My visitors today

Thursday 30 April 2009

Slow food for thought

Paris, June 2006

At lunch time today I was taking small steps on my knees behind a very young boy who was taking even smaller steps with his even smaller feet. Both of us were pushing a huge ladder-back chair. It was this little boy’s first "Petö" block and he was doing extremely well. He only began attending the integrated Montessori-Petö Kindergarten four weeks ago and he is already very well settled in.

He is a delight to work with.

We were making our slow-but-sure and very peaceful progress over to the neighbouring room to have lunch with all the other children. My boy had actually hoped that he was returning to kindergarten for a sleep, but food came first!

Always at the time when we return with the "Petö children" for lunch the kindergarten is a hive of activity, with children rushing past us as they return from the garden, go to the bathroom to wash their hands, and make their way to the table. To us who live in the slower lane with our ladder-back chairs, it appears that their clockwork has been over-wound!

If they are "unlucky" some of these high speed children get stuck behind a crocodile of ladder- back chairs and four-point sticks as we pass through the door. Which is precisely what happened today.

One very active, unable-to-sit-still-for-a-minute boy had stopped absolutely still to let us pass. He watched every move that we made, with me on my knees and my "little man" taking tiny steps while pushing his huge chair.

The waiting child remarked to me:

"You are always so slow. Why do you always take so much time?"


This made me smile and also made me think of my recent posting on magic and clowns.

I suggested to the child that he might like to put his hands on my shoulders and walk along at the same speed as us, maybe he could even help us to go a little bit faster. I suggested that by moving slowly he might possibly see a little bit more of the world he always rushes through.

No go, that would not be the world for him!

He decided to stand still and as quiet as a mouse and watch the ladder-back crocodile go by, awaiting the moment when the doorway would be empty and the way clear for his dash to the dinner table.

I had just asked this boy to walk with us slowly and quietly to his place at the table, but no, that would just take too much time, something that today’s six year olds do not seem to have much of.

In September many of the Kindergarten children will begin school and then I expect that they will discover what it is really like to have no time. With lots of homework, music, sport and various other activities to fit in between school and bedtime, they will have a hard time to find the time to play with old friends, or even to sit and do nothing.

What a difficult, timeless time our "Petö children" are living in.

Wednesday 29 April 2009

My Klients are all busy "doing Petö"

Familiar faces, by Susie Mallett, 2003

Its that synchro-thingy at work again

I had a lovely day yesterday. My knees got a rest. There were no Kindergarten children to crawl after on the floor, to roll over with on the mats, or to go sliding with on the slides.

Surprise, surprise

Instead I was in Würzbürg to present Conductive Education to the local Multiple Sclerosis society (DMSG). I surprise myself to write that I loved it, because I thought I was still not able to say that I really like to give presentations, but that now seems to have changed, I enjoyed it. And what’s more I did it all without a paper. I had just a few hand-written notes.

What is even more surprising, and very nice for me, is that the audience appeared to enjoy it too. There was lots of laughter and three rounds of applause from a group of thirty-plus people with MS. Anyone who works with MS clients will know that is quite an achievement.

There was an extraordinary atmosphere in the whole building. As soon I walked in the door I could feel it, relaxed, jolly, a healthy soul. It was something that I have never experienced at a DMSG group meeting here in Germany before, and I have attended several. Here were a very cheerful welcoming group of people, with handshakes and an exchange of names at the door, and coffee-drinking and Brez'n=eating before I began to "entertain" them.

A day of treats

As well as giving the talk I also had the opportunity to meet my friend Lisa, from Fortschritt Verein, Würzbürg. She picked me up from the ICE train (the train ride was also part of my “day out” treat) to drive me to the MS centre.

As I had got an earlier train than needed we had time for breakfast together on the station. This was another treat as, after Norwich and Keleti Pu, Budapest, Würzbürg is one of my favourite railway stations, reminding me so much of Eastern European railway buildings.

Lisa and I also had time for lunch together later, which gave us lots mre time to chat. As we are both begeistert (enthralled) by Conductive Education we didn’t talk about much else. We are making plans to expand groups for adults in Würzbürg, which is why I was invited to give the talk.


I asked Lisa to tell me about anything in my presentation that she thought I could change, anything that I could do differently, anything that she felt worked well and anything that didn’t. I asked her tell me about the reactions that she saw in the audience.

She made a few suggestions over lunch, some things that I had wondered about myself while preparing for and during the talk. One of them was the best way and the best spot in the talk to introduce the fact that the biggest part of my work is psycho-social rather than physiological. When should I talk about working with "healthy souls"? My decision had been that in this instance this doesn’t really matter. People who have multiple sclerosis are quite used to talking about psychological aspects of their illness and their lives. I would no to frighten anyone off, as Lisa feared.

Something else

Now we were at the station and Lisa had thought of something else. Already back at the train station after a successful morning, I had my hand on the door-handle of her car, poised to jump out to run for the train back to Nürnberg as I had to be back in time for my evening adult group, but there we were, still talking.

This was my use of the word Klient (client). We discussed this almost longer than we should have (I nearly missed the train). It was something that we had both been thinking about in recent weeks, independently of each other, I magine my amazement when I switched on the computer last night to find that Andrew Sutton had also been giving some thought to the same subject.

His article, which was posted at almost exactly the same time that Lisa and I were having our related chat, almost word for word a transcript of our conversation!

What's in a word?

I had used Klient in my presentation. I always use the word "client" when referring to my adults. As Andrew suggests in his posting the children are my children, their parents I would refer to as my clients, and the adult group members too.

Lisa suggested that I use the word Teilnehmer (participant) like I have heard used by the conductors I have worked with who trained at NICE. The conductive centre in Würzbürg has a new board of governors and I suspect that this subject had been brought up by one of them. The centre has used the word Patient until now when speaking about the adults attending its groups. It now uses Teilnehmer and have welcomed this change. Lisa said exactly as Andrew stated in his blog, there is no medical imput in CE so she now realises that to call them patients is inappropriate.

