Looking After Your Child who has had a Recent Diagnosis of SMA Type 3
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Who is this for?
This guide is for parents and carers whose child has had a recent diagnosis of Spinal Muscular Atrophy Type 3 (SMA Type 3).
What’s in these pages?
These pages tell you more about the practical side of caring for a child who has SMA Type 3. It combines information about the healthcare your child may need, along with tips and suggestions that have worked for other families. As outcomes for children are changing due to treatment, and each child responds and develops differently, you may find that only some of the information here is relevant for your child. These pages are designed to be used alongside medical advice which should always come from your child’s medical team.
- Healthcare teams who support you
- Exercise and mobility
- Breathing and healthy eating
- Support and Resources
The impact of SMA Type 3 varies greatly between individuals and may change over time.
Is there a treatment?
One of the first questions many families ask their medical teams is, what treatment might be possible for my child? Since late 2016, the gradual worldwide introduction of drug treatments for some children, young people and adults who have SMA Type 3 has seen positive outcomes for many. Not every treatment is suitable or possible at the moment; your child’s medical team will talk you through this.
In the UK, treatment is possible for some children who have SMA Type 3:
- Nusinersen (SpinrazaTM) is funded by the NHS. You can read about it in our information sheet.
Other treatments you may have heard about:
- Onasemnogene abeparvovec, (ZolgensmaTM) is funded by the NHS only for eligible groups of children with SMA Type 1. You can read about it on this page.
- Risdiplam (also known as EvrysdiTM) is not yet funded by the NHS but may currently be prescribed in certain very limited circumstances for those who have SMA Type 1 or Type 2. You can read about this treatment on this page.
Your child’s medical team will have the latest information about treatments, and you will be able to discuss any possible option with them.
Whether or not your child receives drug treatment, your medical team will talk to you about the International Standards of Care for SMA (SoC)1,2 which are all about best care for children with SMA. You can find the family guide to the SoC here or contact us for a copy.
Who will be in my child’s medical team to support us?
Your child should receive care from members of a multidisciplinary healthcare team, who all have an important role to play. Over time, you may have contact with specialists in:
- neuromuscular conditions
- hospital or community paediatrics
- occupational therapy
The aim of the healthcare team is for your child to stay healthy and enjoy good quality of life. Different members of the team will meet you regularly both to measure any change in your child’s health and to offer advice and interventions at the right time. As well as looking at your child’s medical needs, when they talk with you about options for care of your child, they will also want to be aware of your family’s social, cultural and spiritual needs.
You should be given time to ask questions at every appointment with a member of your child’s team so that you can jointly decide what support is best for your child.
What vaccinations should my child have?
The SoC recommends that anyone with SMA should have the same vaccinations as given to any child in the UK. The only extra vaccinations are the pneumococcal vaccine (over the age of two this should be the vaccine with wider coverage known as ‘23 valent’) and annual flu vaccination.
What about exercise and my child’s future mobility?
Children with SMA Type 3 have at some point been able to walk unaided. SMA Type 3 can be further broken up into:
- Type 3a where symptoms begin at less than 3 years of age.
- Type 3b where symptoms begin at over 3 years of age. Children diagnosed later usually have difficulties with standing and walking later.
Your child’s physio is likely to suggest an individualised exercise programme so that your child can work on their strength, endurance, flexibility and balance. It’ll include exercises to preserve the flexibility of their joints – especially ankles and knees. Your child may be given supportive splints to help with this. The programme will take into account any difficulties they are having and what activities they would like to be able to do.
If your child is having difficulty with walking and keeping up or is too big for a buggy, a lightweight wheelchair may be helpful and improve independence. You can discuss what options there might be with your physiotherapist (physio) or occupational therapist (OT).
Will my child have any breathing difficulties?
The vast majority of individuals with SMA type 3 have no breathing problems; though a small proportion have been seen to have a small reduction in breathing ability.
If your child does have chest infections, your team will want to check the strength of their cough and whether they have any symptoms that suggest difficulties with breathing at night. Symptoms for this are things like: poor sleep quality, headaches, and daytime sleepiness. If they’re showing these signs they may need regular breathing tests. Unless you or your child are concerned, they won’t need any proactive management for breathing problems.
All children can be more susceptible to the effects of poor air quality, for example cigarette smoke. Children who are exposed to second-hand smoke are more likely to contract serious respiratory infections.
Advice on how to quit smoking is available from the Smokefree website.
What advice is there on eating, drinking and diet?
If your child is having difficulties with weight or eating, the SoC recommend you seek dietary advice from a professional, usually a dietician or nutritionist. They would work out the best diet for your child which would include correct calories, fibre for possible constipation, and nutrients, including adequate calcium and Vitamin D for bone health if needed. Dieticians will also help prevent or treat any weight problems.
