Education Overview

This information was researched and compiled by Stacy Corish and edited by Tom Eastland, for the purpose of enhancing the learning experience for students with Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus.



Learning is a varied experience for all children. Nonetheless there are several cognitive characteristics that are shared by children with Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus. Compared to the physical and health aspects of this disability, these characteristics have long been an overlooked component.

This page outlines some of these cognitive issues and offers a list of strategies intended to enhance the learning experience of students with Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus associated difficulties. It is our hope that this resource will assist teachers and parents alike.

The strategies that follow are designed to be adaptations and variations of teaching practices that are currently utilised in educational settings around Australia. They have been put into specific categories to provide parents and teachers with a list of ideas to fall back on if the student with Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus demonstrates a need for extra support in a particular area.

General characteristics

Students with Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus are often sociable, talkative (particularly with adults), and personable. They show a tendency toward above average verbal skills, although the level of understanding of their own vocabulary is limited. Most fall within the 'normal' range of intelligence.

Students with Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus show a tendency toward specific learning difficulties which may be generalised under the following categories:

  • Attention
  • Perceptual and motor ability
  • Comprehension
  • Memory
  • Problem solving and decision making
  • Planning and organisation
  • Mathematics

These learning difficulties are neurologically based and are not behavioural problems that reflect poor motivation or a lack of interest in learning. Students who display Hydrocephalus associated learning difficulties are unlikely to understand the nature of the deficit, and will require assistance in developing tactics that assist them to manage. Left alone to compensate they may have difficulty distinguishing fact from fiction, feign understanding, provide irrelevant answers and questions (particularly in stressful situations), or divert attention. Inevitably the student will underachieve.

General Strategies

The points that follow could be said to be good teaching practice for any child. Students with Hydrocephalus respond particularly well to them.

The student with Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus will often:

  • Be motivated by the experience of progress. Portfolios of their work, for example, will enable the student to see a link between effort and success.
  • Work best at the things that they can do, and things that are of interest to them. Utilising the child's personal strengths will provide an opportunity for success in as many areas as possible.
  • Have areas of expertise and interest that they, their peers, and family may be willing to adapt in relation to the curriculum. For example, a student who has had significant hospitalisations and is comfortable doing so may present a report about a particular body part or procedure, or they may construct an activity book for other patients.
  • Need feedback that is directive rather than corrective.
  • Will appreciate work that is appropriate to their chronological age, especially if they are aware that they are learning at a different rate to their peers.
  • Better understand the nature of their academic ability if they are given honest, constructive, and tangible feedback.
  • Need the difficulty of some work reduced, or assignments shortened.
  • Be well placed to achieve mastery if they can see a relevant application for a skill, and the opportunity to practice.