As I read Andrew’s blog I thought perhaps he had been eaves-dropping outside the car at Würzburg station!

When I was a student in Hungary, working in the adults' department of the Petö Institute, they used the word beteg (invalid, sick person) when referring to the adults in their groups. I believe that this is still the case.

When I work with physiotherapists at the workshop for disabled adults, the word used is Mitarbeiter (fellow-worker, colleague), as it is in all departments in this charity that I often work for, or Mitbewohner (fellow-inhabitant) in the context of the sheltered housing and home.


When I landed in Germany back in 1993 I gave a lot of thought to the word I would use to for the adults I worked with. I did some first research by asking English-speaking Germans; family, friends and CE group members, for their opinions. I couldn’t speak German well and it was a long time before I got a feel of what the words really mean.

I eventually decided on Klient and I have stuck with this ever since. Even though over the years I have got more of a “feel” of the German language, I have never found a better alternative.

I decided against Teilnehemer from the start. It is difficult to explain why, but I think that this it is because the word "participant" gives me the feeling of clients being less important than they really are. These people are my clients, they pay my rent. Without them I wouldn’t eat.

I wonder whether this feeling has something to do with being self-employed. This could influence how I interpret words and how I choose the words that I use in my work.

The parents of my children, my boys, my girls, my young men or my young ladies, are my clients. They pay me and I am responsible to them. My adults are also my clients. I am the provider of whatever they need from me at the time and they pay me for providing it.

So for the time being I am happy with the word "client", and I am sticking with it.

"Doing Petö"

Lisa and I did not discuss the “doing words" as Andrew describes verbs but I often think about this too. It still sounds so odd to my ear when clients and children say we are "doing Petö" when they are attending a group. Many also say that they come to "do Konduktive Förderung", which has a less comical ring to it.

I wish that they would all say the same as one of my stroke clients who says that she lives conductively but attends a Petö group to achieve success in the group that she cannot achieve alone when living conductively at home.

A bit of fun to finish off with: Petözunk

Years ago, when we began the conductive groups for children in Nürnberg, we first heard the children say "We are doing Petö". This amused us so much that a Hungarian colleague and I began to use a new verb in Hungarian: petözni, "to petö".

Petözok, petösz, petözik, petözunk................ ??????



Monday 27 April 2009

Timing, time and Begeisterung

Dr Franz Schaffhauser, Dr Zita Makói, Dr Andrew Sutton,
Novmember 2008, Budapest, Moira conference


A very young athetoid girl was thrilled this week when we discovered together that she needed hardly any help getting from her place at the dinner table to her walking frame in which she can then go under her own steam to the bathroom. With just a few words of direction she did it and she thought it was magic.

The ladies working in the integrated Kindergarten were “begeistert”(enthralled), astonished and delighted as they watched this. It really was like magic and all our faces were alive with wonder and joy. It sounds soppy but it really was like this.

The following day this girl and I were disappointed and far from delighted when one of the very same enthralled and astonished ladies picked her up from her chair and plonked her in her walker. I could have cried but I didn’t, but I was surprised that the girl didn’t put her parts on, shout and scream “I can do that on my own and you know it”. Then again even if she had done so, this busy lady probably wouldn’t have had time to notice because this girl has a quiet and unclear voice.

Instead of crying in dismay I remained clam and quietly reminded the lady of what she had seen to inspire her wonder the day before. I had hope that on other days it would now be different.

I have been guilty. I know I have done similar things, but I would like to think that when I have then I have done them with more thought and consideration. I hope that I always include my clients, my children, in decisions of how we get from A to B, I hope that I can judge whether children are tired and then use an alternative method. I hope that I will look at the situation and offer them means for success that suit the situation. If I offer walking then it is because we have time for walking and because they have the energy to walk the distance required. I hope all of this is true but I am sure that I too am guilty of offending!.

There is always time, however, to stand up from the table or sit down at the table, we all have time to do this. And here was the ideal situation for the lady from the kindergarten to try out the “new” method, time for us all to have joyful faces again. The moment was lost in the rush, in the notion that there was no time.

It was at this point that I realised why the magic sometimes works, why the tricks come to fruition and why some “clowns” perform magic and why others do not.

Take all the time that you need…

It is to do with having and making time but it is also to do with timing. It is a complicated combination of all sorts of aspects to do with time. It has to do with taking time to observe, time to make changes and time to change ourselves. It is about taking the time to notice that a hand can grasp a walking frame placed a centimetre further away and that it is then not necessary to touch the hand doing the grasping, and about making the time to do this each day.

It all takes time, but the time taken now saves time later, a time when we don’t need to be there at all, when not even a verbal instruction is needed to go to the toilet. There comes a time when it all happens spontaneously, when it works like magic.
First and foremost I believe the most important factor is time. Time to feel the magic working, for it is only then that the motivation is created in the soul of a child or the carer for things to be done independently.

It comes down not only to getting the timing right, the positioning right, but taking time, giving time, timing the moves and the words, and keeping time, keeping a rhythm.

It is about always having time for the people we are working with, having time for ourselves to look at what we are doing, having time for the tasks we set, having time to do everything well.
There is one sentence that is the essence of whether there is magic or not. It was there to be heard again this week when we were asking the children what they still need to learn so they can dress themselves independently. This sentence is:

“It takes too long, Mummy doesn’t have the time!”

But where’s the time coming from?

We live in a world where no one seems to have time for other people, where everyone is rushing around. How sad it is not to have time for one’s own children but, as I witnessed in the Kindergarten, it isn’t only the Mummy with no time.

Yes there is often a shortage of staff but I think it is always better to achieve less in a day with success than to do more in a slapdash, rushed, unconsidered way, with no success.
When we asked the children about dressing and undressing they knew what they were capable of:
“I can do everything alone except put on my shoes” said one.
Another replied “I can undress but not dress myself alone”
Then another “I can get myself ready for bed”

Then came back the million dollar question from my colleague:
“How long does it take you in the mornings to do this?”

