that they are hurting their brain or causing further injury.

Why is my child so tired after school?

When your child returns to school following their concussion, they will have to deal with many different school demands including their studies, the school environment itself, and social interactions with their peers. All these demands will require “brain energy”, which may be challenging during the period of recovery as your child’s brain is also using energy to repair itself.

During the first few weeks following your child’s concussion injury, you will want to encourage them to pace themselves throughout the day (see Pacing), including when they are in school.

The information your child is learning from this website will make a difference in their recovery.

Continue to check in with your child, and support them as they continue to establish new habits, discover what affects their symptoms, and learn how to help themselves feel better.

Caregiver Input into School Planning

Consider discussing the following information when you meet with your child’s school team. This information will be critical in individualizing your child’s ‘Return to Learn Plan📝A plan created by your child's school team, to allow for their safe and successful reintegration back into school following concussion.’:

  • Is there a specific time in which your child begins to experience worsening symptoms, starts to lose focus, and/or becomes fatigued?
  • Is there a time of day in which your child works better (eg. morning vs. afternoon classes)?
  • Are there specific subjects which make your child feel more symptomatic?
  • Is your child experiencing specific environmental challenges which are impacting their symptoms?
  • How is your child managing emotionally at home? School?

Your child’s school team may find the following fillable document helpful, as they create your child’s Return to Learn Plan📝A plan created by your child's school team, to allow for their safe and successful reintegration back into school following concussion. [PDF].

Monitoring Progress

You may be wondering how your child’s school team intends to monitor their progress, when they return to the school environment. The following information may be helpful:

  • Members of your child’s school team will want to meet with your child and communicate with you on a regular basis.
  • It will be important to share information about your child’s functioning in and out of school, as well as new medical information which may become available from your child’s medical providers.
  • Continual assessment of your child’s symptoms and tolerance for school is necessary for adjusting their school plan.
  • Your child’s school team will notify your child’s teachers of any changes made to the plan, to ensure school expectations are consistent.

Taking Tests

At some point during your child’s return to school progression, they will be returning to taking tests/quizzes.

Your child may need your help to advocate for testing accommodations📝Accommodations are adjustments or changes that remove barriers to learning, and/or demonstrating learning. For example, a student who takes longer to think following a concussion, may benefit from receiving extra time to complete homework and tests. Following concussion, accommodations are provided temporarily, and will fade out as your child's symptoms improve. while they recover. Consider including your child in these school conversations as a strategy for providing reassurance that their concerns regarding academic performance and grades are being supported.

Consider the following as you speak to your child’s school team:

  • Can your child be temporarily exempt from testing, especially in the initial stages of your child’s return to school?
  • Are there alternative formats for testing that your child can participate in, which will allow them to demonstrate their understanding of curricular concepts? For example, cued recall activities (eg. multiple choice and fill in the blanks) are better than random retrieval activities for the concussed student.
  • Which test/assignments are considered non-essential and can be exempt?

Additional resources you may find helpful:

Screen Use

Adolescents recovering from concussion may experience some difficulty with aspects of online learning and screen use, however complete removal and avoidance of all electronics beyond the initial rest period is not required. In fact, extended periods of complete removal of electronics may contribute to negative outcomes such as social isolation, anxiety, and depression.

Encourage your child to start with short chunks of screen time, and add rest breaks in between. Then, over time, your child can try to extend the period of time they are on their screens, while making the rest breaks shorter and less frequent, until they gradually return to their pre-concussion level of screen use.


Supporting Changes in My Child’s Mood

The social and emotional changes resulting from a concussion are often overlooked as it is sometimes difficult to decipher whether your child’s behaviour is due to the concussion or to adolescence.

Your child’s concussion may result in new restrictions and loss of fun activities, and your child may also have lots of worries related to their school performance and future success. Understandably, this may have a negative impact on your child’s mood.

Be aware of emotional changes at home, and speak to your child’s school counsellor if you think it would be helpful to revise your child’s school plan to reduce their academic stress.

Refer to the following sections for more information:

Resources to Share with My Child’s School

Your child’s school team is in a position to support your child’s recovery from concussion.

Concussions are invisible injuries and school staff need to know how to keep their students safe: academically, emotionally, and physically.

Please share the following links with your child’s school team:

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