With Fall sports in full action, officials at the Pennsylvania Department of Health want to make sure athletes, coaches, and parents are aware of traumatic brain injuries, or TBIs. These are caused by a serious impact to a person’s head. According to the CDC, there has been a significant increase in the number of TBI-related hospital visits in recent years.

“During the last decade, emergency room visits for sports and recreation-related traumatic brain injuries including concussions among children and teens nationwide have increased 60 percent,” says Sarah Boateng, Deputy Secretary of the PA Department of Health.

Student athletes, especially those playing impact sports, are most at risk for getting a traumatic brain injury. Effects of a TBI can include impairments to thinking, memory, movement, hearing, and/or vision. There can also be emotional effects like changes in personality, or even depression. All of these can lead to problems in school.

“The impact from traumatic brain injury, like a concussion, can have impact on a student's academic performance and classroom attention, and this is often overlooked,” Boateng explains.

The Department of Health created the BrainSTEPS program in 2007 to help students recover from a brain injury. BrainSTEPS stands for Strategies, Teaching Educators, Parents, and Students. BrainSTEPS teams work with schools, medical providers, and students to help students meet their educational needs after a TBI. Teams meet with the student and school staff to understand the injury and provide academic accommodations. Once a student is in the BrainSTEPS program, their progress is tracked until graduation.

“The BrainSTEPS team will follow that student annually until the student graduates, because we know based on research that the brain is developing until the late 20s, therefore new issues could emerge in these children over time,” says Dr. Brenda Eagen-Johnson, BrainSTEPS Program Manager.

Officials say students should recover from a concussion after 10-14 days. If they haven’t recovered after four weeks, they should be referred to the BrainSTEPS program. A referral can be made online at www.brainsteps.net.

Schools across the state are encouraged to have a Concussion Management Team in place. Teams are made up of school staff who can help track and monitor a student’s progress after a concussion. Schools can register and train their Concussion Management Team online for free through the BrainSTEPS program.