I’m worried about how we’re going to cope with this, what other help can I get?
A diagnosis of SMA Type 3 and the future uncertainty it brings can have a very big impact on families.
It’s important that you and your child have emotional support and plenty of time to talk and ask questions. This can be with members of your child’s medical team, your local GP, health visitor, social worker, psychologist or a counsellor.
Over time, so that your child can participate fully in activities, you may need further information and support on mobility, education, equipment and sources of funding. You can find out more by talking to your child’s healthcare team, SMA UK’s Support Services Team, and the other people and organisations listed at the end of this leaflet.
What about any Financial Support?
Families living in the UK may be eligible for financial benefits to help towards the cost of providing any extra care their child may need. This does depend on your individual circumstances. For further information, please click here.
There are also a number of charities that may assist you with the cost of general household goods, specialist equipment and holidays / days out. Please contact SMA UK for more information or see the Living With SMA area of our website.
Support and Resources
The International Standards of Care for Spinal Muscular
Atrophy (2017) and the guide for families can be read / downloaded from here.
We provide a free Support & Outreach Service for families by email, phone, text and outreach home-visiting. Our experienced team offer personalised support and information and are available to answer questions and talk things through. Though we don’t give medical advice, we can discuss with you the support you and your family can access.
You can upload a copy of your child's latest emergency health plan using our EHP app which follows the NHS guideliness for data privacy. It's free to download on Android and iOS. You can find out more here.
If you're wondering about an aspect of life with SMA, we hope the Living With SMA area of our website will be a helpful starting point, giving you useful information and ideas. It builds on knowledge and advice from the SMA Community and SMA UK's Support Services Team, and covers a whole host of topics, including: health & wellbeing, equipment, homes, education, transport, leisure, holidays, financial, and emotional & social support.
Any family affected by SMA, living in the UK, can request a free copy of the following books:
- Smasheroo - written by the mother of a child who has SMA, with illustrations by Mary Hall, this uplifting story highlights that everyone is different and everyone is special in their own way.
- SMA Type 3 and Me - an illustrated book published in 2016 for children aged 8 – 12 years, but it could also be read to a younger child. As of October 2019, it remains factually correct and may still be useful. We will not be updating this book and instead are building new resources in the Living With SMA area of our website, here.
You will find more information about nusinersen and what is happening in the UK here.
Our information sheet ‘Nusinersen (also known as SpinrazaTM) treatment for those diagnosed with SMA Type 2 or 3’ can be read / downloaded from here.
Muscular Dystrophy UK
Phone: 0800 652 6352
Provide information, support, advocacy services and grants towards specialist equipment for people affected by a range of neuromuscular conditions. They also have condition specific ‘alert cards’ which can be used to provide medical professionals with information. A link to their alert card for SMA Type 3 can be found here.
Contact for Families with Disabled Children
Phone: 0808 808 3555
Provide information and support to families who have a child with a disability, including information on benefits and grants.
These have been set up by people in the SMA Community. If you’re interested in any of the support groups offered, please contact the group directly. You can find details of some of them here.
Author: SMA UK Information Production Team
Published: September 2018
Last updated: May 2021
Next full review due: September 2021
This information booklet is one of our 'Looking After...' series, which was highly commended in the 2019 British Medical Association Patient Information Awards.
1. Mercuri E, Finkel RS, Muntoni F, Wirth B, Montes J, Main M, Mazzone ES, Vitale M, Snyder B, Quijano-Roy S, Bertini E, Davis RH, Meyer OH, Simonds AK, Schroth MK, Graham RJ, Kirschner J, Iannaccone ST, Crawford TO, Woods S, Qian Y, Sejersen T; SMA Care Group. Diagnosis and management of spinal muscular atrophy: Part 1: recommendations for diagnosis, rehabilitation, orthopedic and nutritional care. Neuromuscul Disord. 2018 Feb;28(2):103-115. doi:10.1016/j.nmd.2017.11.005. Epub 2017 Nov 23. http://smauk.org.uk/international-standards-of-care-for-sma (Accessed 29 August 2018)
2. Finkel RS, Mercuri E, Meyer OH, Simonds AK, Schroth MK, Graham RJ, Kirschner J, Iannaccone ST, Crawford TO, Woods S, Muntoni F, Wirth B, Montes J, Main M, Mazzone ES, Vitale M, Snyder B, Quijano-Roy S, Bertini E, Davis RH, Qian Y,Sejersen T; SMA Care group. Diagnosis and management of spinal muscular atrophy: Part 2: Pulmonary and acute care; medications, supplements and immunizations; other organ systems; and ethics. Neuromuscul Disord. 2018 Mar;28(3):197-207. doi: 10.1016/j.nmd.2017.11.004. Epub 2017 Nov 23. http://smauk.org.uk/international-standards-of-care-for-sma (Accessed 29 August 2018)
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