Nine times out of ten the answer is “ I don’t know, because I don’t do it, I would take too long”.
Too long for what? I asked myself. Out loud my colleague did dare ask:
“Wouldn’t it be better to get up half an hour earlier?”

These children cannot of course decide this. We need to discuss it with their families. At the moment all children in the group attended conductive mother-and-child groups and kindergarten groups for at least four years. This is why they are so active and can do so much of the dressing and undressing themselves. They all have families who know about and are involved in Conductive Education, but on hearing the children’s answers somehow I doubt that their families are really interested in a “conductive upbringing” in my sense of the word. For most of them their lives just don’t have time for such a thing.

No time for magic moments.

Call in the clowns

While I have been writing these postings on “magic” in Conductive Education, and reading with interest all that Andrew Sutton has recently added to the discussion, I have been constantly reminded of Hunter Campbell “Patch” Adams, the man whose life was depicted in the film Patch Adams, starring Robin Williams.

Dr Adams believes in the necessity of developing compassionate relationships with patients and that this kind of care relies on humour and play, which are essential to physical as well as emotional health. His vision is to open a hospital offering free ”holistic” care.

While doing a spot of Google research I found a website advertising courses in magic for occupational therapists, with the idea of using magic tricks to improve hand and finger movement. I am, however, more interested in the other kind of magic that I saw in the film Patch Adams.

I live near a hospital in Nürnberg and have often seen a “Clowns for Hospitals” van driving past my house. Perhaps I have this magic taking place right on my door step.
Back on Google I have not found anything specific about Nürnberg and clowning in its hospitals but I discovered a lot more about the Red Nose Clownsdoctors Foundation set up in Austria in 1994.

Several European countries are members of the International Clowndoctors Foundation including both Germany (Rote Nasen Clowndoctors) and Hungary (Piros Orr).

Clown doctors are specially trained artistes who visit patients in hospital with the aim of bringing humour and laughter into their lives and through this to bring them seelische Untertutzung, (uplifting the soul). The patients are visited regularly by the clowns and cared for with both medicine and humour with the hope that they improve not just for the moment but permanently.

The “magic” that I am talking about is more to do with the magic of "Clown doctors" than it is with learning of magic tricks to develop hand movement as the advertisement for occupational therapists advocates. Although of course it is possible that one can influence the other even if the initial aims are different.

What is the magic in Conductive Education?

Is it the "tricks" used to achieve something that I describe as magic?

Or is the magic really that feeling of success that reaches the soul when the tricks bring results?

I believe it is both, but certainly the one which " does the trick" is the magic that reaches the soul.

While I was searching the net for more information I found Dr Zita Makói, a Hungarian pediatrition who brought the clown doctors to Hungary. She was coincidently also Director of the Petö Institute for a short time before the present Director, Dr Franz Schaffhauser, took over the post in October 2007.

In an article “A portrait of a clown” Zita Makói gives an insight into the work of Piros Orr, which she describes in this way:

“The clowns know about a level in children that not even parents and pediatricians know. They step over limits because they don't follow a nurse, doctor, or parent model. It's outside of the real world, like magic. “

She goes on to say:

" But there's a long list of requirements to be truly successful: an artistic background, sensitivity, tolerance, capacity for team work, ability to communicate, not just with words, and not just with children but with parents, doctors and nurses too. “The clowns are not performing so much as building relationships—one-to-one. They must be in tune with the parents' wavelength, and cope with the specific atmosphere of the hospital, of the nurses, and of the doctors. It is often very tense, and always changing,”

This description of the qualities that a clown doctor needs is so reminiscent of what Dr Hári told us, as students are the requirements needed to be a successful conductor. The final words referring to constant change are particularly important in my work as a conductor.

Most importantly, though, whether you are a clown doctor or a conductor we need to find time, use time, make time and teach our clients and their carers to do the same. If we can achieve that then we may have time to look for the magic.


Magic Moments by Perry Como and Burt Bacharach

Andrew Sutton -

Hunter Cambell “Patch” Adams

RehabEdge magic course

Red Nose Clowndoctors , Austria -

Red Nose Clowndoctors International-

Red Nose Clowndoctors in Hungary – Piros Orr

A portrait of a clown, featuring Zita Makói and János Greifenstein (Greifi) –

Sunday 26 April 2009

Painting the space I work in

Looking out of our "extension" the wide, wide world outside, 2004

They all came to "play", the farmer with his sheep, the fire brigade, the police and the Knights of the Round Table, 2004

Adapting our environment

Over the years I have had several chances to put my artistic talents to use in order to adapt or change the environment that I work in as a conductor.

One previous project was to paint a house on a wall in one of our work rooms. I placed mirrors in the lower windows that we use with our younger children during the standing and sitting programmes. The flower beds in front of the house are alive with wildlife, all sorts of creatures to be indentified and mimicked.

Another project, in my opinion the most successful, was in a room in a cellar. The room is small and dark, with only two tiny windows up high near the ceiling. its walls, where not covered in shelves and wall bars, were painted a very dingy grey.

A colleague and I often used this room for the oddments of work that we did between groups, after school, or whenever the two main conductive session rooms were in use. Neither we nor the children much enjoyed being there, and we were always pleased when summer came and we could take our work outside.

Building an extension

We needed to do something to make the winter months more bearable and to give the room a new dimension. My colleague's one and only wish was that we should make the room look bigger.

What we needed was an extension, and all for the cost of a tin of paint!

I took myself off to the tropical plant department of the local garden centre and took lots of photographs of the conservatories and greenhouses on sale there. I even sat myself down in a gorgeous rocking deckchair and did some sketches.

After weeks of planning and measuring, and doing some drawing on an unusually large scale, it was time to get out the paintbrushes.

I received help from colleagues and clients with the initial covering of the wall to be "extended", with huge areas of colour, but after that I was mostly alone Even now I still add bits and pieces with the help of my clients if they have the urge to do so but initially putting in the detail was more or less down to me. It took me hours, hours that I spent alone in the cellar, after a busy day of work, feeding my soul, relaxing with a paint brush, and creating space!

