Friday, 12 November 2010

'Conductive lifestyle'

Time to start concretising this term
This is a start

Increasing part of the discussion around Conductive Education, what it is and how it might be implemented, is the concept of 'conductive lifestyle' – as means, goal and outcome of conductive upbringing and involving both those with motor disorders themselves, children and adults, and their families and professional cares.

A complex enough concept to be brought together!

As a tentative step towards clarifying what this means I draw here upon the reports and reflections of parents with direct and protracted experience of living conductive family lifestyles.

These accounts were not collected specifically for this purpose. In fact, I lit upon them as it were by chance, only this afternoon. Whilst I indexing Intelligent Love, the next upcoming book from Conductive Education Press, I noticed certain passages falling into place under the index entries 'lifestyle, conductive', 'values' and 'orthofunctioning'. Some of these are extracted below.

Why 'orthofunctioning' here? Because it has been (and continues to be) so seriously misunderstood through the simplistic index of 'walking', while a better equivalence would be 'conductive lifestyle'. This more recent English expression seems a more humane and comprehensible equivalent than the older Latinate one.

The authors of the brief extracts from Intelligent Love quoted here, their countries, and the page numbers of the qutation, are given in brackets after each brief extract.

What is a conductive lifestyle?... It has been an uphill struggle and no mistake, yet we feel proud of what we have achieved together as a family. The moment of truth about George’s brain damage certainly restricted my life in many cruel ways, but at the same time it has enriched it too. ‘Standing up for George’ – and for others, like him and like ourselves, his parents – has made me a much stronger, many-sided person. I have become more assertive, I engage in public-policy debates on many levels.
(Emma McDowell, United Kingdom, pp.25-26 )

As a family, we have found Conductive Education to be the best way of teaching that we have ever encountered for children with motor-disorders. They somehow find within themselves a way of over-coming many of their own challenges. I believe firmly that Conductive Education is a family effort. It takes a large commitment from everyone. It’s not a group of exercises; it’s a system of learning that needs to be used all the time. Some families may not be able to make this commitment .It can be quite difficult to maintain. Others make the commitment with ease...
Although Holly has not achieved full ‘orthofunction’, we don’t care! She has achieved as much as she can. She has learned to work with her own body and to overcome multiple problems. That’s all anyone can ask.
(Gail Edgecombe, New Zealand, p.90)

Conductive Education has tended to have a kind of Holy Grail attached to it – something aspired towards by parents as the ultimate goal for their child – that they become ‘orthofunctional’. In our simplistic terms Yvonne and I boiled this down to the aim that Ben learn to walk independently. The first question that I asked when the Pető Institute agreed to take Ben on was ‘will you get him to walk?’ Years living a ‘conductive’ life, however, have taught us that Conductive Education is far more holistic than that.
Ben had walked out of the Birmingham Institute with a frame, yet he has never been able to say goodbye to his wheelchair. But this is irrelevant in terms of judging the ‘success’ of Conductive Education in regard to our son. Conductive Education has immeasurably and irrevocably changed and improved Ben’s life, our family life and my life as an individual. It opened doors, expanded horizons and turned a family of four from Sutton Coldfield into a family of fighters. Ben is the young adult that he is because of Conductive Education – not just through what it ‘taught’ him, but through the will to succeed that it unearthed in him. I, personally, am without doubt the man that I am today because of Conductive Education.
Our conductive journey left ‘Wait and see’ behind on day one. It gave us permission to hope and allowed us to take charge of our son’s future. Most crucially, it taught us that great things come only out of great expectations.
(Paul Kelly, United Kingdom, p. 97)

But what were the underlying values that made the whole Conductive Education method so attractive? This is what made it so for me:
      the value of working hard for something
     being enticed to try what seems to be the impossible and make it a possibility; moving from a secret, hidden, unachievable action  to an actual real possibility
     the hope that something can be done
     the simplicity of minimal equipment and using life’s surroundings as therapy
     the supported belief that one’s children have more in them than they are able to show the rest of the world...
(Ellie Render, Israel pp. 117-118)

Over the years our son has often said that he prefers doing his Conductive Education with his family, where he can learn to use the things in his own home that he needs in his everyday life. From the very beginning, for example, he had to learn to walk the stairs at home, as we live on the second and third floors of an old farmhouse. The stairs spiral upwards, they are tiled and have no banister. He has walked both up and down them for the past five years totally independently. Having learnt this at home he is able to climb stairs, and step on and off the curb, step on to buses and trains, wherever he finds himself. He is very independent outside of his home, as he learnt early on to climb the stairs...
We have been able to offer our son all the experiences that our other children have had by learning how to do them with him, despite his motor disorder, and we have been able to motivate him to take part in all that we do as a family...
Our children have grown up with a relationship to disability that is completely different from that of their peers. They do not see their brother as someone with a disability. They expect him to behave as they do and to try all that they try. They expect him to play a full role in their family life. Through this they see all disabled people first as a person, just as they see their brother. All the children have been brought up in the same way, with the same expectations. When younger they would all join in different parts of the conductive programme on returning from school, enabling them not only to learn about their brother’s special needs but also how and when to say ‘no’, how to encourage and motivate him, and if necessary how to take care....
We live in a small community with grandparents in the same house, and aunties and uncles and cousins just a couple of doors or streets away. It was been a boon to us to be able to share this special upbringing with all of them.
(Familie Becker, Germany, pp. 104, 105, 106)

