By Michael-Ann Henry
Capital News Service
COLLEGE PARK – Mia Dinardo, a senior at Frederick High School in Frederick County, doesn’t remember much about the soccer game Sept. 17 that led to a collision that knocked her face down into the grass, unable to get up from her hands and knees.
She had to learn to deal with symptoms of the resulting concussion that kept her out of high school for six weeks — including headaches that strike when she reads and writes. She had to learn to fill out college applications despite that pain, including to her top choice, the University of Maryland.
But her experience proved the college application process and the coursework required for college can be completed even with some lingering concussion symptoms, she said. She had to marshal help from a variety of sources, though — including family, high school teachers and counselors. And she had to learn to advocate for herself, including on the college forms.
Dinardo had originally planned to apply to five colleges, but she dropped the number to three when she found she couldn’t finish Penn State University’s and Florida State University’s applications. Essay writing had become difficult for her, she said.
Her final lineup was Miami University, Ohio State University and Maryland.
Dinardo said she made sure to add the story of her concussion into the extenuating circumstances section of the Maryland application — as instructed by Frederick High School guidance counselor Danielle Moore.
Moore said she encourages high school students with extenuating circumstances to call college admissions offices with the information about their cases.
Colleen Newman, who has worked in the University of Maryland’s admissions office for four years and has been in the admissions field for eight, said it has been rare for applicants to include that they had a concussion. “I think it’s possible that they don’t think it’s important or that they aren’t sure what they should and shouldn’t share,” Newman said.
However, in the past three years Newman has seen an increase in students sharing their concussion details in their applications, she said. The details help admissions officers “to better put into context how a concussion may have impacted a student academically,” she said. They do not erase the academic performance, but they allow a university to make an informed decision, Newman said.
Ohio State University, one of Dinardo’s other college options, does not have a similar avenue for students suffering a concussion to share their story in their applications. The university uses a common application — used by more than 500 colleges and universities — which does not ask for extenuating circumstances, said admissions counselor Polly Pinelli.
And not all believe those details should be shared in an application. Vincent Vanzuela of Collegewise, a division of The Princeton Review that provides college admission counseling services, said he does not think that concussion information should be included unless the student plans to play sports in college. The information is unrelated to a student’s academic plans, he said.
The college application may not be the only stumbling block after a concussion.
Keeping academic performance up to prepare for college sometimes requires high school administrative intervention, Moore said.
“I didn’t realize this till like last month that the staff had to have a big meeting about me, where they all had to discuss what classes I would have to take so I could graduate,” Dinardo said. The staff was discussing her 504 plan, she said.
The 504 plan refers to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, which specifies that no one with a disability, even a temporary one, can be excluded from participating in federally funded programs or activities, including elementary, secondary or postsecondary schooling, Moore said.
The plan details the accommodations that will be needed for these students to have an opportunity to perform at the same level as their peers. For Dinardo that meant placing her in classes for her final semester that would fulfill her graduation requirements and fulfill the treatment requirements of her doctor, restricting her from anything that would cause a headache, like extensive writing.
“Yeah, the grades may drop a little bit, but that’s where the 504 plan steps in to make it equitable, so their grades aren’t affected too negatively,” Moore said.
“Luckily, I was taking film study, publications (yearbook) and tech theatre at that time, so my fourth class, AP human geography, was one of the only classes I had to struggle to catch up on,” Dinardo said.
Her human geography teacher made packets that summarized the lessons and allowed her to “cover most of the information with the least amount of work possible,” she said.
She had a more difficult time getting accommodations her second semester, she said. “I was taking AP literature, statistics and probability and AP Spanish. … Because I had gotten the concussion months before, none of my second semester teachers really believed me about the severity of my concussion, or they just assumed the symptoms had blown over, so I wasn’t very well accommodated the few times that I felt I needed to be,” Dinardo said.
She said her mom helped by reading some of her class material to her.
She finds school more difficult now, even with the medication she takes to manage her symptoms. “Before I was mostly straight As. I never really struggled with school. … Afterwards, I would still understand things, but I don’t think I test as well as I used to,” she said.
Despite the setbacks, Dinardo was accepted to all three of the schools she applied to. She said she plans to study criminology at the University of Maryland.
Her advice to others experiencing similar symptoms and hurdles?
“The best advice I feel like I can give is just to take it as an incredibly serious injury — whether it seems like one or not. I’ve had a few friends who have gotten concussions and just written them off as nothing, and that’s one of the things that worries me most, because it’s so dangerous,” Dinardo said.
CNS video of Mia Dinardo describing the play in the 2013 soccer game that led to her concussion.