You can see in the photos above the result of the research and the hours of wielding a paintbrush. You can see what happened to our cellar!

Letting in the fresh air

This cellar became a place where we could open the door and let the fresh air flow in. The cellar got new windows to let in the sunshine. We now had fields outside to go running and walking in, and further away hills and forests to tramp through.

We had a field were a visiting circus would camp and a hillside that could be used by the villagers as the site for their Sommerfest. There were winding roads where accidents took place and the ambulance and police would arrive.

When I work in this room I plan craft projects which last for the whole of the time that the children attend a block. They choose a theme themselves and we create anything and everything around it. We try to incorporate the scene “outside” our room so we can step outside the conservatory doors into the green world beyond.

We lift our arms to stick our flower creations on the wall, we climb up ramps or steps in order to place birds on the highest branches or a police-helicopter in the sky, we crouch down to paint new leaves on the plants and to place things on the floor in the house.

The new extension to our room did more than just make things more bearable. It makes life in the cellar fun.

It also all makes my work a lot easier. We can let our imaginations run wild.

Saturday 25 April 2009

A light show to revive the soul

"My own private light show", Nürnberg, 22nd April 2009

After working with the little ones on Thursday morning I travelled the ten kilometres across town and on to the S-Bahn to visit a stroke client. On the way home, despite being exhausted, I cycled the two kilometres from the Bahnhof (railway station) to my flat. It is up hill all the way, the last kilometre being extremely steep, especially steep for one of the tired over-fifties!

I always keep going to the top of this hill just so I can have the satisfactory feeling of having done it. But today I stopped, not because of lack of puff or wobbly knees, though I could feel the pulse on the side of my head pressing against my helmet and beating faster than it really should have been.

Pause for spiritual refreshment

I had stopped because of the amazing colours, the play of the evening sunshine on the pink of the city walls. There were the freshly painted spring-green leaves, bathed in glorious evening sunlight, and the two flags seen in the photograph, flying across an oppressive, dark Prussian-blue/black sky. The blue and white of the Bavarian flag seemed to be representing the colours of the sky that one would normally associate with such a lovely sun. Unfortunately I didn't stay to see the rainbow.

I had stood beside the city wall at Tiergartner Gate enjoying the “light show” a minute or two too long. The heavens broke and although only two minutes from home I got drenched for the second time this year by an April shower. By the time I was indoors the sun was out again and someone else a bit further along the road was getting a soaking.

I would have got to the top off the hill had it not been for the light show, despite being exhausted, the legs just keep on turning automatically after so many years of cycling and often it is easier than getting off and pushing.

Yesterday, Friday, I worked in three different groups, from 8.30 to 17.30, with an hour off for lunch. I was supposed to go to a concert in the evening but I missed it through falling asleep, still fully clothed, at 19.30pm and waking up this morning bright and breezy at 5.30am to the singing of the birds and the sunrise.

What does anyone else do to relieve the exhaustion from work? Do you sleep for 10 hours, or stop for five minutes halfway up a hill to admire the view and revive the soul? Do you paint, write a blog, ride a bike or watch the world go by from a street cafe?

How do you refresh your soul?

Has anyone got any tips to share, or maybe even a spot of magic that can be performed, to prevent or cure the physical and, even more importantly, the mental tiredness?

I am sure we all have our own ways of dealing with it.

I think it just as important for us to share the methods that we use to look after ourselves as it is to share the methods that we use in our work.

Wednesday 22 April 2009

Some food for thought

A house. from my first school book, Susie Mallett, 1961

So much for an early night and catching up on three weeks of Guardian Weeklies and Time Magazines!

Well, I did get an early night but I have ended up switching on the computer and I am wide awake again, having come across the following article in the 10-16th April edition of the Guardian Weekly.

The article was not only eye-catching because it is about libraries but also it coincidently mentions libraries both in Birmingham and Norwich (my home town). As I read further, I thought just for one moment that it was actually going to mention “our library” too, the National Library at the Foundation for Conductive Education. Now that would have put CE back on the map again!

I will reproduce it in its entirety and leave you to reach your own conclusions while I go back to bed!

A new chapter for some libraries

In happier economic times, urban regeneration schemes were based on our “flagship” department stores or “ destination” shopping malls. But in the new austerity, the flagship library has come into its own. Birmingham is leading the renaissance with plans for a £193m super-library that will be the second in size only to the British Library.

Across the country, libraries are seeing a rise in use of between 10% and 15% as credit-crunched Britons cut back on buying books and DVDs and turn to library reference sections and computers to search for jobs or find out about retraining. The UK’s busiest library, in Norwich, estimates that a library ticket can save an average family £50 a month.

But while Birmingham marvels at the idea of a library “experience” designed by avant-garde architects, users of small, rather less fancy local libraries are not so happy. At branch libraries hours are being cut, staff reduced and stock not renewed as money is diverted into new projects. The anxieties sound very similar to the rows over whether flagship stores take custom away from smaller businesses.


The Guardian Weekly, 10-16 April 2009, UK News

Parkinson's activist

"Say Cheese", by Susie Mallett , 1984

Michael J. Fox

Michael J. Fox, actor and Parkinson’s activist, has written a new memoir, “Always Looking Up, the adventures of an incurable optimist”.

His first memoir, "Lucky Man", is an interesting read and provides an insight into the early days, pre- and post-diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease. He writes about the first symptoms, of his fears, disappointments and hopes, and about learning how not to worry about a disease over which he has no control.

I have yet to have a copy of the new memoir in my hands but I am hoping that I will learn as much from this one as I did from his first. It will soon join my ever-growing collection of books by authors who experience disability first hand. It is from these accounts, and also from anecdotes direct from the mouths of my clients, that I have learn so much that is useful to me in my work.

Michael J. Fox can be heard answering questions from Time readers on this website:
He talks about a new film that he has recently stared in, called "Rescue Me", in which he plays a paraplegic. I imagine that it was quite an challenge for an actor suffering from Parkinson's disease to play the role of someone who cannot move!


