Project aims to help schools diagnose, manage concussions

Brain Research

Ashley Washburn, September 19, 2016 | View original publication

Project aims to help schools diagnose, manage concussions

With concussion awareness at an all-time high, school personnel are increasingly responsible for supporting students’ recovery.

Scott Napolitano, assistant professor of practice in educational psychology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, has earned a $1.1 million grant to develop evidence-based training that will help schools diagnose and manage cases of concussion and mild traumatic brain injury in students.

Funded by the U.S. Department of Education, the five-year project will launch a concussion management specialization in the university’s school psychology graduate program. About 20 students will be recruited through the project, which provides funding for tuition and living stipends.

The new specialization, among the first of its kind in the United States, aims to address a key issue in the field: the national and local shortage of practicing school psychologists trained in concussion management.

Addressing that shortage may also help schools comply with recent state legislation on concussion management, including the 2014 “Return to Learn” provision of the Nebraska Concussion Awareness Act. The provision requires schools to assess symptoms and needs for students with concussions, and design plans to support academic adjustments.

However, concussion management is a new field, and many schools want more information and tools to better serve students, according to Napolitano.

“Now schools have to start monitoring and evaluating students with concussions, and using new tests and instruments,” Napolitano said. “The whole essence of this grant is to train personnel to meet that need and help students have a more successful recovery and maintain academic success.”

Students in the specialization will gain practical experience during a nine-month externship with Lincoln Public Schools’ concussion management team clinics. They will also participate in workshops, seminars, web-based training and mentoring – all related to concussion management and mild traumatic brain injury.

Napolitano envisions developing a train-the-trainer program to meet concussion management needs on a national scale. His project includes an evaluation component to assess best practices for training school psychologists in concussion management – which also includes feedback from schools and students who receive services.

As researchers discover more about what works best for students recovering from concussions – which account for 70 to 90 percent of mild traumatic brain injuries – they face the challenge of getting information to school personnel.

The current project can help bridge that gap by training a new generation of school psychologists, Napolitano said.

“My ultimate goal is that there will be psychologists who are trained in evidence-based concussion assessment and management in every school in the country,” he said. “There’s such a need for people who have actual evidence-based training and know how to interpret and read new literature because the field is changing so fast.”

The project is housed in the Nebraska Center for Research on Children, Youth, Families and Schools. The grant team includes Lori Terryberry-Spohr, director of rehabilitation programs at Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital in Lincoln, and Greg Welch, CYFS research assistant professor.

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