A lot has changed since Vermont enacted new legislation dealing with concussions. But, if you have not been following our state politics, you might be confused about what has changed.

The stories of two high school students put into stark contrast the changes – and what you need to know as a parent, as a student, as a teammate, and as a coach.

Chris, a high school sophomore, played ice hockey for ten years. He had a number of concussions, but neither he, not his family, friends, or coaches took any immediate action. Chris changed. His behavior was different; he started experimenting with drugs to cope with the symptoms of his concussions. Before he reached the edge, he and his parents got the help he needed for his brain injury. But, could that long path to recovery have been prevented?

Tim’s story suggests that the answer is yes.

Tim, a high school soccer player, was hit in the head by a high-speed ball during a game. He said he was fine, but his coach had him sit out just to be safe. His assistant coach asked him a few questions to learn more about his potential head injury. Tim insisted he was fine and stood up to get back on the field, but stumbled before he got near it. His coach did not allow him to play. Subsequently, Tim and his family found out that he indeed did have a concussion.

Why did Tim’s coach keep him out of the game? Good common sense, but also the new rules of play. Now, schools are encouraged to use concussion management plans.

Tim’s coaches followed the Return to Learn (RTL) and Return to Play (RTP) guidelines. Tim missed a day and half of school and was back to participating in a soccer game in about 10 days. He, his parents, his coaches, and his teachers agreed to check in immediately with each other if they noticed any signs or symptoms of concussion over the coming weeks.

Why the change in concussion recognition and management?

As a result of all the media coverage and incidences of catastrophic sport injuries, more than 40 states have passed legislation to help improve the early recognition and management of concussion in school age athletes. Vermont’s new legislation requires that:

  • Parents and student athletes be given information about concussions and returning to play school sports.
  • Coaches must receive regular concussion training and that “Return to Play” protocols be developed.
  • Coaches remove the student athlete from participating in sports and require the athlete have a medical evaluation prior to returning to play.
  • Schools must develop an “Action Plan” if they have students participating in interscholastic sports, the goal being to reduce preventable incidence of post-concussion and address the growing problem of long-term learning impairments and other cognitive deficits in student athletes.

A Vermont School Concussion Task Force (SCTF) was formed to develop the Vermont Student Athletes and Concussion Toolkit. This Tool kit can be found at www.biavt.org. Its purpose is to satisfy the legal requirements of the law, suggest best practice and provide resources for the schools to develop a concussion management plan (Action Plan), for students and parents and coaches.

What can a parent do? 

  • Ask your school for their concussion management plan (Action Plan).
  • Find out what process they have to identify student athlete concussions, parent notification, and concussion management (RTL and RTP).

What should I, as a parent do when the school tells me that my child may have a concussion? 

  • The School Nurse can help you notify all of your child’s teachers about the concussion and the signs and symptoms of a concussion.
  • The Education Service Team (EST), the student, teachers, school nurse, and you can work to modify the student’s school day if needed.

What symptoms should I watch for?

  • Appears confused or dazed
  • Feels foggy
  • Answers questions slowly
  • Feels slowed down
  • Can’t remember events
  • Can’t concentrate
  • Difficulty thinking
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Headache/pressure in head
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Change in sleep pattern
  • Sensitive to light or noise
  • Balance problems/stumbles
  • Vision changes
  • Numbness or tingling

Suzanne Lawrence, PT, is a Rehabilitation Therapy Clinical Research Educator at Inpatient Rehabilitation Center. Barbara Winters is a Program Manager/Education and Outreach Coordinator at the Brain Injury Association of Vermont.

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