This podcast is part of a series that highlights adjustments that can be made in the classroom to enable students with disability to access and participate in education on the same basis as their peers.
In this episode, we talk about adjustments teachers make in the classroom to support students with muscular dystrophy, or MD. A genetic neuromuscular disorder, MD causes progressive muscular degeneration. For some students with certain types of MD, the irreversible wasting of muscle tissue usually results in an inability to walk and sit upright, as well as triggering breathing and other difficulties.
Year 10 student Steven uses an electric wheelchair and he considers his biggest challenge to be getting from one class to another, stating that manoeuvring through the school grounds can be challenging. His mum Monica discusses how adjustments were modified as Steven’s condition deteriorated and he began to use the wheelchair. Visiting teacher Gabriela Thompson discusses why desk configurations are crucial to support a student with MD. Muscular Dystrophy Australia Executive Director Boris Struck explains why, given the ever-changing nature of MD, teachers need to focus on making the learning experience enjoyable every day. Maria Cooper, the Client Services Manager at Muscular Dystrophy Australia, emphasises the fact that students with MD will tire easily and adjustments need to be made to help them manage fatigue.
Top five takeaways
Fatigue is one of the biggest challenges that students with MD experience. They may experience a difficulty with maintaining alertness and concentration and are generally lethargic. Embed strategies in your daily routines to assist the student to maintain focus. This may include incorporating relaxation exercises that aren’t task-based into your schedule and class activities. Also, consider when programming assessment periods, avoid timetabling tests or challenging tasks presentations late in the day. Also, include regular rest breaks throughout the day.
Do an environmental assessment of your classroom and spaces where the student learns to ensure that the space is set up to support a student with MD. This may include creating easy access to desks and chairs and being mindful of desk configurations. Ensure that the student’s table is at the correct height and accommodates their electric wheel or other mobility equipment. Positioning the student facing the learning centre and providing them with a clear view of the whiteboard will help them to participate in all aspects of the class. If floor-based activities are planned, consider how you would include the student with MD, particularly if they are in an electric wheelchair, to avoid unnecessary attention. This could include the use of bean bags, or creating a balcony seating arrangement. Also, consider bathroom access so the student is able to meet their personal needs in a stress free manner.
Some students with MD may find executive functioning skills, such as organisation, challenging. Support students to develop their organisational skills and strategies using mind maps, flow charts, electronic diaries and graphic organisers. When students are supported to develop a plan of work, they are more likely to successfully complete tasks.
As MD progresses, students are likely to find handwriting challenging, followed by the use of computers. Depending on how the student is affected by MD, scaffold their learning using the right tools and adjustments. Consultation with an OT or visiting teacher will help identify the most appropriate adjustments and options for assistive technologies. If a student can no longer manage a pen grip, adapt to a computer system and modify the controls in their mouse to suit their individual hand strength. Also, provide notes to the student to limit the amount of writing that is required. If a student is unable to access computers, consider using speech-to-text technology as an option. This adjustment may assist with the prevention of fatigue.
Given MD is a progressive muscular condition, a student’s abilities may not be the same from one day to the next. Regular consultation with parents and carers is necessary to remain informed of the student’s current condition and provide information regarding school matters that may have a detrimental impact for a student with MD.
What steps can I take to reduce fatigue levels with students who have MD?
What environmental changes do I need to make in my classroom to support a student with MD?
How can I help a student with MD be better organised for the school day?
Given that MD is a progressive condition, how do I adjust my teaching strategies to accommodate changes in the student’s condition?
How can I ensure that a student with MD can participate in all aspects of school life including sports and excursions?