Lucky Man – Michael J. Fox, Ebury Press 2003, ISBN-10: 0091885671, ISBN-13:978-0091885670

Always Looking Up – Michael J. Fox, Ebury Press 2009, ISBN-10 009192264X, ISBN-13: 9780091922641

Rescue Me – if you wait for just a few seconds for the adverts to finish, you can hear Michael J. Fox talking about his life.

Monday 20 April 2009

Its that synchro-something working again!

" Daffodowndilly" by Susie Mallett, 26th March 1965

I just got home from work and did my usual routine activities like switching on the computer and with a hot cup of coffee sitting down, today in the sun, to read all the latest hot off the press news on the various conductive blogspots and websites.

I couldn’t believe it when I read Gill Maguire’s latest posting. At 7.30 this morning, pedalling along on my bike to work, I was practising my new activity, doing my “Fit im Kopf” training by “writing” a blog.

The idea for the posting had seeded itself last night when I had been reading a paper about brains and minds and ecological plasticity. At the end of the paper is a huge list of references and I felt sure that the few I had picked out would be there on the shelves in the National Library and for a split second I forgot that I can not access them.

If only there was a librarian there too, then if these papers were indeed on the shelves they would soon be accessible to me. A couple of month ago they would have either landed on my doorstep in a big brown envelope or appeared on my computer screen the next day.

This morning as I was on my bike I got to wondering if there are others in the world who are missing the Library, and of course its librarian, as much as I am.

I was also thinking about the untidy piles of paper I have, that I have collected over the past twenty years. I had stuffed them in a box when I moved, twice, last summer and before throwing them away I was going to take this box over to England, for Gill to look through and sort out anything of interest for the Library shelves.

What to do with them now?

I have put them back in the cardboard box, hoping for a later date!

This afternoon I then cycled home again “writing” more blogs in my head. At home I switched on the computer and read that Gill to is hoping for much the same things as I am and I expect many others are hoping for too. She wrote:

“It is still my hope that the National Library of Conductive Education will become a ‘living’ library again, providing all established services and perhaps introducing a few new ones. Who knows? A new librarian, a new era, could bring fresh ideas. What is important to me is that the library goes on, carries on being an important resource for all those interested in Conductive Education”.

I was also considering on my bike this morning how many others will be spending more of their precious pennies like I will have to on books (and extra bookshelves) so I can expand my own “library” and have access to the things that interest me.

Is this necessary? How can we breath the life back into the Library again and get it back up on its feet and living?


Synchro-something – Synchronicity is the experience of two or more events which are causually unrelated occurring together in a supposedly meaningful manner. In order to count as synchronicity, the events should be unlikely to occur together by chance.

Gill Maguire -

Fit in Kopf - Book, Neurobics-Fit Im Kopf, L. C. Katz and M. Rubin, Goldmann 2001

Title picture - "Daffodowndilly" taken from my book, 1965, where it illustrates this poem:

She wore her yellow sun-bonnet,
She wore her greenest gown;
She turned to the south wind
And curtsied up and down.
She turned to the sunlight
And shook her yellow head,
And whispered to her neighbour "Winter is dead".

Decisions, decisions, decisions...

...and not easy ones to make!

"I'm off", by Susie Mallett, Aberystwyth, 1985

Wheelchairs with power steering? That is the question.

I am sure that if one particular child continues with the group conductive education that she receives with us, and if her family continues to develop a conductive upbringing at home, then she will probably learn to walk some steps independently. She wouldn’t be climbing mountains although, knowing her and her determination, once she got started she would make a brave attempt to do just this.

She is nearly six years old and about to start school. She has been in a conductive group since she was two years old and has never had a wheelchair. The first time I that saw her she was “driving” a red bobby car, as many of our children do, as these toy cars are made locally. This child also has a buggy, a bike and a sledge. She gets around independently on her Bobby Car and bike and gets pushed or pulled in the other two vehicles.

At school she will need a wheelchair and we will need to teach her how to use it and how to get in and out of it too.

Who makes the decisions (and there are many)?

The most important probably is whether she should have a powered wheelchair, or not? Perhaps it is only the health insurance company that has the "power" to answer this. The difference in the price will make the decision for them and this will not be influenced by the needs or wishes of this child or family, or the recommendations of therapists or conductors.

I have been wondering for several months now about what is best for this child, a small girl who is highly intelligent and who finds it very difficult to have full control of her limbs.

How will she best be able to maximalise her potential, both in at school work and in her physical development, when she joins her first class in September?

We have been borrowing wheelchairs from a distributing company that we work with very closely, trying out the different possibilities. The first one brought to us had two rings to control the steering, both on the left hand wheel because the supplier had noticed that this little girl could grasp more easily, faster and tighter with her left hand than with her right.

This was soon rejected by all including the child. She didn’t know what to do with her right hand while she was struggling not to go round and round in circles using only her left hand.

She is now learning to move about the building in a relatively light and simply formed wheelchair, using of course both of her hands. At the moment it takes a lot of her energy to get anywhere. She will need a lot of training to maintain an appropriate posture. There is always the risk, when using a wheelchair for many hours each day, using one's own power to get from A to B, that deformities can develop from holding the body in a tense, assymetrical position when turning the wheels.

The big question is whether this little girl should be given a powered chair straight away, in this way avoiding the risks of developing an asymmetric posture, or woukd the risk of this happening b just as great if she receives a powered chair?

Once this child starts attending the new school will get to know her peers fast and have a big circle of friends who I am sure will always be tempted to push her, however well she learns to power a chair herself. As a group they will get places faster if they push their friend. I can foresee that she could perhaps become a passive wheelchair sitter.

We ask whether she would be more active in a powered wheelchair, she would certainly be more independent and always be in control herself. She would always be the one to decide where she goes, which path to take.

Would it be better to give her a powered wheelchair from day one? Perhaps one of those amazing bits of apparatus that could lift her high to the top bookshelf and bring her down low to play in the sand pit and allow her to get out of it with ease whenever she wishes.

