This post sets the scene for the subsequent posts by providing background information about multiples in general and introducing some of the problems families can face before or at the arrival of multiples. Some may be directly relevant to the multiples and teacher encounters and some are essential background:
“I could not believe the teacher. She started by asking if Rebecca and Daniel were identical twins! When I said they were born at 36 weeks and she went on about how early that was, I hardly had the heart to tell her it was pretty typical for twins. I hope she knows more about teaching than about twins! Actually, we got on pretty well after that.”
Not all twins are the same
“The three sets of twins I have taught have all been vastly different. One set was heavily dependent upon one another; another pair were very conscious of their unique position in the class and avoided each other at all costs, and the pair I have at present are almost oblivious of their situation. It is important to realize that each set of twins should be summed up according to their personalities and characteristics and handled accordingly throughout their stay within a particular class.”
This quotation from a South Australian teacher makes a most vital point with which to begin to explore this website there is no such thing as a policy applicable to all twins or higher multiples. What works well for one family may be totally inappropriate for the next. Thus such phrases as “twins always compete with each other” or “in this school we always separate twins” are not appropriate for today’s education which acknowledges the individuality of each child or in this case children Several Australian states have recognized that not all twins are the same by requiring schools NOT to have a formal policy that is applied to ALL multiple birth families. Thus decisions about such issues as separation of twins in school MUST be made on the basis of what is best for that family and not as a rigid policy or one based upon experiences with the previous set of multiples in the school.
It is of great concern that so many messages from families essentially all begin the same way
“In our school, the policy with multiples is to…..”
The aim of this set of posts is to introduce a best-practice model which uses empirical evidence to identify key questions in deciding what is best for these particular multiples at this stage of their schooling.
|Not all multiples have problems|
By necessity this site has to focus on things that can go wrong, to alert parents and teachers about areas where concerns may arise. If there are no problems, then you may not need this site! To take the most extreme example, child abuse is thankfully rare among families with multiples but two separate large-scale studies have shown it is, unfortunately, more common than among families with just singletons. We would be negligent not to raise this issue. Similarly, the Section on Speical Needs has one focus on cerebral palsy which is much more common in twins than singletons and even more common in triplets and higher multiples. Still relatively rare, but something that cannot be ignored.
The same applies to many of the other multiple birth issues that we introduce. In most cases, the multiple-birth family you are raising or teaching will have few or none of the problems we mention. The only problems we have flagged are ones where there is reliable scientific evidence of differences between multiple and singleton births in risk-which does NOT mean all multiples will be affected.
Rates of twinning
According to figures published by National Statistics, in England and Wales, the rate of multiple births has escalated enormously over the past 10 years. The National Statistics figures show that of 622,000 births in 1999, 8636 women gave birth to twins, 267 to triplets and four to quadruplets or more. Overall, there were 14.5 multiple births per 1000 births – 27% higher than in 1989. There are various reasons for this escalation which we discuss in the section-What causes Multiples- including assisted reproduction, older mothers, and more advanced techniques in prenatal care and in the care of pre-term and premature babies.
These figures mean that in England and Wales, in the last two years alone there have been born in the region of 17,000 children who are twins, 800 who are triplets, and at least 17 children who are quadruplets or higher multiples. Indeed Pat Preedy first became involved in multiples when nine sets started in the Infant Department of her school, the sort of experience that does focus the attention of teachers and heads on multiple births!
The diagram below sets out the changes between 1982 and 1998 in England and Wales. To give the figures in a different way, the rate of twins in this period has gone from 1 in 100 to 1 in 72. In this rise is not unique, The 1998 rate for Australia was 1 in 71, almost exactly the same.
The rate of triplets and even higher order multiples has gone from 1 in 1000 to 1 in 200. While we hear much about the “explosion” of higher multiples, we hear less about the high rates of disability in these children and the extra demands placed on the family, the school and health and support services. The rates of triplets and higher-order multiples really began in the early 1980s with the wider use of fertility drugs and the gradual growth of the more invasive reproductive technology. This led in the UK to the comprehensive survey published in 1990 with the title “Three, Four or More“. (see references)
Most of this book concerns health issues before or at birth and in the first year or two after the birth and there are only short sections on Preschool and School. However, the main themes of these do give us some idea of the questions that do arise and how different these are from the issues that face parents of singletons and even twins. The main problems at Preschool are:
- Getting all the children there
- Cost and whether there could be any reduction for “quantity”
- Finding places for all.
The main dilemma about higher multiples in school is the placement across or within classes. There are so many potential permutations complicated by the fact that one or more of the multiples may have special needs.
Ethnic group differences
The rates of non-identical twinning vary considerably between ethnic groups, while those of identical twins are fairly constant. Women of African origin are more likely to have multiple pregnancies than are Caucasian women, who in turn are more likely to have multiples than Asian women. This is not a recent phenomenon. The highest rate of twins in the world is among women of the Yoruba tribe in Nigeria. Even in countries with the most advanced medical management of multiples, there is still a hi in countries with the most advanced medical management of multiples, there is still higher perinatal mortality of multiples and in countries like Nigeria, the mortality is even higher. Over hundreds of years has developed the custom of the ibeji, wooden stylised images of the dead twin that are cared for within the family. So ethnic group differences in twinning rates have been around for a long time.
References: See here