Understanding the Process for Returning to School

Key Points:

  • The process for returning to school is gradual and supported.
  • As you recover and increase your time in school, your need for support will gradually fade out.
  • Your plan for returning to school can be flexible, and can adjust to meet your needs.
  • How quickly you progress through these 6 steps will rely on how you’re feeling - all concussions are different.

What is the process for returning to school?

One of the most common problems during recovery is returning to full activities, like school, too quickly.

After sustaining a concussion, it is recommended that you follow a 6 step process for returning to school. The time it takes you to go through the 6 step process will depend on how you’re feeling and what you’re able to do.

The goal is to have you return to your normal activities as soon as possible and with little disruption.

NOTE: Time intervals used for progression through the following stages should be used as a guide only.

Return to School Process

Stage 1

It is reasonable to miss a couple days of school following your concussion.

During Stage 1, you will be at home and resting from physical activities, and cognitive activities that require a lot of thinking, concentrating, and problem solving. This stage usually does not last longer than 24-48 hours.

During this time, consider:

  • Limiting video games, TV, and reading.
  • Not overdoing it - take rest breaks if you find any activities make your symptoms worse.
  • Asking your caregiver(s) to notify your school of your concussion.

See How Brain Rest Works for Concussion Recovery [PDF].

NOTE: Resting longer than 24-48 hours after your concussion is not advised, because it can delay your recovery and affect your mood.

Stage 2

During Stage 2, you are still at home, and can now try light physical and cognitive activities, for short periods of time.

During this time, consider:

  • Taking a walk
  • Reading a book
  • Socializing with a friend
  • Using a computer/phone

It’s helpful to keep track of how long you can do these activities without making your symptoms worse.

You can also try a bit of school work at home, and when you can work for about an hour, with breaks in between, you are ready to return to school part time.

Ask your caregiver(s) to notify your school that you are ready to return part time, so a plan can be created to address:

  • How long you will be in school
  • Which subject(s) you will return to first
  • What types of support you might need

If you are not able to go back to one of your regular classes - perhaps it’s too noisy or bright - you can ask about other options such as returning to a quieter room first, like the Learning/Resource Classroom.

NOTE: If you are unable to tolerate returning to a quieter room in school, talk to your school team about your options. You may be able to access Hospital/Homebound Instruction through your school district, as an alternative.

Stage 3

During Stage 3, you are back to school part time - perhaps 1 class or ½ a day - this will depend on how you’re feeling - everyone is different.

During this time, consider:

  • How you feel being back in school
  • How you tolerate the physical environment such as the noise, lights, and other students
  • How long you can be in class before you need a “brain break”
  • What provokes your symptoms

During this stage, you will likely be receiving the following school support:

  • Maximum learning accommodations [PDF]
  • No homework or tests
  • Reduced work
  • Extra time to complete assignments
  • Access to learning support, as needed

Make a plan to have check-ins with your school point person - some students prefer to meet daily, and others prefer to meet weekly. Talk about your successes and challenges, and be honest about how you’re feeling.

Keep in mind that you will likely have some good days and some bad days. This is a normal part of recovery. Please talk to your caregiver(s) and/or point person at school if you need help, especially if you feel worried about falling behind or if you feel you are doing too much.

NOTE: If you are not progressing beyond this stage within a 4-week period, consider seeing your doctor for more medical advice.

Stage 4

During Stage 4, you are increasing your time in school, but are still attending part time - perhaps ½ a day or 2-3 classes.

During this stage, you will likely be receiving the following school support:

  • Moderate learning accommodations
  • Limited classroom testing with adaptations such as extra time and/or access to a quiet setting to limit distraction
  • Limited homework (about 30 minutes. per day)
  • Extra time to complete assignments
  • Access to learning support, as needed

Students who are still recovering from concussion, often worry about returning to test taking. It is not realistic to be exempt from all tests, or to postpone tests until you are completely recovered. Instead, your school team can adjust test expectations and provide you with accommodations, while you are still recovering.

NOTE: Make a plan to check in with your school point person once tests are reintroduced to your schedule. Keep in mind that your school plan can always be readjusted depending on how you’re feeling.

Stage 5

During Stage 5, you are increasing your time in school and are now attending full time.

During this stage, you will likely be receiving the following school support:

  • Minimal learning accommodations
  • Classroom testing with accommodations (1 test per day)
  • Gradual increase in homework (up to 60 mins. per day)
  • Ongoing access to learning support for challenging subjects

This is a good time to gradually reintroduce non-contact extracurricular activities.

You may also be returning to previously restricted courses, including an adapted PE program, if your doctor says it’s okay to do so.

NOTE: There may have been some essential coursework that you missed earlier on in your recovery. Work with your school team to create a plan for finishing this work. Planning ahead will allow you to be successful, while keeping your stress levels low.

Stage 6

Congratulations! You are in the last stage!

You are now:

  • Attending full days of school, consistently throughout the week
  • Attending all your classes
  • Participating in all your test and homework expectations
  • No longer accessing any additional learning accommodations beyond the ones you may have had before you got your concussion.

During this stage, your doctor may be able to provide you with written medical clearance [PDF] for returning to all physical activities, including full PE programming.

For more information on this, see Return to physical activity.

Additional Resources

Download this resource [PDF] summarizing the 6 stages in Return to School Process.

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