My visitors today

Monday 30 November 2009

Early conductive upbringing

"Post with pogácsas"

One Sunday in Moszkva Tér, Budapest 2003, by Susie Mallett

Spina bifida

I have found very little to read about spina bifida and Conductive Education, I believe that there is no longer a specialist spina bifida group at the Petö Institute and as far as I know it is the same at the Conductive Education Learning Centre in Grand Rapids, USA. I have been told, though, that there are mixed groups at both.

Please correct me if I am wrong and also please tell me whether there are other spina bifida groups anywhere in the conductive world.

As a student-conductor I worked in the spina bifida Kindergarten at the Petö Institute and it was a wonderful experience. I believe that the leader of this group is one of the conductors now training students in Grand Rapids. I learnt so much from her, for which I am now so very grateful.

Very few conductors have experience with children with this neurological disorder and I often get inquiries from students and young conductors asking where they can gather information and/or experience. I tell them all that I can and then refer them to the conductors in Grand Rapids and at the Petö Institute, and also to a book written by Dr Erika Medveczky: “Conductive Education as an educational method of neurorehabilitation.”

New blog on the block

Today I discovered this:

It is a parents' blog, written mainly by the father, about life with their almost-two-year-old son Greyson who was born with a neural tube defect. Greyson attends the Conductive Education Learning Centre in Grand Rapids. It is worth taking a look.

I find the blog especially interesting because the child is beginning his conductive upbringing at such an early age.

This could turn out to be a very valuable addition to the conductive"literature", and I hope that we will all be able to learn something by following Greyson's progress.

Best wishes to the Gibb family, and thank you for this insight.


Conductive Education Learning Centre in Grand Rapids, USA -

Greyson and his parents’ blog

Previous spina bifida postings on my blog

Dr Erika Medveczky-"Conductive Education as an educational method of neurorehabilitation", Budapest, 2006, ISBN963 229 819 5

Sunday 29 November 2009

A touch of India

For some time I have been getting dots on my map from India. Today there was one from somewhere that looked so interesting that I decided to do a bit of Google exploration.

My dot came from the capital of Gujarat: Gandhinagar.

When I googled Gandhinagar together with Conductive Education I found “A touch of Heroism”. This is a web-page from India from the Godrej House Magazine’s site, featuring an article on the Spastic Society of India.

This title of the article is an amazing coincidence in light of what I wrote about in my last posting.

Maybe this was fated.

Anyway, it was lovely to “meet” the people of Gandhinagar and I really do hope that they will get in touch directly so we can get to know each other better.

My email address is


Gandhinagar –

A Touch of Heroism –

Thinking about our heroes -

Saturday 28 November 2009

Thinking about our heroes

"Heroes" by Susie Mallett 2009

Our heroes

We all have heroes, and heroines of course.

For ease I will refer to them all here as our heroes.

We have heroes when we are young children, we have them as teenagers and often also as adults too. Perhaps sometimes we take the same hero with us throughout our lives, maybe we gather new ones.

Some of our heroes will be famous people made known to us through the media, but some will also be people we know personally some could even be family members.
Our heroes are people who have at sometime or other for some reason or other made a big impression on us and our lives.

Our heroes can be people we respect or look up to for their sporting achievements, their professional achievements or political achievements. They could be actors, artists or musicians they could be our grandfather or our big brother.

Superman is described in the film world as a “hero” because of all the amazing daring rescues that he makes after he dons his flying outfit. A footballer is described as a “hero” for scoring the winning goal to save his team from defeat.
We even hear of turtles in the fantasy world of cartoons who are “super-heroes”.

These are not the sort of heroes that I am talking about here, not the heroes created by the media to make money.

The real thing

I am thinking here about the people we create as heroes for ourselves. The people we meet, or read about, or see for ourselves on TV or in films, and find that what they are and what they do has a huge impact on us personally, for a variety of reasons.

I have a few heroes myself. One of my first heroes was Tina Turner and she remains so to this day for her gorgeous voice, her amazing life, her stamina, her strength and her bravery, and perhaps just a little bit for her gorgeous dresses, red-soled high heeled shoes and her lovely legs. Incidently, she turned seventy last month. She is a lady who I respect very much, she brings delight and pleasure to my soul and inspires me to be active and strong. I suppose to some extent she even helped motivate me in my attempt to learn to sing.

I also have heroes who I have known personally. People who have inspired me to follow a certain path in my life, inspired me to achieve something I would never have before dreamt possible.

These have been people who have been present in my life for just a short time and people who are still present. They are people met in brief encounters, school teachers, tutors or mentors. They include short-term and life-time friends, my Mum was one of them. My Dad is my hero too. He was when I was younger, because he was an engine-driver. He is now when he's 83, because of how well he lives his life since my Mum died

They were and are my heroes for many different reasons, depending on when and how and why they influenced my life.

