EDUCATIONAL ISSUES AMONG CHILDREN WITH SPINA BIFIDA
Like anyone, there are things that children with Spina Bifida can do well and not so well. This is
also true for school work. Parents and teachers should come together to make sure that children
with Spina Bifida do their best at school. This fact sheet talks about some things about school
that children with Spina Bifida and their families should know. They include evaluation and
testing, getting into the right school and classes, getting the right services at school and meeting
the child’s social and emotional needs.
People often talk about children with disabilities by their challenge, rather than by what they do
well. All children can do some things well, and special tests help teachers and counselors learn
what these things are. These tests help them learn more about a child’s intellect, achievements
and general social and emotional functioning. These special tests usually include:
? intelligence testing;
? academic testing; and
? visual motor testing.
Other tests might be given to help teachers and counselors learn more about a child’s:
? language ability;
? learning skills; and
? social/emotional functioning.
To get special services at school, the government requires these tests. Some people believe that
the tests won’t help, since their children are being compared with others who don’t have
disabilities. But for children with Spina Bifida, there are comparison data. This helps school
systems find the right schools, classes and services.
When you start looking for help, it is good to know a little bit about children with Spina
Bifida/hydrocephalus in general. Most of this information relates the physical aspects of Spina
Bifida/hydrocephalus to intelligence and learning. Children with Spina Bifida/hydrocephalus
? average IQs. But every child is different. So there can be a broad range of scores on IQ
tests among children with Spina Bifida/hydrocephalus. Some may be “gifted,” while
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others may be considered “retarded.” Also, there can be major differences among specific
abilities due to health problems.
? word skills and IQs that are higher than performance skills.
? poor eye-hand coordination. This can make things like handwriting difficult.
? higher grades in reading and spelling than in math.
Other things to know:
? Verbal IQ scores are better at predicting how well a child will do at school than other
parts of an IQ test.
? The more the spinal cord is damaged, the greater the chance that a child will have
learning problems. Also, children with severe hydrocephalus tend to have low IQs.
? Even when children are very smart, other things will affect how well they do at school.
These things are memory, comprehension, attention, impulsivity, sequencing,
organization and reasoning.
Memory, attention, sequencing, reasoning, etc. should be checked along with IQ. They are
usually checked during a neuropsychological evaluation. These types of tests might check a
child’s ability to pay attention, impulsivity, or verbal learning.
Once parents, teachers and counselors learn as much as they can from these tests, they must then
use what they learned to help children get the most from school.
Testing For Everyone
Some parents ask if their children should have psychological or neuropsychological tests when
they are already doing well at school. If a child is in early grades, it is important to have these
tests done so future problem areas can be addressed early. It is especially important to learn
about things like sequencing, organization and problem-solving. When children have problems
in these areas, they tend to have less success as school gets harder. A difference usually is seen in thth4 grade. After 4 grade, these tests are useful, too. Parents and children can get answers to
questions they have about problem areas.
Interpreting Test Results and Placement
Many people think that once the test results are back, it will be easy to see what should be done
for a child. This is not always true. There are several reasons for this. Children with Spina
Bifida/hydrocephalus show inconsistencies on these tests. Often, people assume that children
with Spina Bifida/hydrocephalus who are not in a regular class will go in a class for
orthopedically handicapped (OH) children. This isn’t always true. A child’s learning disability
usually is the biggest factor in this decision. Test scores may show that children could go in
classes for children with mild to severe learning problems.
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Knowing how to read the results and make decisions based on these test scores is crucial. Usually a child with Spina Bifida/hydrocephalus may have an average score on verbal IQ but below average in nonverbal IQ. This often makes the overall IQ score slightly below average. Based on this, some might think it is best to put the child in a class for those with severe learning problems.
Parents and educators must know that verbal IQ is usually better at showing the child’s overall functioning than the nonverbal IQ score. This is true for two reasons. First, the nonverbal IQ is lowered by having Spina Bifida, including hydrocephalus and Chiari malformation. Second, research shows that verbal IQ is better at showing how well a child with Spina Bifida will do in school than the other test scores.
Parents and teachers must understand this so they can get the classes and services that are best for the child’s needs. A psychologist can further explain the details of this.
Like all children, those with Spina Bifida/hydrocephalus often can be put in a range of classes. Parents, educators, health care professionals and sometimes children must work together to choose what is best. Then, this decision can become part of the child’s Individual Education Plan
Beyond getting a child into the right classes, there are other decisions to make. Parents often ask how to work with the school if their children have perceptual-motor, inattention, memory or other learning problems, but are in regular classes. Teachers often see these problems and will work with the parents and children. If a child is receiving special education services, the parent can ask that these problems be addressed in the IEP. More can be found in the SBA fact sheet “Learning Among Children With Spina Bifida.”
Parents often hear from schools that their children aren’t doing well because they are lazy or too
dependent on the parents. First, like all children, those with Spina Bifida may try to get out of school work, chores or personal care. This is usually normal. At the same time, some children with Spina Bifida/hydrocephalus can become too dependent on parents or others for things that they can do for themselves. Parents should be able to admit this. Parents need to help their children achieve emotional independence. One expert thinks that all children are born with courage and that parents and teachers should help this courage be used. This expert says parents, teachers or others can discourage children by doing too much for them or by thinking that they can do no better.
It is important to note that a recent article said that children with Spina Bifida/hydrocephalus were rated by teachers across IQ and learning groups as working as hard as other children their age. Teachers also rated children as acting appropriately in school when compared to others their age. Overall, the article said that these children adjust well to the school, no matter their test scores.
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Parents and teachers usually have a lot of questions about homework. When a child has trouble
with movement, board work, and homework can be a problem. On one hand, most parents want
their children to have the same amount of homework as others. On the other hand, they want to
do things to work around movement problems. Most, if not all, children with disabilities can use
other ways to learn. So it is often helpful for a child to have less homework, as long as he or she
is learning. Computers and calculators can be used to help with written work and math, which
are often problems for children with Spina Bifida/hydrocephalus.
Drugs for ADHD
Parents also want to know about using medicine to help children who have problems paying
attention or are easily distracted. These children might have Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity
Disorder (ADHD). To know if a child has ADHD, he or she must see a health care provider. If
the health care provider says the child has ADHD, then drugs might be used. These drugs can
make a clear difference that everyone at home and school can see. No child should be given
these drugs without visiting a health care provider.
Parents, teachers, older children and others must be aware of all these issues to provide the best
education possible for children with Spina Bifida/hydrocephalus. Sometimes parents, schools
and health care providers can argue over “who is right.” Unfortunately, this can become more
important than what is best for the student, if they are not careful.
Children with Spina Bifida/hydrocephalus often have problems at school. So it is important to
always focus on the child’s best interests. When a student comes first, progress is possible.
Fact Sheet Contributor:
Donald J. Lollar, EdD
This information does not constitute medical advice for any individual. As specific cases may
vary from the general information presented here, SBA advises readers to consult a qualified
medical or other professional on an individual basis.
Revised June 2008
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