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Concussion Support Group Provides Answers, Options for Parents and Adolescents

Adolescents suffering from concussions or mild traumatic brain injuries and their parents now have a place to gather and learn from specialists at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Children’s of Alabama and Children’s Harbor as they navigate the aftermath of concussions.

The Family Playbook is a group dedicated to providing support, education, coping skills and resources to adolescents and families who are trying to navigate the “what now?” of concussions.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2014, an estimated 812,000 children (age 17 or younger) were treated in United States emergency departments for concussion or TBI — either alone or in combination with other injuries. Even after receiving treatment, symptoms for these injuries can be prolonged, and have increased recovery time. The majority of youth who experience concussions recover within a few days up to a few weeks, depending upon the type, severity and number of prior concussions, as well as other factors.

“Given the increased awareness of concussions and detection, people need support and tools to help with the recovery process,” said Laura Dreer, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and associate professor in the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences and director of psychological and neuropsychology clinical research services. “Some people experience symptoms that progress and lead to problems with prolonged recovery in school, sports or extracurricular activities, relationships, mental health, and so on. Our research and experiences show that ongoing support and education help.”

Erin Swanson, M.D., assistant professor in the Division of Pediatric Rehabilitation Medicine,
adds that many of her patients and their families feel very alone and isolated after their concussion. They are often frustrated that they are not bouncing right back despite their best efforts and can be misunderstood by their teachers, friends and teammates.

“Being able to meet with other adolescents and families navigating similar situations has been immensely helpful for my patients,” Swanson said.

The monthly group begins each meeting with parents and children combined, then separates to focus on specific goals for each demographic group, parents and adolescents alone.

In the children’s group, they discuss:
• How to cope with symptoms
• How to talk with peers and adults about their injury, symptoms and concerns
• Social isolation and feeling removed from peers or activities they used to enjoy
• How to advocate for themselves with friends, doctors and teachers
• How to manage concussion symptoms
• How to receive support and share what they do not understand
• Where to go for peer support during the adjustment process

Parents learn:
• How to manage concussion symptoms at home
• Issues facing children as they return to school or to a sport
• How to talk with teachers, and how to address homework
• Adaptive accommodations
• Problem-solving challenges to get children reengaged with friends and hobbies
• How to understand medication and managing appointments
• How to work with coaches and athletic trainers
• Specific needs of caregivers, such as stress management
• How to attend to the needs of other siblings
• How to rely on your spouse to increase teamwork

Molly Cox, a mental health interventionist and support group co-facilitator, says having a space where kids can talk freely about how concussions affect them is crucial.

“Concussions can be an invisible injury,” Cox said. “It’s not like a broken arm or nose. Some children and parents have difficulties expressing their frustrations and how to move forward.”

To learn more about this group, please call Cox at 205-488-0778.