How to support learning for children with Spina Bifida

Children with spina bifida may be hyperactive and have problems with sequencing.

Children with spina bifida may be hyperactive and have problems with sequencing.

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What you need to know:

  • Children with spina bifida are not limited academically.
  • The Centre for Disease Control recommends you have your child evaluated psychologically and neuro-psychologically by a qualified medical practitioner.
  • There are certain aspects of spina bifida that can trigger secondary complications that could make learning a challenge.

There are certain things about Spina Bifida that you should know if your school-going child had the condition. These will help you to assist your child to cope better and realise their education dreams.

Academic performance

According to child therapist Monica Ndirangu, it is important to understand that children with spina bifida are not limited academically. Your child can top their class if given the opportunity, parental support, and proper academic resources. The Centre for Disease Control recommends you have your child evaluated psychologically and neuro-psychologically by a qualified medical practitioner. This will identify their individual strengths and weaknesses.

Nonetheless, there are certain aspects of spina bifida that can trigger secondary complications that could make learning a challenge. For instance, children with shunts that are used to treat hydrocephalus can have difficulties in comparison to other children with less severe forms of spina bifida. “These children often have problems with learning. They might have difficulty paying attention or work slowly, be restless, or lose things,” says the CDC. “These children may also have trouble making decisions, especially where no form of independence and therapy have been nurtured.” This is echoed by the Spina Bifida Association’s guidelines on learning for children with spina bifida. The guidelines state that perceptual-motor problems are a common challenge among these children. “Children with shunted hydrocephalus have poor eye-hand coordination. Also, ineffective motor skills among children with spina bifida may interfere with the ability to move, use tools, read and write,” the guidelines state.

According to the guide from the Spina Bifida Association (SBA), other challenges that your school going child might face include:

Sequencing

Children with spina bifida tend to have trouble keeping ideas or doing activities in their proper order. For example, when your child is doing their math homework, you may notice they are struggling to sequence, tell time, or count change. This is also evident when it comes to storytelling and writing. “Good stories that can be told in an orderly way may not easily be written down because children cannot organise ideas,” the guideline says. This may also see the child unable to organise themselves or the things around them.

With math, the SBA guidelines say you should expect your child will have difficulty understanding the actual size of different numbers, and difficulties telling how far apart numbers are from each other. “For example, it might be difficult for your child to identify which between 9 and 19 is furthest away from the number 12. To remedy this confusion, your child should practice using an actual number line to help them see the differences between numbers. This helps build number sense in general,” the guidelines state.

Hyperactivity or Impulsivity

Children with spina bifida often appear fidgety and impulsive. The consequence is the child rushing into doing things and, or doing things carelessly. At the same time, the child may regularly display an inability to understand and execute concepts. The SBA says this challenge can be managed if the child is presented to a psychologist, pediatrician, or neurologist for evaluation.

Attention

At school, a child with spina bifida may have problems paying attention. As a result, they will be missing their assignments, completing their school work slowly, or having the tendency to overlook social cues. “If this attention problem continues, it may be necessary for you to have your child evaluated for a possible condition known as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder as well,” the guideline state. The results of this therapy will determine the type of therapy and treatment the child will be taken through. In the same vein, the child may have poor memory. For instance, they may understand what they see and hear what they are told but might have problems remembering the details about what they saw or what they heard. According to SBA guidelines, this may apply to their comprehension, reading, and writing. “During early elementary school, children with spina bifida are often successful in developing single-word reading skills but are likely to have more difficulty understanding what they are reading. Because of this, early screening of listening comprehension and reading comprehension are recommended for children, particularly around second or third grade,” the guidelines recommend.

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