There’s been a spate of reports in the last few years on the lasting repercussions to high school athletes from head injuries. Now, U.S. Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., and the House Education and Labor committee are considering setting minimum guidelines for how school districts handle students recovering from concussions.
While the assumption is that football poses the greatest dangers to teens, there are risks to other high school athletes. According to Miller’s office, concussion rates in girls’ soccer ranks second only to football. In basketball, girls appear to sustain concussions at three times the rate of male basketball players. And almost 90 percent of girls recovering from a concussion reported that their symptoms worsened after trying to focus on schoolwork.
“The NFL, college teams – they’ve been paying attention to concussions,” said Miller, in a statement. “But when it comes to high school athletes, concussions are vastly underreported. High school is a critical time for students academically, and when a concussion interferes with concentration and focus, schoolwork is a challenge. We cannot let honor roll students become D and F students because their injuries were not addressed properly.”
According to Thursday’s Washington Post:
“Concussions have always been a part of the conversation about student athletes,” said Miller, chairman of the committee and co-sponsor of the bill. “But for far too long, we’ve talked about what has happened without taking any action to help students manage these dangerous injuries.”
Gerard Gioia, chief of pediatric neuropsychology at the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, testified that a recent survey of 140 school nurses across the D.C. area found that nearly half weren’t prepared to properly assess a concussion and even fewer were able to offer academic support after the injury.
“We can clearly see that schools are very much caring and want to help students with these injuries,” Gioia said. “But they are often not adequately prepared to help them. They lack the necessary policies, procedures, knowledge, skill and tools to properly support the return of the concussed student athlete.”
The minimum guidelines proposed Thursday include displaying an informational poster on concussions for students, keeping student-athletes who are suspected of suffering from concussions out of games and practices, notifying their parents and sending them to an evaluation by a health-care professional. It also includes drafting a plan, shared with the school, that helps students suffering from concussions ease back into the classroom and offering specialized help if they are not recovering.
Alison Conca-Cheng, a 17-year old senior at Centennial High who suffered a concussion in August when she collided headfirst with a soccer teammate, detailed how her school sent her to a family doctor and then gave her a computerized test that tested simple cognitive functions.
After her results were lower than her pre-concussions results and she continued struggling with class work, she was seen by Gioia. He made a plan of how to deal with the concussions that was shared with Conca-Cheng’s teachers and counselors.
“The school and my teachers have been extremely understanding and accommodating,” she said. “Whenever I need to ‘cool off’ my brain, I can go to the nurse’s office and I have gotten extensions on reading assignments. These adjustments have helped. But with the added time it takes to do my homework and the mandated breaks, schoolwork now dominates my evenings and weekends.”
Stanley Herring, head of the NFL’s Neck and Spine Committee and team physician for the Seattle Seahawks, said the NFL and others are working to change the “warrior mentality” that predominates in football, where concussions are more likely to occur than other sports. Laws meant to raise awareness, such as the one considered Thursday, help, he said.
“When you make this the national standard. . . . it makes it easier for us to push this agenda forward,” Herring said