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What Teachers Should Know

Muscular dystrophy (MD) is a genetic disorder that weakens muscles over time. It's caused by incorrect genetic information that prevents the body from making the proteins needed to build and maintain healthy muscles.

MD can affect a person's ability to do things like walk, sit upright, breathe easily, and move their arms and hands.

There is no cure for muscular dystrophy. But doctors are working to improve muscle and joint function and slow the rate of muscle damage so people with MD can live as actively and independently for as long as possible.

There are different types of muscular dystrophy. The two most common types are:

  • Duchenne MD: This is the most common and most severe form of muscular dystrophy. Boys with Duchenne usually begin to have problems around age 5 (girls can carry the genetic mutation that causes Duchenne, but usually have only mild symptoms). Most boys with this form will need to use a wheelchair by age 12. The respiratory (breathing) muscles and heart muscle may weaken in the teen years. Some boys with Duchenne also have learning problems.
  • Becker MDThis is similar to Duchenne but progresses more slowly. Symptoms usually begin during the teen years.

Students with MD may:

  • need an individualized education plan (IEP) or 504 education plan
  • need adaptive or assistive technological devices in the classroom (such as a keyboard for writing)
  • wear braces, use crutches or a walker, or need a wheelchair
  • need extra time to get to classes or need to use an elevator
  • miss class time due to physical therapy sessions and medical visits
  • need tutoring or support
  • need extra time to make up assignments and take tests
  • need preferential seating
  • be at risk for bullying

What Teachers Can Do

Symptoms and classroom accommodations needed will vary among students with MD. Talk to parents and caregivers to better understand your student’s needs.

Make sure your classroom is easy to get around and free of obstacles. Encourage classmates to be supportive and help when needed. Encourage your students with muscular dystrophy to participate in all classroom activities at their own pace and comfort level. Physical activity should be adapted to the student’s ability.

Medically reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD
Date reviewed: September 2023