October is Spina Bifida Awareness Month. Spina bifida is the most common permanently disabling birth defect, affecting about one out of every 1,000 newborns in the United States.
What is spina bifida? It's a birth defect that results in the spinal cord protruding from a baby's back. The back can be surgically closed before or after birth, but damage to the spinal cord can cause paralysis, hydrocephalus (fluid on the brain), bowel and bladder issues, and other challenges.
What causes it, and how can it be prevented? No one knows what causes spina bifida, but women can reduce their risk by up to 70 percent by taking 400mcg of folic acid daily for three months prior to conception. Every woman of childbearing age should take a daily multivitamin.
What are people with spina bifida like? There is a wide range of outcomes. Some are barely affected, some are severely disabled and most fall somewhere in between. Some use wheelchairs; others use braces, crutches or walkers; and some walk independently. Most have normal intelligence. Spina bifida is only one part of them and does not define them. They can become teachers, doctors, musicians, athletes, or anything they want to be.
What do you do when you see someone with a disability? Instead of looking away, make eye contact and smile. Instead of shushing children who ask questions about a wheelchair or other differences, encourage children to ask the person about it, or answer with: "Some people's legs don't work the same as yours, so they need help to get around." Emphasize people with disabilities are more like everyone else than they are different.
If you would like to learn more about spina bifida, visit www.spinabifidaassociation.org.