Psycho-social and physical development

Would the one or the other have the better or worse influence on her social development, or on her psychological development? Neither would do much to develop her "physical" abilities, except perhaps of her right hand, but this could always be achieved by other means.

Over the course of several years use of a hand-powered wheelchair might well cause deformities, especially in the back, hips and legs, which could prevented in a powered wheelchair as long as a good posture is achievable.

I am not sure how much of this will be discussed when the final decision takes place.

This child has come to Conductive Education groups, with her mother and without, for four years. For the past three years she has attended an integrated conductive/Montessori kindergarten group. She is learning to be as independent as possible. She is still not able to get from A to B independently on her feet. She probably will never be able to do this at great speed, (although I will be quite happy to be proved wrong on this point).

How independent will this little girl be in a self-powered chair at the moment of her development I don’t know, since small as she is she will not have the strength in her arms to travel long distances under her own power. Would not a powered chair be the way to greater independence for her at school?

I don’t know, but I don’t have much say in making the decision either, neither I assume do the parents or other therapists. In the end the health insurance company will decide.

I am sure this child will learn to walk independently but until she does what method of getting from A to B should she have? But even if the answer to this question were not influenced by the financial situation, I still would not know what to choose, though I am tending towards imagining her in a super-duper high-tech, powered machine that would allow her access every possible nook and cranny in her new school.


Bobby Car

Sunday 19 April 2009

A conductive box of tricks - or taking the mystery out of the magic

"Is this the kit a conductor needs, alongside some white trousers and a T-shirt?”

Who can do magic?

After I wrote the “magic” posting about working with the stroke group, I got some messages from people telling me about their use of the words "tricks" and "magic" alongside Conductive Education. It seems there are a few other people who also use the word "magic" and maybe even András Petö did himself.

I was told about how some clients mention their box or pocketful of CE tricks, and how others say that it's like magic. Some on the other hand say, just as I did in my early student days, “It's common sense”.

Yes, it is, but we all need the tools of the trade, our personal box of tricks, to put our common sense to use!

It is hard to describe what these tricks are. They are all the things that conductors do, I suppose, when they are putting the “common sense” to use. They are the result of years of observation, years of touching and not touching, years of doing that which Dr Mária Hári always encouraged us to do, getting in and having a go, trying out the tricks, finding out whether they work!

Sometimes I don’t know the tricks myself until I come across the problem needing to be solved. In many cases client and conductor find the tricks that suit the situation together, and sometimes we realise that we have discovered the trick only after the problem is solved.

Letting the cat out of the bag!

I will try to put into words a few examples, even though it is virtually impossible to explain positions of arms and legs, or even a single finger. It is difficult to describe exactly when a word needs to be said, or how the timing affects a movement, and precisely when and how a thought needs to be thought.

Is it at all possible to show how a limb may only need to be positioned a centimetre to the left or to the right, or how a word needs to be spoken, or a thought needs to be thought a second earlier or later?

It is because of precision and timing that most of these tricks become tricks in the first place and what looks like magic is in fact a feat of precision engineering.


I asked my young client last week whether he had any tips or tricks that he uses or has used and could describe to me. He always used to say “Zauberei!” (magic) to me when he was younger, whenever I showed him a “ trick“ that allowed him to move his limbs how he wanted and stopped them doing what they wanted.

It really did appear to him as a ten-year-old that he was working magic on himself when a suggested "trick" successfully and immediately brought the result that he was after.

Sometimes he would gently stroke his wriggling, right hand and it would stay calm on the table. He would then look at it wide-eyed in wonder. Nowadays, he just needs to stretch his elbow to achieve the same result. His box of tricks is changing as he grows older and as he learns.

He told me of a trick that he uses, pushing his knees tightly together when he is forming a bridge by lifting his hips. As his hips go higher his knees part slightly and he thereby reaches the central position required to stop wobbling.

My client explained how, when he sits at the table and wants to hold a mug, he has to move his right arm across the centre of his body to the left side before he can close his fingers on the handle of his mug. He uses this trick to do other things during the day, especially when dressing.

He has developed many tricks for himself, choosing from and adapting the hundred-and-one ways for athetoid children or adults to fix their limbs and prevent unwanted movements.

He described how, if he stands on two feet, lowers his arms, lifts his head and stretches his knees, then whoever he is talking too immediately and "miraculously" understands him better. This trick is working not only on the clarity of his speech, it also allows his listeners to see his face and allows the listener to concentrate better without having him wobbling about and falling into them. This upright position means they can read his lips and any other expressions on his face.

To be fully understood, now that would be the best magic my client could wish for. He is working hard on learning more tricks!

Practice makes perfect

Another new trick that he is learning he can use while walking outside on the pavement, so that there is no chance of wobbling on to the road and into the path of oncoming vehicles. As he grows his movements change, his ability to understand his body and control his limbs improves, and then he learns how to change his gait.

He practises this in the house but it is extremely difficult in such an enclosed space with furniture to negotiate, with doors to go through and corners to turn. Out on the street he has more space and it is absolutely necessary for him to do it in order to remain safe.

He widens his gait until he can feel a tension between his legs, then he knows that he is doing the “trick”. He knows when he feels this tension that he will walk tall and straight and be able to stretch his knees. This, he says, is not a "trick movement”, this is a "trick feeling”!

He has many more tricks up his sleeve but he doesn’t know how to use them all yet.

Recently in the stroke group, when one of my clients was amazed by a trick that I had shown him, he immediately wanted to know more and more. I explained the need to take things step by step and suggested that it might be best if he learnt to use the ones that he already had before we progressed on to the next. On the other hand, the more that one knows, the more one is ready to solve problems when they come one's way.

Just like a magician, if my clients want to create the illusion that they are performing magic on their bodies, they need to practise, to perfect and also to develop their tricks. It is, as I said, all about common sense, about feats of engineering, but above all it is extremely hard work.

