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Concussion: Academic Considerations for Student Athletes

Whether it’s the football field, the basketball court, the hockey rink, or any other arena, sports-related concussions continue to be a focus of concern for athletes, coaches, and parents.

Just as an athlete needs to rest his or her body after an injury, he or she also must rest the brain after a concussion. This may include modifying academic activities or staying home from school completely.

A Prescription for Academic Accommodations

If your child is diagnosed with a concussion, there are academic accommodations teachers or school administrators can put in place to assist in his or her recovery.

A health care provider trained in diagnosing and treating concussions must prescribe these accommodations. This can be your primary care physician or a concussion specialist such as those at the UPMC Center for Sports Medicine.

Examples of Academic Accommodations

The following academic accommodations can help students suffering from a concussion. Each student may not need every accommodation listed.

Classes and activities

  • Excused absence from classes. Partial attendance options include missing elective classes and focusing on core classes, and coming in later or leaving earlier.
  • Preferential classroom seating to lessen distraction. Sitting at the front of the class or away from doors and windows is helpful for students with attention deficits and other concussion symptoms.
  • Extension of assignment deadlines. Speed of processing and the ability to handle a full workload are often key limitations. Allow extra time for homework and class projects.
  • Temporary assistance of a tutor to help with organizing and prioritizing homework assignments. Students may have substantial problems planning their studies, including writing papers and preparing for tests. A short meeting with a guidance counselor or an assigned tutor may help students prioritize their work.
  • Rest periods during the school day. Just 30 minutes of rest in the nurse’s office or a designated area can help lessen many students' symptoms.
  • Accommodations for oversensitivity to light or noise. Many students find themselves unable to tolerate normal levels of light or noise while recovering. Fluorescent lighting can provoke headaches. Students should try to avoid noise from cafeterias, assembly halls, or band rooms.
  • Excused from team sports practices and gym activities. Avoiding physical exertion should be a priority, especially in the early days of recovery from a concussion.


  • Postponement or staggering tests. Taking tests while still symptomatic usually places recovering students at a distinct and unfair disadvantage. It also may result in heightening or prolonging concussion symptoms.
  • Excused from certain tests. Some students are so symptomatic that postponing or staggering tests may not provide sufficient accommodations. In such cases, the most appropriate step may be to excuse students altogether from tests, specifically in classes where they were performing well before their concussion.
  • Extended test-taking time. Reduced processing speed is one of the most common post-concussive symptoms. Give students extra time to finish tests.
  • Tape-recorded tests. Visual scanning activity or the concentration demands of reading can exacerbate concussion symptoms. Recorded tests allow students to listen at their own pace, stop and start the tape for each question, and process test questions without the stress of reading.
  • Dictated test answers by tape recorder or scribe. Similarly, due to the visual and concentration demands of writing, some students may better convey their answers to essay questions via dictation.
  • Use of smaller, quieter exam rooms to reduce stimulation and distraction. During the recovery period, students exhibit some of the characteristics seen in ADHD, including vulnerability to distraction by routine sights and sounds that occur in exam rooms for larger classes. Taking tests with smaller groups or alone may be helpful.

About the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program

At the UPMC Center for Sports Medicine, our team of leading concussion experts has developed a comprehensive approach to assessing, treating, managing, and preventing sports-related concussions.

The UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program uses ImPACT™ (Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing), a simple, yet sophisticated computerized test to accurately detect sports-related concussions.

ImPACT enables doctors to conduct a baseline evaluation of an athlete’s:

  • Brain processing speed
  • Memory
  • Visual motor skills

Doctors and athletic trainers can then revisit this evaluation in the event of a concussion during the season.

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