Sunday, 19 April 2009

Cerebral palsy: early warning for ANZACs

Start now to make impression on home territory

The first announcement has been made for another big cerebral palsy conference, this one for Australia and New Zealand

Getting a good start

AusACPDM 5th Biennial Conference

Christchurch Convention Centre
New Zealand
3-6 March 2010

This will be the fifth Biennial Conference of the Australasian Academy of Cerebral Palsy and Developmental Medicine conference. The fourth was held in Brisbane in April 2008 and it may come as little surprise to learn that Conductive Education was not one of the topics aired to the four-hundred and fifty people attending there.

There is yet time to remedy this situation for the fifth, either from Australia and New Zealand themselves or perhaps also from countries outside the region.

AusACPDM ‘is a multidisciplinary group…[that] promotes education, advocacy, research and evidence based practices in the field of childhood disability, in addition to fostering international professional networks’.

This event will be regarded by the Australian and New Zealand cerebral palsy establishment as an important component of the continuing process that defines what is best and right for cerebral palsy down under. If Conductive Education does not participate, put itself about, display posters, make presentations, then it is not merely invisible for a certain influential stratum, it does not exist.

Fatal omissions

Don’t let this be another major cerebral palsy conference with nothing to show that Conductive Education even exists! Here are a couple of immediate mesages that the CE movement might wish to contribute to this conference as advertised.
  • The conference promises that those who attend will come away with ‘practical evidence-based knowledge to more effectively manage children and young people with cerebral palsy and developmental disorders across the lifespan’.

    ‘Across the life-span’? At the very least, conductivitsts could remind the Academy that children and young people with cerebral palsy do not die as soon as they grow up. Nor are they Peter Pans who live on but never grow up, remaining ‘children’ for the rest of their lives. ‘Life-span’ has profound and concrete meaning for everyone with personal involvement in cerebral palsy, and should never be spoken lightly.

    The grand term ‘across the life-span’ means just what it says. The life-span of people with cerebral palsy includes adults in their prime and old people too, the problems that they and their families might face, and the services that they might wish to access for practical professional help in solving these. None of this is best served by infantilising their condition.

    The Academy’s fifth conference has as one of its themes ‘A good start to the adult and teenage years’ This is a start, and a wonderful opening for bringing conductive practice to a wider audience.
  • One might also hope to that the meeting could be helped towards grasping that the concept of ‘managing children and young people’ is not used in any other sector of childhood upbringing and education, other than with respect to containing difficult, violent and delinquent behaviour. Its continuing and apparently unthinking use with respect to children and young people with physical disabilities (not unique to this organisation, by any means) is creakingly out of date, inhumane and suggestive of a mind-set that bears little examination. with respect to longer-term life-time goals. Another of the advertised conference themes, 'A good start to managing plasticity’ offers a further opening for an alternative formulation. Conductive Education offers something much superior to 'management', that's why families around the world have fought so keenly for this new pradigm.

As ever, act now

No one else will do it for you. No one owes CE a living.

If Conductive Education has anything to say, then it should be saying it, among other places, at conferences like this. The days of CE’s being invited to such gatherings for its novelty value are long over. Conductive Education will have to apply, like everyone else, go through the submission process, and set up its stall like everyone else. Be assured, academics of every stripe are not backward in arguing and demonstrating their own wares.

Will the CE movement in Australia and New Zealand, some twenty-five years into its development, prove sufficiently articulate and robust to bring to this conference a view of the cerebral palsies as a developmental condition like any other:

  • dynamic in its genesis and its very nature, and therefore
  • prospective in the requirements that it places upon those professionally committed to serving both those directly affected and those who care for them?

In the long term, it is responsible, or prudent, to allow the Academy to continue in outmoded ways of thinking, and let go a chance to make some sort of statement (preferably, more than one).

ANZAC conductivists have less than a year to the conference (though submissions will have to be in a lot before then). And of course other nations may also wish to state their position in Christchurch in 2010. In the meantime the Academy arranges ‘regular scientific meetings’, to practice and build upon.

