As part of brain injury awareness month, we have been featuring a series of articles to educate readers about how to prevent and treat concussions in children. We were also fortunate to have Donna Broshek, who is a neuropsychologist and the Associate Director of the UVA Health System’s Brain Injury and Sports Concussion Institute, film a public service announcement with us. You can see the PSA here. Happily, Donna also agreed to write a blog post for us. Please join me in thanking Donna for all of her help in educating us about this important topic, and keep reading for her post:
As Bryan noted in Kids and Concussions, Part 2, Virginia passed a state law that became effective in July 2011 that requires that public schools develop a protocol for identifying and managing sports concussions, as well as providing education to students and parents. This legislation has been very important in increasing awareness of sports concussions and keeping kids safe. The Virginia Board of Education Guidelines For Policies on Concussions in Student-Athletes incorporated key aspects of safe management:
1) Any athlete suspected of having a concussion should be removed from play and evaluated by a health care provider with experience in sports concussion.
2) The student must obtain written medical clearance before being allowed to resume physical activity.
3) Return to physical activity must occur in a gradual supervised manner – various levels of physical activity are introduced gradually while concussion symptoms are monitored. If symptoms increase or return, the student-athlete returns to a lower level of activity until their symptoms get better.
An important issue for parents to know is that this law only applies to public schools. Private schools are not covered, although many such schools do have good concussion policies. Of particular importance is that private youth leagues, such as elite soccer organizations or lacrosse travel teams, are not required to have concussion policies since they are not covered by the state legislation. It is even more important for parents to be able to recognize signs of concussion in their children and respond by seeking appropriate care when their children are not covered under the state law.
What parents can do:
1) During the month of March, the Concussion Recognition and Response™ Coach and Parent Version phone app can be downloaded free of charge on iPhone, iPad, iTouch, and Android platforms. The app was developed in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and provides step by step guidance in identifying symptoms and seeking medical evaluation. The app also has information on monitoring symptoms at home and suggestions for school.
2) Parents can insist that coaches of independent sports leagues develop a concussion policy that mirrors the one established by the state for public schools.
3) Parents can lobby their legislators to fix this loophole in the state law so that any private leagues using public sports fields are required to follow the same policies as public schools.
4) It is better to err on the side of conservative concussion management in youths as the developing brain is more vulnerable to concussions and concussion symptoms last longer in kids and teens. If in doubt, sit them out!
Donna K. Broshek, Ph.D.