Friday, 23 May 2014


Not before time

I have been working recently with Gill Maguire on reissue of the English edition of the book Dina, by Conductive Education Press

The English edition of Dina was published in 1991. How things have changed over the years and how they remain the same. I have been looking through the Foreword that I wrote to this book, almost exactly twenty-three years ago. I republish it here –

Over the last few years the families of cerebrally palsied children have become tantalising aware of a new hope for the mental and physical development development of their children, Conductive Education. They are also aware that for most of them this hope might be a distant one – in all probability too distant to benefit their own children... it is bitterly clear that it will be a very long time, if ever, before everyone who might potentially benefit from this approach can have access to services like those developed in Hungary.

Parents do not expect miracles. They want an educational approach to their children's disabilities, one that sets out determinedly and confidently to transform their children's dysfunctional development. A transformational education has three essential requirements:
  • a philosophical approach that sees children's development as very much the product of their upbringing and education
  • methods appropriate to achieve this and
  • the organisation whereby all this can be implemented
At kindergarten (nursery) and more so at school age these three demand a highly complex system, with theory, methods and organisation often quite different from those commonly met in our schools. This is why the training of conductors and the establishment of Conductive Education in new contexts is such a complicated and difficult task.
In the first two or three years of life, however, it may prove less tricky to find some of the ingredients for a successful transformation in the course of cerebrally palsied children's development.
  • Many, many parents are already philosophically primed to the notion that their children's development depends upon the quality and nature of parental care, upbringing and education.
  • They desperately want to affect the course of their children's development.
And for the great majority of children in our society the essential organisational structure is already in place in the parent-child dyad (the mother-child dyad). In some fortunate situations the required methods seem to be created spontaneously out of the talents, resources and experiences of the family itself but in most cases parents desperately seek guidance on appropriate methods to observe, understand and guide their children. They want to be taught what to do.
This book by Károly and Magda Ákos provides the parents of young cerebrally palsied children a most welcome window on to the practical and theoretical approaches of Conductive Education for a specific age group and context. It cannot provide the full panoply of the system. It is neither do-it-yourself kit nor panacea but, from a different wing of András Pető's intellectual heritage, it offers practical insight into a way of transforming young children's development through education, in which many parents may find the inspiration and reassurance that they have been seeking.
Professionals reading this book, whatever their discipline, will also find fascinating windows opened, some expectations confirmed and perhaps some refuted too. Some may find the Central European style and vocabulary unfamiliar but it would have been unfair to tamper excessively for fear of losing its flavour. 'Gymnastics' seems commonly used in Hungary with the sense of exercises rather than the more formal activities implied by the word in English. The words 'heal' and 'healer' do not necessarily imply to cure but, in an older, less technical sense, to make whole.
Though terminology differs, underlying concepts may be comfortingly familiar. 'Anthropogenetic co-operation' refers to the interactions, the reciprocity, out of which human personality develops, with the child playing an active role. Dysfunction is seen as a learned, psychological outcome of disability within this context, with 'metamorphosis', transformation, possible through appropriate adult attention. Movement is not some separate, physical product of nerves and muscles, but arises essentially out of the joint, meaningful activity of adults and child, within the emotional bond of parent and child.
Most specially the developmental psychology described evokes the work of Vygotskii and his followers. Their stages of development – close parallels are apparent in this book:
  • early age (which is the central concern of this book), in which children learn best acting on their world in close emotional bond with their parents
  • kindergarten age, in which the leading role is taken by collaborative and symbolic play with peers
  • and then on to school age with its more formal instruction.
Naive interpretations by visitors to Budapest, seeking to ground what they have seen and heard there firmly within the framework of existing practices [back home] have suggested that Conductive Education is somehow a mix, combination or agglutination of teacher, therapist, nurse etc. Both the practical accounts and the theoretical statements given here by Károly and Magda Ákos confirm the necessity to take on the child's total psychological development, not least the emotional and motivational aspects, in any attempt to create movement education for cerebrally palsied children.
This a humane and compassionate book respecting the autonomy of parents. It recognising how isolated they may feel in bringing up a cerebrally palsies child and how existing services can appear alienating and uncomprehending. It offers no magic solution to all their problems but reassurance of what can be achieved by love and intelligent observation, patience and persistence. The help and supervision of an experienced conductor might be of enormously greater benefit than what this book can offer – but for most this is not available. Short of that. Whatever the occasional disagreements, parents should not cut themselves off from or cease to fight for the specialised help that existing systems provide. Perhaps this book will help better articulate what additional help it is that they require.
Károly and Magda Ákos hoped that their book would enable parents to band together to help each other. At the time of writing, this hope has not been realised in the German Federal Republic, where Dina was first published. Perhaps in the English-speaking world with its strong traditions of self-help and parental organisation, the Ákoses' hope might prove more fully reasonable.
Andrew Sutton
May 1991

After twenty-three years I would probably express myself a little differently – and I hope better – but the essence seems to stand. The only change made in reproducing this passage here is to use the new technology for a slight reformatting (through indentation), to make the argument a little more visible.

And oh yes, over these twenty-three years, as far as I know the Ákoses' notion of parents' banding together to help each other in this way has never been realised, anywhere.


Ákos, K., Ákos, M. Dina. A plea for personal responsibility and action by parents of children with cerebral palsy. A mother practises Conductive Education (Pető System), Birmingham, Foundation for Conductive Education, and Ulm, Alabanda Verlag

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