Next Step Therapy Blog: Concussions

Guest blogger for Next Step Therapy, Bethany Wilson, MS CCC SLP, submitted the following article on concussions.

Concussion. Concussion. Concussion. This buzz word is everywhere these days. From sports related injuries to the helmet law debate, the chatter surrounding concussion has greatly increased.

Of course, sports celebrities such as Sidney Crosby and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. help bring attention to the cause, but what does it all mean for you and me? It means that there is now a spotlight on the seriousness of concussion; the symptoms, the recovery, and the long term effects.

My name is Bethany Wilson. I am a speech language pathologist by background and am also the local team leader of BrainSTEPS. (Strategies Teaching Educators, Parents, & Students) This team is based out of the Riverview Intermediate Unit #6 in Clarion and serves students in the 17 districts in the IU6 region.

BrainSTEPS is a program that assists local school districts when they have a student returning to school after a concussion or more serious brain injury. The program is statewide consisting of 31 teams servicing their local region.

When a person experiences a concussion, the hope is that they will fully recover within four weeks. The reality is that many do not. Students returning to school after a concussion still may be experiencing physical symptoms such as headaches, sensitivity to noise and/or light, and dizziness.

With these physical symptoms often come cognitive symptoms such as the inability to concentrate, a struggle to read or write, and difficulty remembering new material. These symptoms vary from student to student. If a student is still experiencing these symptoms after 4 weeks, a referral to our BrainSTEPS program would be beneficial. Our goal is to assist the school team in making a plan of action to positively impact the student’s recovery time while still attending school.

Historically, there has been a focus on the policies of “return to play” especially when the injury occurred during a football game or on the soccer field. A large piece to the puzzle has been neglected. “Return to learn” policies are often overlooked. A concussion is typically an injury that cannot be seen. Unlike a broken arm that can be casted to help the healing process, we cannot “cast” the brain. The only way to encourage healing and full recovery is to put strategies in place that will alleviate some of the strain the brain endures on a daily basis at home and at school.

Our BrainSTEPS team consists of a variety of experts from Jefferson, Clarion, and Venango counties. Members’ backgrounds include experience in behavior, executive functioning skills, social skills, and speech and language. We are lucky to have a member from Clarion University of Pennsylvania’s Communication Sciences and Disorders department as well as a local neuropsychologist. Our newest member, Heidi Vernum Underwood, is a speech language pathologist who has an extensive background in brain injuries.

The BrainSTEPS Program is jointly funded through a federal Title V MCHB grant from the PA Department of Health and a federal OSEP grant (SPDG) through the PA Department of Education, Bureau of Special Education.

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