Fortunately, Justin was born packed full of joy and with natural self-confidence. However, Justin and I both know that Conductive Education helped motivate him to be the independent person that he is today. Conductive Education did not ‘cure’ Justin. Justin still has cerebral palsy with incredible tone that is wicked and unrelenting. Justin never mastered walking, and still needs assistance with life skills that most of us take for granted. Nevertheless, Conductive Education taught him so much. He still sits with solid balance and great pride today. Sitting independently is no small skill! It has given Justin the independence to sit on a toilet in private. The difference between toileting in privacy versus having an aide with you for the entire process is immeasurable. Justin’s increase in strength, endurance, lung capacity, bone density and, fortunately, the ultimate prevention of debilitating deformities, will benefit him over a lifetime. His ability to break down tasks and complete them orthofunctionally is amazing and a beautiful thing to watch.
(Patti Herbst. United States, p. 132)

It’s hard to put into words the effect that Conductive Education has on a disabled child but it really does work... not like a Cillit Bang advert – you know, Bang! And all your problems have gone! It’s far more subtle than that – but still absolutely magical. I can reel off all the physical changes from that first year – she learnt to sit up independently, her hands changed from balled-up fists at the end of her arms into working tools with fingers that could bend and grip and hold things; she was able to weight-bear; she started to talk; and all these changes were wonderful and made a real difference to her and to us. But for me, Conductive Education is about far more than physical achievements and independence – it’s about getting an independence of spirit. So as wonderful as all these improvements in her motor skills were, what got me most excited was the change in Eleanor herself. It was as if she had been lit up inside – her whole personality blossomed and at last, she became herself, the girl I’d occasionally glimpsed deep in the eyes of my screaming child, the girl I’d always known she could be. Oh yes, she really came into her own in the truest sense of the word and for that I shall always be truly grateful...
For those who measure success in terms of ‘Can she walk?’ – well, they might be disappointed. Eleanor always has been and always will be severely physically disabled; she uses a wheelchair and needs help with all the basic care functions. But Conductive Education gave her hands that she could use rather than fists, so she can feed herself and hold a cup and use her remote for the television and, as I write this, she is typing on her computer. I have come to realise that having hands opens up far more of the world to you than having legs!
More importantly, Conductive Education gave her that wonderful sense of self, of her own being, of her place in the world. She is bright, clever, funny and much-loved by all the family. She’s a real party-girl who’s imbued with an independence of spirit and a zest for life that is breath-taking, and she absolutely lights up my life.
(Gayle Westcott, United Kingdom, pp.146-149)

Conductive Education affects the entire family. In our home life we have learned to give the children more opportunities to do things for themselves. At meal times we help and encourage them to eat and drink independently and to go to the toilet on their own. We encourage them to get up by themselves, with help only if necessary, and when they are playing or watching TV we get them to sit and stand on their own. Our experience at the Birmingham school has been highly productive for the whole family.
(Leticia Búrigo Tomelin Kuerten. Brazil, pp. 156-157)

There is more, and many readers will be able to add their own accounts. Even the brief extracts offered here, however, show that there is no single conductive lifestyle, no single style of conductive upbringing. People live their lives in their own ways. It is up to you, dear reader, to exercise your imaginations and judge for yourself whether you consider there to be common unifying threads binding together the above accounts – and if so, what? Beyond imagination it will take a bold social scientist to operationalise these for purposes of formal research, but this would be a far more useful societal endeavour than much of the research that Conductive Education has born to date.

The book

Gill, Elliot and I are rushing to get Intelligent Love published in time for the World Congress in three weeks' time. It is not possible to reserve a copy in advance so watch out for further announcements both here on Conductive World and at CONDUCTIVE EDUCATION INFORMATION and at CONDUCTIVE WORLD MARKET:

CEP – Conductive Education Press

For introductory information on CEP and its first publication, Just do it!, click on:

CEP has just published Internationalising Conductive Education, a collection of articles by parents and conductors, from Australia, Canada, Israel, Mexico, Norway, the United Kingdom and the United States, who have set up and developed conductive practices, programs or services –  even a system. There is no other accessible written record of this process, no other collection of documents to suggest just what it takes to do this, none to offer reassurance, inspiration – and caution – to those who might wish to plough their own future furrows:

Both these books can be ordered on line, for immediate delivery, through the above links.

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