Monday, 30 November 2009

Never forget spina bifida

There may still be time

Conductive Education is best known for its applications for the benefit of children with cerebral palsy, so much so that one often hears and sees words to the effect that it was particularly developed for such young people.

Nothing could be further from reality. Adults with cerebral palsy and other disabling conditions benefit, and of course children with other disabilities that may cause development to 'derail' or 'dislocate' (Vygotskii's concept).

One of these 'other' conditions is spina bifida.

A coincidence

I write this today because of one of those remarkable coincidences that forces things to the forefront of attention. Twice today I have run up against Conductive Education and spina bifida.

1. This morning, I happened upon the following all-too-brief account, published in English on the Pető Institute's website:

Pető Success at the Arm Wrestling World Cup and Hegyvidék Fit Parade

Beáta Pécsi

9 November 2009

Ákos Galyas finished third on 17 Oct 2009 at the Arm Wrestling World Cup where 180 contestants of 10 nations tested their strength. A day later, he took part in another competition called the Hegyvidék Fitt Parade and he finished fifth in weightlifting.

Ákos was born with spina bifida (“open” spine) and has been using a wheelchair since childhood. He received conductive education at the Pető Primary School where he first showed an interest in ball games. Then he tried various sports, wheelchair half marathon, disabled tennis, weightlifting and arm wrestling with much success. He is four times Hungarian arm wrestling champion and six times Hungarian weight lifting champion. He was chosen “the disabled sportsman of the year” in 2007. Now he is preparing for the 2012 London Paralympics as he has qualified to represent Hungary. He returned to the Pető Institute in February 2009 to stay in the Pető Apartment Hotel and work at its reception in the mornings. In the afternoons before going to trainings, he spends his time with the primary school children to set a positive example for disabled kids. Keep it up, Ákos!

The Pető Institute's website is none too user-friendly for English-speakers. To see the original, go to and then click on the word ENGLISH towards the top-right of the page. There you will find this story, and a nice photograph of Ákos. This might prove useful when talking to parents and young people... even perhaps with professionals.

2. This afternoon Susie Mallett's Conductor site ( posted an item on spina bifida at the Pető Institute, from which I learned some interesting things:

  • there are no longer specialist spina bifida group at the Pető Institute
  • spina bifida children at the Pető Institute are no longer in spina bifida groups but are now incorporated into groups of children with cerebral palsy
  • a similar arrangement is followed at the Conductive Education Learning Centre in Grand Rapids, Michigan
  • there is now a spina bifida parents' blog, written by Andy and Leigh Gibbs (they receive their service at the CELC in Grand Rapids).

I am also reminded that there of a book in English, if you know where to look.

Carefully does it...

I do so hope there remains time to save enough of this specialism's essence for it to take new roots and grow – perhaps rather different in form – in new social and national contexts.

New, flexible and family-oriented modes of service delivery might make for considerable advances for spina bifida children and their families, as long as the approach can be treated seriously by the existing professional establishment in this sector. If this is to happen, then it may prove less than helpful to the cause to promulgate some of those tired old mantras that have long rung hollow in the field of CE and cerebral palsy. Parents deserve so much better than

Conductive Education is based on the theory that the central nervous system has the capacity to form new neural connections, despite neurological damage... the brain creates alternate paths to send messages to muscle groups, creating the desired movements'.

In spina bifida? Really? Think what this is saying about spinal lesion. There's a Nobel Prize or two waihing there for someone if that were true. There are better ways and more credible ways of articulating the practice, pedagogically and factually, than by bringing the scientific case down around our ears from the very start.


Today's posting on the Conductor site

New parents' blog

Previous postings on spina bifida


  1. we have 1 child with Spina Bifida at our centre and it has been brilliant. i have never had any experience with kids with SB but found it challenging, very enjoyable and most of all; effective.

  2. We have right now three children with Spina Bifida at the Movement Centre. We do not have specialist group either, therefore the children are in our more advanced groups, for children with CP. This has been working very well and the kids have made some great progress over the years.