NIU researchers praise concussion law

New law replaces guidelines with strict rules for concussion treatment

From Northern Illinois University

NIU_logoLegislation signed into law this month will help schools and youth sports organizations across the state better assist athletes who sustain concussions, say NIU experts.

The law, known as the Youth Sports Concussion Safety Act, replaces the guidelines and recommendations that used to govern the handling of concussion with very clear rules.

“The big advantage is that it adds specificity, it is much more concrete,” says Paul Wright, a professor in NIU’s Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education. “It makes things easier to enforce. It also makes it easier for schools to meet their goal of doing what is best for their student athletes.”

Among the requirements of the new law are:

  • Every school must have an emergency plan for dealing with sports-related concussions.
  • Every school district must have a concussion oversight committee comprised of a doctor, trainers, nurses, coaches and others to ensure that the district has in place, and is properly applying concussion policies at all of its schools.
  • It requires the creation of “Return to Learn” protocols that will guide how and when student athletes return to the classroom after a concussion.

The law, which was signed Aug. 3, went into effect immediately, so schools are already working to ensure that they meet the new standards. Observing how completely and effectively school districts incorporate the law into their protocols, and whether or not it improves outcomes for injured athletes is an area that Wright hopes to research in the years ahead.

“Everyone has the best interest of the students at heart, but with all of the demands placed on schools, it will be interesting to assess how the law is interpreted and implemented,” says Wright.

Wright oversees a multi-disciplinary group known as the Physical Activity Group and Life Skills Group. That group combines expertise from NIU’s programs in kinesiology, psychology, speech and language pathologists and public health. Together they work with organizations like the YMCA and youth sport leagues to promote positive youth development through sports, and to ensure that the wellbeing of athletes is always at the forefront.

Another member of that group is NIU hearing scientist Matt Wilson. One of a very few concussion researchers in the country studying the cumulative impact of the blows to the head routinely absorbed by many athletes, Wilson welcomes the new law.

“Everyone involved needs to better informed about what a concussion is and how to deal with it,” says Wilson. “Dealing with it wrong can have long term consequences. However, if you treat it right the first time, your chances of getting back out on the field are much better. This law will help ensure that the proper steps are taken.”

Wilson, who for several years has teamed with a neuropsychologist to hold concussion education clinics for coaches, parents and athletes at DeKalb County high schools, is also excited to note that the new law requires that coaches take at least two hours of such instruction every two years.

A lifelong sports fan, Wilson is not advocate for eliminating sports such as football or hockey. Instead, he says, his goal is to protect the players and make the sports safer. “I want to know that when my son, who is 16-months-old, starts playing contact sports, that we are doing everything we can to keep him – and all athletes – safe,” he says.

Wilson is currently recruiting athletes for his research. For details on his study, or to learn how to participate, visit his website. He is also available to speak about concussions to groups of athletes, coaches and parents. He can be reached at 815-753-7366 or via email at mwilson@niu.edu.

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