S P I N A  B I F I D A

Definition: Spina Bifida is the most common permanently disabling congenital disorder in the United States. The Latin term Spina Bifida means split spine. Spina Bifida is a neural tube defect indicated by an opening in the vertebrae in the spinal cord due to the inability of the bones to come together prior to birth. This can lead to spinal fluid, part of the membrane surrounding the spinal cord or part of the spinal cord itself to protrude out of the bone surrounding the spine.

Causes: It is not known what causes Spina Bifida but there is some support in favor of genetic attribution and environmental factors inside the womb.

Treatment: There is no known cure for Spina Bifida. However, surgical treatment can enable individuals with Spina Bifida to walk with or without walking aids.

Prevention: There is evidence that intake of folic acid (vitamin B9) by pregnant mothers before and during pregnancy can lower risk of Spina Bifida. There has been a 31% decrease in incidence of Spina Bifida due to increased daily intake of Folic Acid by women of child bearing age.

Types: There are three different types of Spina Bifida: Spina Bifida Occulta, Meningocele, Myelomeningocele.

  • 1) Spina Bifida Occulta

This is the mildest form of Spina Bifida and often goes undiagnosed because there are no complications. In fact, about 20-30% of the population in United States has Spina Bifida Occulta but is never diagnosed because of absence of symptoms. This is so because the opening between the vertebrae does not affect the spinal cord. The membranes surrounding the spinal cord or the nerves in the spinal cord are not exposed or damaged.

  • 2) Meningocele

This is a milder form of Spina Bifida and can be treated surgically. This so because only the membranes surrounding the spinal column protrude from the opening(s) in the vertebrae and the spinal cord itself is not damaged. The sac resulting from the protrusion of the membranes of the spinal cord can be removed or closed surgically without any damage to the nerves in the spinal cord.

  • 3) Myelomeningocele

This is the severest form of Spina Bifida due to protrusion of the spinal cord through one or more opening in the vertebrae. The protrusion of the spinal cord makes nerves in that part of the cord vulnerable to infection and injury. The resulting complications vary by the location and size of the protrusion, and can be as severe as complete paralysis of the lower body. In addition to paralysis, an individual with Myelomeningocele struggles with mobility, bowel and bladder control, faces difficulty breathing and swallowing, and can suffer from seizures. Another associated complication is Hydrocephalus which is accumulation of excessive spinal fluid in the brain and can lead to increased pressure on different parts of the brain and an enlarged head.


Nationwide: 0.035% (about 70,000 individuals). Statewide (MD): 0.033% (about 1900 individuals).

National prevalence is highest for Hispanic mothers (0.042%) as compared to 0.032% for Non-Hispanic White mothers and 0.026% for Non-Hispanic African American mothers.

Teaching Strategies:

Individuals with Spina Bifida have IQ’s within the normal range but face difficulties with perceptual-motor skills such as those required for hand-eye coordination for taking handwritten notes. Some individuals also have trouble with memory, comprehension, attention, impulsivity, organization and reasoning. Other concerns are mobility, continence and bowel control.

Based on the above, students suffering from Spina Bifida benefit from Individual Education Programs that incorporate:

1. Electronic note taking or Audio recording of lessons.

2. Teaching students study skills such as skimming and scanning.

3. Instructing the student at the same physical (eye) level as the student.

4. Shorter instruction spans.

5. Extra time on assignments.

6. Group study and peer collaboration.

7. Classroom adjustments to ensure easy mobility.

8. Collaboration and communication with parents and school care staff to ensure a healthy and safe learning environment.

Family Resources:

Spina Bifida Association of Maryland

2416 Lampost Lane
Baltimore, MD 21234
(410) 279-1049


Easter Seals Greater Washington-Baltimore Region, Inc.,

111 North Cherry Street
Falls Church, VA 22046
Phone: 703-534-5353

Kennedy Krieger Institute

The Keelty Center for Spina Bifida and Related Disorders
707 N. Broadway,
Baltimore, MD 21205
(443) 923-9130


Fact. (2014, August 5). [photograph]. Retrieved February 8, 2015, from http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/spinabifida/facts.html

Living with Spina Bifida Documentary. (n.d.). Retrieved February 23, 2015, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IH2HXxovsck

Minnesota Department of Health. (n.d.). Retrieved February 8, 2015, from http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/cfh/topic/diseasesconds/spinabifida.cfm

Sanchir, M. (2014, September 23). Spina Bifida [photograph]. Retrieved February 8, 2015, from https://prezi.com/jw9z1sv6_s1d/spina-bifida/

Spina Bifida Data and Statistics. (2014, August 5). Retrieved February 8, 2015, from http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/spinabifida/data.html

Spina Bifida Statistics. (n.d.). Retrieved February 8, 2015, from http://www.sbamar.org/About-SB/spina-bifida-statistics

Strategies for Learning and Teaching. (n.d.). Retrieved February 8, 2015, from http://www.sess.ie/categories/physical-disabilities/spina-bifida/tips-learning-and-teaching

What is Spina Bifida? (n.d.). Retrieved February 8, 2015, from http://www.spinabifidaassociation.org/site/c.evKRI7OXIoJ8H/b.8277225/k.5A79/What_is_Spina_Bifida.htm

What is Spina Bifida. (n.d.). [photograph]. Retrieved February 8, 2015, from http://www.sbstl.com/education-and-resources/what-spina-bifida/

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