And please let no one think that this article is directed specifically towards Australia and New Zealand. The conference in 2010 has merely served to prompt again the sentiments expressed here. The point is a general one.


  1. Andrew - If a group of us Downunder people could raise the money for airfares, accommodation and conference fees, and if you could face the horrible, interminable flight, would you consider submitting an applicatioon to speak at the conference?
    Also, a visit from you would present a golden opportunity to have an Aust/NZ/Asia CE conference. Many of us in Australia would love to hear about what is happening re CE in NZ, and how the NZers managed to make it happen so successfully there.
    Also, have you ever been in contact with Prof. Janet Eyre, based at Newcastle University according to the conference website, where she is "now evaluating interventions using the brain's plasticity to mitigate consequences of early brain lesions, so improving longterm outcomes of children with CP."
    And to think - when early CE advocates first began proposing that the brain was plastic, the Medical Establishment scoffed!!
    Maybe Janet might like to stay on in her native country after the conference, and attend our CE conference?

  2. Dear Sue,

    What a very nice prospect, and thank you so much for asking me.

    As far as the Academy’s conference is concerned, though, I actually had something very different in mind when I wrote the above posting, encouraging the local talent to stand up and be counted. The days when CE was such a novelty that one had to parachute in some foreign type to speak up for it are long gone.

    I did in fact do just that in Oz, in Melbourne back in 1988 I think, and most enjoyable it was too, for me anyway. But that was twenty years ago and those days are past.

    Now it is time for the people on the spot who are doing the work to stand by their beds for inspection. And as you say, the Kiwis particularly have something impressive to bring to the Academy's attention, a whole system in the making based upon precepts that are, I guess, outside the experience or imaginings of most of those who will attend the conference. And on home territory too, not in some distant country ‘behind the Iron Curtain’ (and therefore judged as de facto dodgy, as things were in 1988). They might also like to hear what is being aspired to in WA. And places between.

    The Academy has a responsibility to know, but the CE folk also have a duty to tell, and are in far better position to do so, convincingly and unarguably, than I ever could.

    As for an Australian/NZ conference, perhaps also in Christchurch and end-on to the Academy’s bash, that’s a cracking idea. Australians ought to be seeing what they are missing and questioning why things have fetched up so badly after such an auspicious start in the mid-eighties. And both countries, despite the great differences in social institutions and national ways, ought to be seeing what problems they might have in common (such as future supply of conductors) and what common solutions might be aimed for (such as conductor-training).

    The idea of bringing in SE Asia and HK China, is also a very interesting one (don’t forget the big Congress in Hong Kong in December 2009, and adjust any arrangements that you might make accordingly).

    So, flattered as I am by your invitation, and tempting though the prospect of visiting those distant patches of pink, I think that your best course would be to see what the local talent thinks of submitting a few presentations or posters to the Academy’s event, and/or seeing about who would back an Anzac CE conference alongside it where it could not be missed.

    If that looks a runner, and people really want some directly from me for the CE movement down there, then I’m on.

    There’s another thread to your Comment. I shall return to that later.


    PS By the way, what a welcome novelty, to be discussing such a thing in a public forum, so different from the usual smoke-filled rooms. Thanks for initiating it in this way.

  3. I agree with you Andrew that it really is up to the locals, especially locals who are successfully developing CE in their country, to talk about what they have achieved and what plans they have for the future. It is important whenever possible to make this public by giving presentations at many conferences.

    Having read about Sue’s excellent idea considering having a CE conference alongside the Academy event I realised that it is really is quite impressive that Conductive Education in Germany actually has a fairly large-scale CE congress every two years. The 2008 congress was so successful that the next one is being planned for 2009!

    These conferences, which have grown in size over the past ten years, have always offered more than just CE, with presentations from doctors, researchers and psychologists but the main core has been the “locals” reporting on the work, and developments in “CE Germany “.

    Whatever CE Germany may be, or may be developing into, a bi-annual CE congress is still quite impressive and perhaps one factor in its success.