Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA)

Early Signs and Symptoms of Spinal Muscular Atrophy

Generally, the later a person starts developing symptoms, the milder the disabilities will be. This is because later-onset forms of SMA, such as SMA type 2 or type 3, allow the muscles to develop at least partially while the body can still produce some of the SMN protein. For children with these types of SMA, the first symptoms might include early muscle fatigue, falling, loss of balance and difficulty performing tasks that used to be easy.

Infants born with SMA type 1 often start showing symptoms shortly after birth because they have little or no chance to produce the SMN proteins needed for healthy muscle functioning. Low muscle tone (“floppy baby”), with poor head control and limited leg movement are the main features of SMA type 1. Some babies have a quivering tongue, a telltale sign that alerts doctors that the infant may have SMA. Others might have difficulty sucking or have a belly-breathing pattern or fail to reach common development milestones such as sitting up or rolling over. 

No matter which type of SMA is involved, the sooner the condition can be diagnosed, the earlier the child can start receiving medications and therapy to optimize the child’s function and well-being.

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Limited Mobility Special Needs Factsheet

What Teachers Should Know

A student's mobility can be limited for a variety of reasons, including disease, injuries, or birth defects. Spinal cord injuries, paralysis, amputations, muscular dystrophy, arthritis, and cerebral palsy are examples of conditions that can limit a student's mobility. Mobility may be limited in the lower body, upper body, or both.

Students with limited mobility may:

  • use splints, casts, leg braces, canes, crutches, walkers, or wheelchairs
  • need extra time, as well as assistance, moving around classrooms, between classes, and throughout school
  • may be late to class due to difficulties getting around
  • miss class time to participate in occupational or physical therapy during the school day
  • use adaptive technology to help with writing, drawing, and other activities
  • need extra time to complete assignments
  • need special seats and desks or tables, and extra space for wheelchairs or other equipment
  • need other students or a scribe to take notes for them; or have class lectures, discussions, and activities recorded via video or audio
  • have specific accommodations listed in individualized education programs (IEP) or 504 education plans

What Teachers Can Do

Many students who depend on equipment to improve their mobility (whether temporarily or permanently) need to learn how to use it in many different situations in school and at home. In some cases, this can be a challenging and frustrating process for them.

You may need to modify the classroom environment, revise your teaching strategies, and make other adjustments. The accommodations you make for your students will depend on the specific impairment and the classroom environment. Make sure the classroom is easy to get around and free from obstacles. Encourage your students to ask for assistance when needed and to plan their routines and tasks ahead of time.

Have an evacuation plan in place in case of fire drills or emergency situations so all of your students can leave the classroom quickly and safely.

Make sure students with mobility issues are included in all classroom activities and any field trips, and that transportation arrangements are accessible by all students.

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: September 26, 2016