It is all an illusion. It is in fact hard work

My young client who provided me with this list of his tricks said to me last week:

“ It was worth the hard work”

“I am glad I never gave up”

“I never thought I would learn this much”

“It is like magic”

To him and to others, I would like to say just as we should all go on believing forever in Santa Claus, we should also remember the words of the song - "Oh, oh, oh, it's magic, and never believe it's not so"!


The stroke group – or is it the Magic Circle?

Pilot singing Oh oh oh it's magic

The Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour

Home sweet home

A splash of colour, by Susie Mallett, 2006

The new cycle of life

Spring sprang to life in Nurnberg, just as it did everywhere else in Germany, over the Easter holidays. We moved from winter to early summer in just over two weeks. What a speedy feat of nature, an act of survival, nature getting the next round of living and production into full swing as soon as possible. It is a cycle that begins with the first breath of warm air and one that each year takes me by surprise and fills me with wonder.

After such long, cold winters as this one has been, spring is always sudden and short in this part of the world.

I have waited patiently for a sight of a snowdrop, for a crocus or a daffodil to pop out a bright head. Then in a blink of an eye they all vanish for another year, to be replaced by the tall and stately tulips.

Trees that fourteen days ago were still black and wintery are now in full leaf and the early blossoms are already falling like snow on the pavements. The birds are singing loud and clear beside me as I sit drinking coffee on my balcony, just a few minutes walk from the city centre.

The next cycle in my life

This is just a quick posting to say I am back to a regular 8 -??? life of Conductive Education, back to white-clothed, conductive group-work for a few weeks. The painting and conductive upbringing overalls have been left behind for a few months while I get back to living in my own flat, riding my bike around town, simply catching up with this other reality.

I will be catching up with friends, going to the theatre, reading dozens of emails. Maybe I will get around to posting all those blogs that I have written on scraps of paper while sitting on buses and trains.

I have so many emails to catch up on, so please be patient, but if anyone waits too long for an answer, please remind me!

A new century of postings

I was so busy last week that I was up to 202 postings on this blog before I realised that a second "century" had been hit. Now I will have to wait until I reach the three-hundred mark before I write another celebratory posting!

Wednesday 15 April 2009

In the driving seat

Far from home, 1987, a page from my diary

Alone or in isolation?

I have had several "conversations" over the Easter break all about, or coming about because of, working in isolation as a conductor.

Where can I turn to for advice? Who can I ask to take over when I struggle? Has anybody got an idea what I could try next?

These are all questions to which someone out there will have the answer, and networking is beginning to work very well.

Alone but not in isolation

I am working alone as a conductor this week but not in isolation. I am working with my client in his home as I have done three times a year over the past eleven years. We know each other well, we probably know each other inside out, although we still surprise each other.

As we were out on our evening walk, reduced to only 60 minutes today because of a spectacular and first April shower, my young client asked me what I was going to write about tonight. Would I write about him and if so what?

I had already in my head started to compose a posting about my work with him, which had suddenly taken an upward turn. Now, though, I could not decide, as I had had even more “chats” about working alone and I got to thinking about all the different types of “working alone” that there can be for a conductor:
  • working alone in a centre
  • alone within a family
  • alone in a group
  • alone because of doing individual sessions.

So I will start by writing about working alone I am sure that this will lead quite naturally to my client and our work today!

Alone in a centre

Working in total isolation as the only conductor in a centre is becoming more and more common all over the world. I should think it is probably the most difficult of the four alternatives I mentioned above as there is never a colleague to turn round to and ask:

  • ”Would you have done it like that too?”
Fortunately this is not a situation that I find myself in.

This situation would be made even more difficult if the conductor is working as the only conductor in a "team", maybe including volunteers or parents, maybe a physiotherapist or teachers.
This list could be endless. The resulting work could be fun and dynamic, or it could be a real struggle.

There are many conductors, though, working in centres completely alone. It is very important that the managers who run such centres realise the importance of a support network and that attempts could be made to provide this in some way. It could be done by providing supervision from a more senior conductor from another centre, if funds are available, or by organising weekend seminars for all conductors from a certain region, maybe offering presentations by the conductors to interested people to promote Conductive Education. Technology allows for other options too including internet conferences and Skype.

There is actually no need nowadays for conductors who work alone to feel totally alone or isolated. There are people out there all over the world, who could provide just what is being looked for, or what is needed, at a particular moment. First, however, the need for such "support" has to be recognised by the people able to allocate the time and the money.
Until this happens we have to find ways and means to support each other.

Alone in a group

Working alone in a group, within a centre where other conductors also work, is different as it can be a very positive experience. I do this often, when the groups are too small to need two conductors or, occasionally, when there are no other conductors available at the time. You will find conductors running groups alone at the Petö Institute's adults' department and probably in many other larger centres too. This is how CE works: sometimes one conductor is enough and sometimes several are needed for the same-sized group (it can even be that three conductors are needed for just two people).

This kind of working alone in a group can also be very tiring, depending on how many groups one “works” alone in one day. It is tiring because of

  • pushing around the furniture
  • doing the leading all day
  • the need to speak for hours on end
  • the need to make all the decisions,
  • the need to answer all the questions
  • the need to solve all the problems

All of this for all of the day. I wonder whether "managers" who are not conductors really appreciate this. I doubt it.

In this situation I find it is important to be able to delegate some of the leading to other members of the group, to both adult clients and children. I described such a situation quite recently in my postings about my stroke and multiple sclerosis groups.

Alone within a family

This is the one situation when it is absolutely necessary and acceptable to be working alone.

Working as a lone conductor in a family, one is never alone! Even so it is good to have colleagues at the end of the telephone or back home at a centre for reassurance and to exchange ideas with. I have had this type of support most of the time that I have been a conductor. Luckily.

Alone one-to-one

In individual sessions usually just one conductor is needed but again "support" outside the sessions is also needed from colleagues.

If in an individual session a second conductor is required there is rarely one available. Either there isn’t another conductor in the centre, which is why individual sessions are offered, or those at the centre are also fully engaged in their own sessions.

