Research In Action

Research In Action

virtual learning and concussion
Concussion in the Virtual Classroom: How We Can Support Our Students
February 9, 2021

Returning back to the classroom during the COVID-19 pandemic has been stressful and challenging for everyone. Students with a concussion may face additional challenges dealing with concussion symptoms in a virtual classroom.

Screen Time Can Exacerbate Concussion Symptoms

Time in front of a computer screen can trigger symptoms or make them worse. Students recovering from concussion may also struggle with "executive function skills" -- organizing which tasks to start first, managing their time, finishing a task, and keeping track of tools for the task.

Upon returning to school, students who have a concussion will function at their best if everyone has a clear understanding of a “Return to Learn Plan” that is flexible and can match their fluctuating energy throughout the day. The varying schedules and routines with pandemic learning, whether at home or in school, can create an additional cognitive overload for the student and increase a child's concussion symptoms. Cognitive overload is not only stressful, but can also affect the students' recovery process, their ability to focus, and their behavior.

If everyone has a clear understanding of a "Return to Learn Plan," students who have a concussion will function at their best. 

Strategies & Resources to Best Support Concussed Students During COVID

The virtual platform may actually lend itself well to helping students pace themselves, manage cognitive overload, and prevent spikes in concussion symptoms, since the home environment provides opportunity for students to take short breaks as needed. Short breaks allow students to build their cognitive, emotional, and even physical stamina throughout the day.

Conversely, virtual leaning does come with some challenges as it represents additional visual burden and requires students to be more self-motivated, self-guided, and have good time management skills in order to complete their required work.

Whether your students are virtual or in-person, here are some ways to help them with a concussion management/return to school plan during the pandemic:

  • Concussion Liaison. Identify one staff member to be the student’s “Concussion Liaison” so the student and family have one consistent staff member to connect with and reach out to during the “Return to Learn” process. An initial meeting prior to returning and then routine meetings until recovery can help ease the transition back to school. This staff member can also ensure there is good communication between the teaching staff and the student and family.
  • Set up a consistent daily school/academic schedule. Virtual platforms require lots of electronic correspondence. Work with the student to create a daily school schedule that is easy to follow and keeps the student on task and focused. Highlight good opportunities in the student's schedule to take “vision breaks” through the school day.
  • The Hardware. Whether in school or at home, it is recommended that the student use a desktop computer or a laptop with a larger screen. Larger screens allow for larger fonts, less crowding of material, and help to decrease eye strain and visual fatigue.
  • The Software. Adjusting how the student uses technology can also play an important role in concussion recovery. There are many downloadable software programs available to support the student who is having trouble juggling multiple tasks due to  concussion. Programs that adjust the brightness of the screen, or offer “Text to Speech” and “Speech to Text” software offer additional support. 
  • Space Logistics of Virtual Learning. Encourage finding a dedicated space at home to log into school. Noise-cancelling headphones can help the student focus on what is happening in the virtual classroom and not what’s going on in a sometimes busy home environment.
  • Pacing and Breaks. Pacing is very important and is the "secret sauce" to maintaining cognitive stamina and preventing burnout by the end of the school day. If the student is at school, encourage strategically placed breaks through the day to function as brain breaks. A younger child may likely need scheduled breaks through the day in order to develop a healthy pace. This can be scheduled as 10- to 15-minute breaks about every 2 hours. Allow the virtual student to turn opff the camera off or to step away from the computer for a “vision break”. Suggest the student walk around the room, stretch, get a snack, and stay hydrated!