Orthopedic Impairment: Definition & Characteristics

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

Orthopedic impairment may hinder a child's ability to learn. This lesson defines orthopedic impairment and then takes a look at three large categories thereof.

What Is Orthopedic Impairment?

Many times, when people think of a physical disability, they think of one that makes it difficult for someone to perform a physical task. This may include walking, or picking up an object, eating, or speaking. And this is true. However, there's more to it. When someone's, namely a child's, physical disability is such that it hurts their ability to learn and thus negatively impacts their education, this is called an orthopedic impairment. Let's take a look at its three main kinds.

Neuromotor Impairments

One type of orthopedic impairment is a neuromotor impairment. Your nervous system is composed of the brain, the spinal cord, and peripheral nerves (the ones lying outside the brain and spinal cord). Your brain is like a computer, and it uses USB cords, which symbolize the spinal cord and peripheral nerves, to communicate with external devices (like the muscles of the body).

If either the computer or the USB cord is abnormally made or damaged for any reason, then you can agree that the external devices won't work very well. One real world consequences of this is the inability of a child with a neuromotor impairment to properly move one or more limbs of their body. One disorder that can lead to improper body movements is a condition known as cerebral palsy, where damage to the brain or improper development of the brain before or not long after birth causes problems with movement and posture.

Degenerative Diseases

Another kind of orthopedic impairment can be caused by degenerative diseases, these are disorders characterized by progressively worsening structure or function of a body tissue. You can think of this as a computer that gets slower and slower over time or a cord that develops cracks over time.

One real world problem schoolchildren may face is called muscular dystrophy. This is a term that actually refers to a group of disorders that have, at their core, weakness and loss of muscle mass. One kind of muscular dystrophy is called Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, and it occurs as a result of a genetic defect that ultimately causes the muscles to deteriorate.

Compare a healthy muscle on the left with one undergoing dystrophy on the right, you can see how a big loss of muscle mass has occurred.

Musculoskeletal Disorders

The final kind of orthopedic impairment is composed of various musculoskeletal disorders. Like the other two categories, these disorders limit a child's physical abilities. However, they are more often a problem particular to the computer accessory than the computer (brain) or cord (spinal cord and peripheral nerves).

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