A Review of the Literature on Pediatric Concussions and Return-to-Learn (RTL): Implications for RTL Policy, Research, and Practice

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Abstract

Objective: While reintegration of concussed youth back into sports has been increasingly studied over the past decade, a noticeably lacking yet growing body of research has begun to focus on issues surrounding return to academics or “return-to-learn” (RTL). The objective of this article was to conduct a comprehensive literature review to identify the full range of themes and gaps in the current body of RTL research. Study design: Researchers analyzed PubMed, PsycINFO, and ERIC databases to identify all recent (January 2000 through May 2016) empirical publications on the RTL process following youth concussions. In addition to the database searches, bibliographies of selected manuscripts were hand-searched for additional sources. Results: A total of 35 articles met inclusion criteria. Key themes identified from the RTL literature centered on academic outcomes, physician recommendations, length of time to complete RTL, concussion-related symptom difficulties, and academic accommodations/guidelines. Across these areas, the research was fairly inconsistent in terms of providing clear conclusions, likely because of the small number of studies conducted within these areas as well as variability in methodology and terminology. Gaps in the research include a lack of the following: consensus on RTL protocols, agreement on prescription of cognitive rest, guidance for RTL legislation, understanding of communication between systems of care, concussion-related education for systems of care, evidence-based programs or interventions for RTL, and the impact on RTL outcomes. Conclusions: Given the inconsistencies in RTL literature, more rigorous research is needed to inform concussion policy and practice to assist with pediatric concussion management.

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