Awareness of Students with Diverse Learning Needs,
What the Teacher Needs to Know, Volume 1


Spina Bifida is a birth defect affecting the spine and nervous system. Occurring in the first four weeks of pregnancy, the vertebrae fail to close over and protect the spinal cord. Instead of being enclosed and protected by the vertebrae, the cord and its covering membranes bulge out through the spinal column. The damage is always below the lesion. As this happens nerves are damaged and no messages from the brain are transmitted. This results in a variety of disabilities.

The degree of weakening or paralysis depends on the location and extent of spinal cord damage. The opening may occur anywhere on the spinal cord causing lack of bladder and bowel control, paralysis, and lack of feeling or sensation.

Little is known about the cause of spina bifida. Until medical advances of the 1960s, little could be done to treat infants born with this birth defect. Both genetic and environmental factors may trigger the impairment. Surgery immediately after birth will close the opening and is intended to prevent infection and further damage.

Eighty-five per cent of children with spina bifida have hydrocephalus, accumulation of spinal fluid around the brain, which must be treated. A shunt (tube) is surgically implanted to drain the excess fluid to another part of the body. Some learning ability may be impaired as a result of this procedure.

At present, spina bifida is not preventable, but the symptoms can be treated. Recent research indicates that the addition of the B-vitamin, folic acid, to the diet of women of child-bearing age may significantly reduce the incidence of birth defects such as spina bifida.

Most children with spina bifida will perform successfully in a regular classroom. Others will require some support service, usually a teacher assistant. People with spina bifida can learn to cope, achieve independence and lead fulfilling lives.


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