Brain Injury Group Gets President’s Ear at Youth Concussion Summit

At the White House Healthy Kids and Safe Sports Concussion Summit last week, President Obama launched a number of private and public initiatives aimed at raising youth concussion awareness. The Brain Injury Association of America was there, pushing for better “return to learn” policies for student-athletes.

The concussion issue that has played out in every level of sports—from the National Football League to high schools across the country—finally made it to the White House last week.

President Barack Obama hosted members of various professional sports leagues, including the NFL, National Hockey League, and Major League Soccer, as well as a number of medical groups, for the Healthy Kids and Safe Sports Concussion Summit. Its purpose: to change the conversation around concussions and prompt improved prevention and awareness initiatives.

“We’ve got to have better research, better data, better safety equipment, better protocols. We’ve got to have every parent and coach and teacher recognize the signs of concussions. And we need more athletes to understand how important it is to do what we can to prevent injuries and to admit them when they do happen,” Obama said at the summit. “We have to change a culture that says you suck it up. Identifying a concussion and being able to self-diagnose that this is something that I need to take care of doesn’t make you weak—it means you’re strong.”

One group that earned a seat at the table was the Brain Injury Association of America, one of the oldest brain injury advocacy organizations in the country.

“We really speak on behalf of individuals with brain injuries and their families, but we also listen very carefully to the research and professional communities,” said Susan Connors, president and CEO of BIAA. “We’ve been tracking the issue of traumatic brain injury for more than 30 years now and trying to bring public attention to the fact that concussions are dangerous. The BIAA organized the first concussion summit back in 1996.”

Through its state affiliates, BIAA educates lawmakers on the concussion issue and played a big role in the introduction of return-to-play legislation, which requires student-athletes with concussions symptoms to be pulled from play and requires medical clearance before he or she may return. Such laws have been passed in all 50 states. At the summit, BIAA used the opportunity to talk about the next wave of policies that it hopes to see implemented: so-called return-to-learn provisions.

“The fact is that the number one job of a student is to go to school,” Connors said. “If your brain has been injured, you cannot expect to go and sit in a classroom and perform at the same level, just like you cannot jump back onto the playing field and perform at the same level. What would happen is you would become incredibly frustrated, and your behavior would reflect the difficulties that you’re having.”

BIAA also announced that it will collaborate with software company SAP to develop an app called Care Circles to help with concussion treatment.

“What the app will do is it bring all of the people around a brain injury patient, the circle of care providers, and put them all together in a secure location so that they can communicate with one another so that they can pull into their circle the kinds of information and tools they need to make sure that the person at the center of the circle recovers to the maximum extent possible,” Connors explained. So, for a student-athlete, parents, coaches, teachers, physicians, and trainers would have one central location where they could keep track of the student’s recovery.

BIAA had one strategy to help make its message stick while it had the president’s ear: stand out.

“You want to choose, based on your organization and its mission, values, and principles, the one thing that means the most to you in a situation like that, because you’ve got one shot,” said Connors. “In our view, what’s not getting enough play in the discussion is returning to the classroom, so that’s what we wanted to focus on. What we tell people is that, of course we would like to prevent and cure all brain injuries, but until that happens we want to make sure that people get access to care and can get back to school and sports as healthy as possible.”

President Barack Obama delivers opening remarks at the White House Healthy Kids & Safe Sports Concussion Summit. (photo by Pete Souza/White House)

Rob Stott

By Rob Stott

Rob Stott is a contributing editor for Associations Now. MORE

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