Teacher with Student

How Concussions Affect Academics — Part One

With fall sports in full swing, sports-related concussions continue to be a concern for student-athletes, coaches, and parents. By now you’re probably familiar with the Pennsylvania Safety in Youth Sports Act, which is intended to protect the injured athlete from returning to play after a concussion until cleared by the appropriate medical provider.

While these provisions are in place to help protect student-athletes on the field, parents, teachers, and coaches often express concern over how the student in the classroom is affected. Learn more about the effects of concussions on academic performance in the below interview.

Jonathan French, PsyD, of the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program, an expert on managing academics during concussion recovery, answers some of our most common questions.

Can a concussion affect a student’s ability to learn?

Yes, a concussion affects the brain’s cognitive abilities, and those abilities are necessary to learn and function in school.

Do concussions affect a student’s ability to complete school work?

Yes, when the brain is injured it does not work as efficiently as it did before the injury. Concussions tend to affect a person’s ability to do many routine tasks that are essential to academic performance, including but not limited to, the ability to focus, multi-task, recall information, and process information quickly.

After a concussion, school work tends to be more difficult and takes the individual longer to complete. The school environment with bright lights, computer screens, power points, and noisy environments also tends to exacerbate symptoms and are not tolerated well.

How are academic accommodations used?

The goal of academic accommodations is to manage the requirements of the student so that they receive the core information they need, while not making their symptoms worse and prolonging recovery. Academic accommodations help provide a balance between promoting recovery by reducing their cognitive load, and not allowing them to fall too far behind in their academic curriculum.

How can a school help a student who sustains a concussion?

Dr. French: There are many things that a school can do to facilitate an individual’s continued learning after a concussion. We know that when the brain is injured it will not perform as well as it did prior to injury and therefore, test results aren’t an accurate reflection of the student’s ability. One such accommodation a school can provide is to reduce or change testing situations for those students.

Schools can also:

  • Reduce some of the work requirements
  • Allow students more time to complete assignments
  • Provide class notes ahead of time
  • Limit computer time
  • Allow students to take breaks as needed
  • Reduce environmental demands

In part two, Dr. French will address questions specifically relating to how a concussion affects short and long term memory.

If you’re interested in learning more about academic accommodations or the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program, visit us online, or call 412-432-3681.