If you think a concussion is something only NFL football players need to worry about, Severn School wants to let you know you’re wrong.
In the last year, Severn School, a private school for grades 6 through 12 in Severna Park, has drastically changed the way it handles concussions. The school has assembled a team that includes athletic trainers, a nurse, an administrator and a learning specialist to work with students who experience concussions.
On Thursday night at 7 p.m., the school's concussion team is hosting a concussion management seminar to educate parents on brain injuries and the school's protocols.
“We are letting people know there’s no such thing as a mild concussion. There’s no such thing as rubbing dirt on it and getting better,” said concussion team member and learning specialist Margaret Foster. “Take everything you thought you knew about concussions and throw it out.”
A Relatively New Concept
When I was a junior in high school, I suffered a concussion. While in gym class, I collided with a boy who was more than twice my size, and everything went blank—at least I am told that’s what happened.
In fact, while writing this article I had to call my mom to get the details of that day so I could get them right, because I don’t remember. My mom said we went to the hospital where we were told that I had a concussion. They did some tests and we went home. Less than a week later, I was playing softball again.
The members of the concussion team at Severn School were interested in my story, but not surprised by it.
Concussions and the dangers they pose are being taken more seriously, school athletic trainer Dan Mahoney said. That's reflected in how doctors even describe the injury.
“We have learned from a physician we work closely with that the concussion term has been used for years and has now been downplayed,” Mahoney said. “Now they are calling it a brain injury. When someone says a brain injury, don’t you think differently about it?”
Cognitive as well as Physical
The Severn School concussion team is bringing a new element into concussion recovery. Recovery is no longer only about the physical rest one needs after suffering a brain injury, but cognitive rest as well.
“Cognitive is the new thing, physical rest preceded it,” Foster said. “That means students come to school and they aren’t allowed to learn because their brain needs to rest.”
Mahoney compared what happens to the brain after a concussion to a power surge. At first, the lights in the brain get really bright and then they all go off at once. Mahoney said that at first, there is a lot of chemical activity but then everything shuts down and the injured brain suffers a chemical imbalance.
“Your brain needs glucose to heal, but it also needs glucose to learn,” Mahoney said. “If we have students who are trying to learn and heal at the same time, you can’t because there isn’t enough glucose in the brain.”
As a result, Severn not only has Return to Play guidelines, but also Return to Learn guidelines. Students who suffer brain injuries do not return to full classroom activity right away.
“When you have a concussion, it can make students feel like they have a learning disability,” Foster said. “They have headaches, they can’t pay attention, they have difficulty studying and more.”
Athletic trainer Michelle Anderson said kids who suffer concussions also need to take a break from computer activity, including texting.
If a student at Severn experiences a brain injury, the student is given a series of tests before they return fully to the classroom. And there's no time frame for when the student can return to full class activity.
“Before they start class, they score themselves on a test, and at the end of that class they score again,” Foster said. “So, we know if that class was too much for them. It is all based on symptomology, it is not a time frame.”
Not Only Athletes
One of the misconceptions about concussions is that you have to be playing a sport to suffer one. Anderson says that is not the case.
“It can happen in school, out of school, on the field or not,” Anderson said. “In fact, we have more concussion incidents occur off the field. It can be kids getting hit in the head with a soccer ball at recess, wakeboarding, dirt bike riding—It can happen anytime.”
Anderson stressed that a child who falls out of chair and hits their head on the floor is just as likely to have a brain injury as a football player who gets tackled.
“They happen all the time,” Foster said. “If it hasn’t happened yet, it will happen. Parents may think, 'This isn’t my kid,' but next week it could be their kid, and they need to know the information.”
Thursday night’s discussion will enlighten parents on all of the concussion issues facing kids today. And it will educate them on the process the Severn School goes through when a student suffers a brain injury.
While the school's concussion team recognizes that it may take time for people to adjust and realize a concussion is a serious injury, members of the group said there is no time like now to learn how serious a brain injury can be.
“If you can prevent a short-term learning problem from becoming a long one because of a concussion, why wouldn’t you take it seriously?” Anderson said. “You’re better safe than sorry.”
'Changing Minds, Protecting Brains' Concussion Management will be held on Thursday at 7 p.m. in Price Auditorium.