Meaghan Beaudoin just could not figure out what was going on in her head.
Sure, she was once knocked unconscious while playing soccer at Cal Poly during the early 2000s. But a hospital told her she was fine because there were no blood clots in her brain.
But she was failing classes. She could not quite grasp what she was learning.
A couple of years into Cal Poly, Beaudoin got an answer: Second-impact syndrome from the concussions she got in high school.
“I don’t want my students to go through what I went through,” said Beaudoin, now the athletic trainer at Sage Hill School in Newport Beach.
Concussion and its symptoms can be hard to spot, but its impacts are far-reaching, especially for student-athletes. Furthermore, the athletes cannot fully dedicate themselves to rest or rehabilitation. They have classes to go and homework to finish.
Tricia Kasamatsu, a Cal State Fullerton kinesiology professor who joined the university in 2015, has been researching how high schools support student-athletes after a concussion.
She said that until recently, schools and researchers had neglected much of the so-called “return-to-learn” aspect of concussions.
“It’s still a gray area,” she said.
Kasamatsu had been working as a high school athletic trainer and biology teacher in El Modena High School in Orange, after getting her bachelor’s degree in kinesiology and her master’s teaching degree at Chapman University.
In 2010, a football player told her that he was struggling in his classes.
People around him didn’t know what to do. They wanted to help, but some of them wondered whether he was faking his injuries to slack off.
This experience motivated Kasamatsu to research how schools can best guide concussed student-athletes’ return to class. For her doctorate in education at Chapman, Kasamatsu wrote a dissertation on the topic.
She said many concussed students experience similar issues as students with learning disabilities.
The concussed students get headaches when they try to focus. They have a harder time remembering what they had learned. They face emotional distress, from their concussions and also often from the fact that they can’t play the sports they love.
“(Concussion) is a collection of emotional, physical and psychological stress,” she said.
The California Interscholastic Federation, or CIF, has a “return to learn” protocol, which recommends teachers give recovering students breaks and less homework.