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Scoliosis Special Needs Factsheet

What Teachers Should Know

Scoliosis is a condition in which the spine curves from side to side. A person with scoliosis may have a back that curves from side to side like an “S” or a “C.” Conditions like cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy can cause scoliosis, but most of the time there is no clear cause.


Scoliosis can develop gradually. It often isn’t diagnosed until a child is 10 to 14 years old, the ages when most kids are having growth spurts.

Most students with scoliosis don’t need any intervention because small curves generally don’t cause problems. But if the curve worsens, it can:

  • become more visible
  • cause discomfort or pain
  • affect a person’s lungs and heart
  • lead to damage in the joints of the spine

If the scoliosis curve is significant, doctors usually recommend wearing a back brace. Most braces can be worn under clothing. In severe cases, surgery is needed to help correct the curvature of the spine. With effective treatment, almost every student with scoliosis can have an active, normal life.

Students with scoliosis may:

  • walk slower than other students
  • walk with a limp
  • feel embarrassed about wearing a brace
  • miss a lot of class time if surgery is needed
  • need additional time to complete assignments and make up tests
  • benefit from a 504 educational plan that calls for seating accommodations, additional time getting to and from classes, and elevator privileges if available
  • need to visit the school nurse for pain medication or back brace adjustments
  • need to be excused from physical education and sports

What Teachers Can Do

Most children with scoliosis will have no physical limitations. Scoliosis does not affect a student’s ability to learn, but wearing a back brace or having physical limitations at school can make a student feel self-conscious or embarrassed. You can show support by encouraging participation in all activities the student is allowed to do, and by being understanding of any discomfort or fatigue the student might feel.

Depending on the complexity of the scoliosis, your student may need to see several specialists. Allowing extra time to complete assignments and sending class work home during recuperation can help prevent students from falling behind and feeling overwhelmed.

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: September 2014