If your kid breaks a wrist or leg in a competitive school sport, you know about it right away, and medical treatment is sought.
A concussion, which is a traumatic brain injury, is a different story. It's a blow or jolt to the brain that can occur in sports. It's often referred to as an invisible injury. You as a parent can't see inside the youth's head through the bony skull that's meant to protect the body's command-and-control center. Even so, the results can be devastating emotionally, physically and cognitively for the injured player, especially if the injury is not properly and promptly diagnosed and treated, and if the athlete is not given the physical and mental rest needed for recovery.
That's why it's commendable the state Legislature is mandating public and charter schools have written policies and procedures requiring staff and parent education on concussions and medical evaluation, and follow-up if a concussion is suspected. Some local school districts, including Gloversville, are working to comply with the new guidelines.
The Legislature's move comes in the wake of increased medical research, student deaths in some states, and suicides or dementia-like symptoms among professional athletes after concussions. The New York State High School Athletic Association notes on its website an estimated 4 million people younger than 19 annually suffer head injuries, of which about 300,000 are sports- and recreation-related.
"Research that's come out is saying that kids' brains are still developing into the early 20s," and it's important to be proactive in evaluation and treatment of concussions, says Judith Avner, executive director of the Brain Injury Association of New York State. "The effect of concussions can be cumulative, particularly when the injured person is not given time to recover from the concussion." And with a developing brain, the effects can show up much later, she adds.
Symptoms of concussion, sometimes subtle, can include deficits in thinking, speech, sensation and physical movement, or emotional changes. The High School Athletic Association's website, www.nysphsaa.org, offers an excellent guide to the new law and signs and symptoms parents and students should be alert to. It's titled "Concussions: The Invisible Injury."
To its credit, the athletic association has been involved in concussion awareness and training programs for at least seven years. Todd Nelson, an assistant director of the group, said about a third of its members already have concussion policies and procedures and the new law will mean few, if any changes, for them.
Millions of people are willing to accept the risks of sports to enjoy a wonderful experience. Reducing injury makes that experience even better.