The most recent international consensus statement on sport-related concussions ("Zurich consensus statement")  identifies several important differences in the way concussions are diagnosed and treated in children and adolescents:
- Children report symptoms differently: Because athletes younger than age 13 report concussion symptoms different from adults, they require age-appropriate symptom checklists as a component of assessment;
- More input from parents and teachers needed: In assessing the child or adolescent athlete with concussion, a clinical evaluation may need to include input both patient and parent input, and possibly input from teachers and school personnel where appropriate;
- Younger athletes need more cognitive rest: The concept of "cognitive rest" has special importance for younger athletes with concussion, including recommendations for 24 hours of strict cognitive and physical rest after concussion. [Note: a 2014 study found that student-athletes who continued to engage in full cognitive activity after concussion took from 2 to 5 times longer to recover than those who limited cognitive activity]
- Gradual return to learn appropriate. The taking off of one or two days from school, returning only with medical approval, and returning to the classroom with appropriate accommodations developed with the aid of a pediatric neuropsychologist, where necessary, are recommended.
- More cautious return to play. According to a 2012 study, athletes ages 13 to 16 take a longer time to recover following concussion - measured with memory tests, reaction times, and a symptom scale - than athletes ages 18 to 22. A more conservative RTP approach, including extending the amount of time for asymptomatic rest and/or length of the graded exertion in children and adolescents is recommended.
Different symptom scales
Child - SCAT3 Symptom Evaluation
|1. I have trouble paying attention|
|2. I get distracted easily|
|3. I have a hard time concentrating|
|4. I have problems remembering what people tell me|
|5, I have problems following directions|
|6. I daydream too much|
|7. I get confused|
|8. I forget things|
|9. I have problems finishing things|
|10. I have trouble figuring things out|
|11. It's hard for me to learn new things|
|12. I have headaches|
|13, I feel dizzy|
|14. I feel like the room is spinning|
|15. I feel like I'm going to faint|
|16. Things are blurry when I look at them|
|17. I see double|
|18. I feel sick to my stomach|
|19. I get tired a lot|
|20. I get tired easily|
|21. Difficulty remembering|
|22. Visual problems
|1. has trouble sustaining attention|
|2. is easily distracted|
|3. has difficulty concentrating|
|4. has problems remembering what he/she is told|
|5. has difficulty following directions|
|6. tends to daydream|
|7. gets confused|
|8. is forgetful|
|9. has difficulty completing tasks|
|10. has poor problem solving skills|
|11. has problems learning|
|12. has headaches|
|13. feels dizzy|
|14. has a feeling the room is spinning|
|15. feels faint|
|16. has blurred vision|
|17. has double vision|
|18. experiences nausea|
|19. gets tired a lot|
|20. gets tired easily|
As with other symptoms scales in use, however, these new child- and parent-symptom scales have not yet been the subject of large scale, controlled studies to establish their effectiveness in identifying young athletes with concussion.
The presence of multiple symptoms does not, in and of itself, determine whether a concussion has occurred; rather, it is information that can help a health care professional in making an overall diagnosis, gauging injury severity, assessing recovery, and, because of the unreliability of athletes' reports of being symptom-free,  in making the all-important return-to-play determination.
While concerns are routinely expressed about athletes underreporting concussion or their symptoms, symptom assessment remains a critical component of concussion assessment, ideally in combination with other functional [(e.g. neurocognitive, balance)] tests.
Different "Maddocks" questions
To determine a younger athlete's orientation to time and place, the Child-SCAT3 calls for a child to be asked four so-called "Maddocks questions" than called for under the SCAT3 (which asks five slightly different questions):
- Where are we now?
- Is before or after lunch?
- What did you have last lesson/class?
- What is your teacher's name
Gradual return to learn
Unlike the SCAT3 for older athletes, the Child-SCAT3 specifically addresses a child's need for cognitive rest after concussion, including:
- at least 24 hours of rest after concussion;
- avoiding any computer, Internet or electronic gaming activity if these activities make symptoms worse;
- staying home from school for a day or two;
- the need, in some cases, for parents, teachers, and health care professionals to develop a graduated return to school program, which will vary from child to child, but may include
- Extra time to complete assignment/tests
- Quiet room to complete assignment/tests
- Avoidance of noisy areas such as cafeterias, assembly halls, sporting events, music class, shop class, etc.
- Frequent breaks during class, homework, tests
- No more than one exam/day
- Shorter assignments
- Repetition/memory cues
- Use of peer helper/tutor
- Reassurance from teachers that student will be supported through recovery through accommodations, workload reduction, alternate forms of testing
- Later start times, half days, only certain classes.
- No return to sport or play until he/she has successfully returned to school/learning, without worsening of symptoms, and obtained medical clearance to begin graduated, symptom-limited return to play protocol.
More conservative treatment recommended
"Because of the different physiological response and longer recovery after concussion and specific risks (eg. second impact syndrome), related to head impact during childhood and adolescence," the Zurich consensus statement recommends a more conservative return to play approach, extending the amount of time of asymptomatic rest and/or the length of the graded exertion for children and teens..
The timing of post-concussion neurocognitive testing for younger athletes may also be different. Typically performed when an athlete is reporting no symptoms, a neurocognitive assessment for children may be useful during the early stages following injury to assist in making return-to-school decisions, an assessment which is "best determined" in consultation with a trained pediatric neuropsychologist, says the Zurich consensus statement, "particularly [for] children with learning disorders and/or ADHD who may need more sophisticated assessment strategies."
Looking for more information about concussions? For the most up-to-date and comprehensive concussion information for sports parents on the web, check out the MomsTeam Concussion Center.
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Posted April 22, 2013; most recently revised January 14, 2014; most recently reviewed December 4, 2015