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Concussions in kids: When is it okay for them to return to school?

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DENVER -- With so many kids suffering sports related concussions, there are guidelines in place for when a child can return to sports.

But what about guidelines for their return to school and learning?  That issue got some much needed clarification this week from the American Academy of Pediatrics in an article co-authored by a Colorado expert.

The guidelines, published in The Journal of Pediatrics,  are getting national attention and  can be very meaningful for doctors, educators and families.

One parent dealing with this issue is former Channel 2 news anchor, Natalie Tysdal.

Her 9-year-old daughter Callie is finally starting to recover after her concussion.  But it's been a long road, especially because no one knew Callie had a concussion for weeks, and her family was unaware of an injury.

"I was a wreck for about two weeks," Natalie said.  The usually happy and bright child suddenly started complaining about terrible headaches and upset stomach.  She wasn't getting her schoolwork done, and was really cranky.

Her parents weren't sure what could be wrong.

The family went to several doctor appointments and Callie finally mentioned an incident on the playground at school.  Callie said she got hit in the head by a kickball, and she didn't really remember what happened.  She hadn't told a single adult.

"I kind of blacked out," Callie said.   "I didn't think it was any big deal."

Of course doctors thought it was a big deal, and Callie was finally diagnosed with a concussion.

She went to the Center for Concussion through Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children.  Doctors did plenty of testing and began treatment.

"When you have a concussion, we are very concerned about a second injury occurring before that brain has healed," said Dr Sue Kirelik.

Callie also worked on balance and vision issues with a vestibular therapist at South Valley Physical Therapy.  But her brain needed rest.  She stopped all physical activity,  There was no reading, no electronics, and no tests at school.

The Center for Concussion communicated instructions directly to the school.

"She couldn't do anything ," Natalie said.

Getting back to school can be difficult to navigate.  To help with the process, the Director of the Center for Concussion co-authored an article released this week in the Journal of Pediatrics, offering guidelines on how and when it's okay for kids to get back to learning and back to school after a concussion.

Karen McAvoy, Psy.D.. helped write specific recommendations based on work done right here in Colorado.

"It helps pediatricians understand their part in working with schools, and helps parents understand how to cut back the demands at home, and how to cut back the demands at school, which will help facilitate the recovery," McAvoy said.

For example, she says teachers could offer more rest breaks during the day, or reduce the number of problems or assignments.

The protocols seemed to help Callie.  She is slowly getting back to the things she likes to do, and her family is grateful.

But they encourage other families to pay attention to any bumps on the head or any concussion symptoms, and be sure to check with a doctor if you are concerned.

Symptoms of concussion include headache, nausea, dizziness, fogginess,  and emotional issues.