I do not advocate short, individual sessions of an hour or two, except when the aim is to ready a client for work in an existing group, or when there are no other potential group members available at the time. Sometimes, however, individual sessions cannot be avoided, these are all that can be offered at the time.

Me alone

I have done a lot of work alone in most of the situations I have mentioned. I have also done a lot of work in groups with teams of conductors. I have worked for years at a centre that at one time had two supervising senior conductors visiting regularly from Hungary. I have had the best of all worlds.

My work changes constantly from one situation to the other. This week I am working in a family with an eighteen-year-old young man, next week I will be with my Hungarian colleague working with a group of five 5-7 year-olds in the mornings, and with small groups of adults with cerebralpalsy in the afternoons and evenings. There will be some home visits to my stroke clients fitted in between. Later I will have groups of adults and then the conductive after-school group, which means that the children have to do their homework, eat lunch and rest, all conductively! Sometimes I will be alone, sometimes not, but always I shall have colleagues around me to rely upon if I need them, not always in the group but always some time afterwards.

I am lucky that these days I never work in isolation. I used to, though, in my first few years working as a conductor, just after I qualified. I know the feeling of relief when suddenly there was a support system behind me. The centre in Nürnberg realised early on in its development the importance of providing a support network when employing young conductors to run a centre. In centres where this isn’t recognised then conductors must take control and demand the support that they need.

“Taking control” had been the planned subject of this posting, and this was also what I discussed with my client this afternoon when he asked me what I would be writing about this evening.

My day had started differently...

I woke up feeling less tired than I had done for weeks and my client seemed brighter and breezier too as we ate breakfast together. Perhaps this was due to the two-hour, six-kilometre walk that we completed yesterday. Not that this made us instantly bright-eyed and bushytailed, but both me and my client had been thrilled with this achievement. He had not walked so far since the summer of 2005 when we tramped in the sweltering heat all over the village and its surrounding hills. It appears that he has built up his stamina again during the Easter holiday, and so had I.

I am sure that his joy at being in control again, having the energy to do what he wanted, had brought about a change in him overnight. He loves these walks and it had disappointed him being unable to walk the distances that he had a few years ago. Since developing epilepsy he has experienced extreme shortage of breath when he exerts himself.

But when when my client decides to take control, to be bright and breezy, then he takes control of everything about his life at that moment, and today was no exception.

Down in our workroom mats were organised for work. Two of them were put out on the floor and with an “ Are you ready then?" he indicated that it was I who should use the second mat that he had prepared. Usually I only join in later, with the sit ups and cycling and the more strenuous stuff. Today he spontaneously took control, I was to take part in all of it, working with him.

I was quite happy to do this as I rarely get this opportunity to try out my clients' tasks. My stroke group a few weeks ago had had me up on the plinth, asking me questions about specific movements, but this is not the same as doing it with them as we used to do regularly in the Petö Institute. When I participate with my clients I can watch them out of the corner of my eye or I can visualise how they are executing a movement from my years of observation. I can then analyse both how they are doing it and how I am doing it, and I can work out how to explain what they need to feel, and what they need to change or to learn as a trick to achieve success.

(I will write more about "tricks" in a later posting, as this same client has been trying to compile a list of tricks that he knows, that he has learnt with me or alone, which he does or does not use. Yet another example of him taking control, his idea not mine!)

All together now

Sometimes I plan “taking control” within the daily programme, just as I do in my stroke group. While I work in the walking bars with the ladies, two men work on their individual walking tasks without me, synchronising their speech and walking rhythms to each other and taking turns in taking the lead.

Today's "control", however, was not planned, although all of our work over the past few days was directed towards my client taking control in more and more areas of his life. Today, my young client decided quite spontaneously to take the lead for himself. I asked him later what had prompted this. He couldn’t say, only that he just felt the urge to do it.

So there I was doing as I was told on the mat beside him joining in all the tasks that he decided we should try out today (remember, he has an eleven-year old collection of items to chose from!). Actually, he just picked the most difficult ones, executing them better than ever before and surprising himself by remaining really calm, with very few unwanted over-movements or jerks in his arms.

Assessing the situation

This is what we then discussed on our walk.

He wanted to know why it had gone so well today? Why he had been able, in this forty minutes of rigorous floor programme, to take control not only of the situation but also of his body?

He told me that he had been concerned that he would forget what he wanted us to do, and that he had been amazed at the end of it all how his usually flying-right arm had done everything that he wanted it too do. He said that he had been able to implement many of his tricks.

In response, I tried to explain my theory using as an example my experience of lying beside him. After listening to his “commands” I then had to translate them into my movements. I told him how I think he does better when he decides for himself when he is going to move, when he is "commanding".

I gave him some examples of what I meant. When I ask him to open the door for me, or his Mum asks him to take his cup from the table to the sink, he reacts immediately with movements all over his body before he calms himself and can move himself as required step by step. When he decides for himself that he wants to do something, he begins the step-by-step actions himself, straight away. He doesn’t get jerked into life by someone else’s wishes or “commands”, his limbs totally out of his control. He can therefore use all the tricks that he has in his book to keep his body calm.

Decisions, decisions

I continued to explain all this with more concrete examples from his daily life. How it is important that he decides it is time to wipe his mouth at the dinner table, and not wait to be asked to. How this avoids spilt drinks and flying knives and fork, all hit with a jerking right arm, or a clumsy left one. He should decide and turn on the electric toothbrush so he can anticipate and thereby prevent over-movements that can hurt his mouth and gums.

My young client remained in control all day, even down to deciding that he didn’t want to phone for a lift when the heavens opened while we were still miles from home. He wanted to savour the fresh smell of rain, feel the water trickling down his neck and face, enjoy the look on faces as he walked in the door bedraggled and laughing. I didn’t mind, I had a jacket, he didn’t, although I did lend him my hood and the removable sleeves! What a sight we both looked.

And there was yet another step forward towards independence. My client said to me as we neared the shelter of home:

“That’s the last time I ask my mum if she think I should take a coat, next time I will decide for myself!”