School Accommodations and SMA

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: August 2021

Children with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) often succeed in school. However, certain physical limitations may prevent them from participating in all academic activities. Accommodations in the school setting can help them overcome these limitations.

With some help, school can be a place for children to excel and develop self-confidence. Encourage children to join in as many activities as they can. Give them space to communicate and explore the school environment independently.

How does SMA affect children in school?

SMA does not affect the brain or the ability to learn. Children with SMA have normal intelligence.

Some studies have actually found that children with SMA have higher intelligence scores than their peers. School is a place where children can succeed and develop self-confidence.1

However, SMA can impose physical limitations on children. These limitations should not keep them from receiving a good education.

Parents can work with occupational therapists and school staff to make sure their child has the best academic setting. This includes certain accommodations that can help children participate in academic activities.2

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SMA does not affect children’s ability to form social relationships. However, stigma and difficulty in joining certain activities can impose social limitations.

The pressure to fit in with peers can be especially difficult for children with a physical disability. Social isolation can affect academic performance and attitudes about school. Try to build a support network for your child that includes friends, family, and a counselor or therapist.2

What accommodations can help students with SMA?

Schools can assign children classroom aides. They can help children with movement, lifting or moving objects, and using the bathroom. In high school and college, student note-takers can attend classes.2,3

Changes to the school and classroom environment may also be helpful. Examples include:3

  • Adapting physical education to focus on recreation
  • Having additional sets of textbooks to avoid transporting them
  • Having access to an elevator
  • Designing the class schedule to reduce travel
  • Having accessible seating in classrooms
  • Including special considerations in emergency evacuation, field trip, and school event plans
  • Physical therapy during the school day
  • Assistive devices to help with academic assignments

What are other ways to help students with SMA?

Your child’s classmates may be unfamiliar with SMA. They may be curious or have certain misconceptions about disabilities.

It may be helpful to send a letter to classmates and their parents. Ask your child’s teacher or principal for help sending out the letter. The letter can communicate:2

  • That your child can learn and socialize like their peers
  • That SMA is not contagious
  • Basic information about SMA
  • How SMA affects what your child can do
  • How other children and parents can help your child
  • How they can contact you if they have questions

Communicate early and often with teachers and school staff. Make sure they know what accommodations will help your child succeed in class. Give your child room to communicate independently with their peers and teachers. Learning how to communicate their needs and ask for help will improve their relationships and benefit children later in life.

What laws help students with SMA?

Before 3 years old, children can receive services through Early Intervention (EI) programs. These are programs provided by individual states.

EI programs include speech therapy, physical therapy, and other services. These programs can help children with disabilities succeed in school and later in life. Contact your state’s EI program for more information about eligibility and services they provide.2,4

After 3 years old, children with SMA are eligible for an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or a 504 plan. An IEP details the services, modifications, and accommodations children should receive.

Certain laws guarantee that schools remove any barriers to learning for children with SMA. This includes:2,5

  • Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
  • Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act
  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)