We all have our own definition of what a hero is and we all choose our personal heroes for very specific reasons. Sometimes we don’t really choose them consciously. They appear, like Superman, out of the blue on the spur of the moment and usually in the nick of time to influence and maybe even save our souls!

Heroes for the disabled

Who do people with disabilities choose as their heroes. Do they also choose a footballer like David Beckham because they dream of playing like him or because they admire his determination to became a good player?

People with disability have sporting heroes just like anyone else, they have heroes in rock bands, heroes from cinema. They also have heroes who they know.
Who are the people who inspire the adults and the children that we work with and of course their carers too? Who are the heroes that motivate them to achieve their aspirations?

Why do I ask?

What inspired me to write this posting, to sit here on a cold winter evening thinking about how we choose our inspirators, motivators and our heroes? Wondering about how all individuals have their own criteria for choosing, and even whether, when we share a hero, the reasons for this hero becoming one may be very different.

I started to think about all of this as I read Andrew Sutton’s posting about Lars Mullback. I realised what a huge influence he has had on the lives of many people involved in the conductive world, through making his film about his experiences of Conductive Education.

I first saw this film way back in 1997. I was introduced to it by, and watched it with, a family I was working with in Canada.
I have a copy of it and I have watched it many times since. Interestingly I have never watched this film alone, always in the company of my clients, their parents or carers, and once with an audience of about two-hundred people.

This audience had been listening to my first-ever presentation about CE for adults here in Germany. At the end of my twenty minutes of talking they sat through forty-five minutes of Lars. All open-mouthed, wide-eyed, hooked more and more each minute, but still with energy left for questions.

This film inspired me and I went on to inspire many other people by showing them the film.

Back to heroes

Lars has inspired conductors and therapists, and parents and carers, and I think for some of my clients he has become not only an inspiration but also a hero of sorts. Someone who shows them what can be aimed for, what their lives could be like, and that the hard work brings results, and that they are not the only ones.

When my athetoid clients reach an age when I and their parents decide that they are able to watch this film, we sit down together and I am immediately bombarded with questions. The film encourages the young people to think about and voice their concerns. To talk about their lives as adults. They think about life after childhood.

It has always been important for me when showing the film to young clients that we do it as a family, so that their parents should know what thoughts and questions might arise and be ready to understand and answer them.

It is actually a pleasure to watch the faces of these young clients as they watch and I translate the English subtitles into German.

For my nineteen-year old Laddo up north, Lars became a hero. He has watched the film several times and recently asked to see it once again. As a young adult he wanted to be reminded again of what Lars has achieved.

The film has not only inspired clients but also the people working with them. At the conductive congress at the beginning of the month in Nürnberg one of the PtKs (‘pedagogic-therapeutic conductors’) gave a fleeting mention of him. She assumed that the whole audience would have known who she was talking about. But I very much doubt it. At least one hundred from the two hundred people there were from outside Conductive Education. A shame really that she could not show us all his film.

I am writing this posting as, after reading Andrew Sutton’s blog and the links that he included, I thought that it would be nice for Lars, if he reads this, to be told, how many lives he has touched over the years since he discovered and made public his discovery of Conductive Education. He has become a hero for quite a few young lives, up there beside the other heroes such as David Beckham, Olli Kahn, Bayern Munich, Tina Turner, and the local voluntary fire-brigade.


Andrew Sutton's CE blogging posting -

Wednesday 25 November 2009

Stroke 2

"Spiralling" 2005 by Susie Mallett

The blind man and Charly, his dog

Learning from surprises

It is not usually a good idea just to spring something new on a stroke group, completely out of the blue. Especially when it is something as extraordinary as the event that took place in my group on Tuesday.

But I had no choice.

New situations, any changes in the group usually need to be prepared for, talked about, with reassurance given and angsts removed.

Or that is what I thought!

There really had been no alternative, though, on Tuesday I had to spring a surprise on my group.

I had made last-minute plans for a blind man and his dog to visit our group.

This is the man I had spoken to at the Conductive Education congress in Nürnberg a couple of weeks ago. He had been introduced to me by the boss of the charity I work for in Nürnberg, because he wanted to know all about plinths.

He had just listened to an hour-long presentation about plinths and heard what marvelous things they enable you to do but, being blind he had still no idea what it was! No one had thought to describe it and, not being able to see what the speaker was talking about, he had not been able to visualize what it could be like.

I was not sure that I was the right person for him to talk to but I am always enthusiastic when asked about this subject, as he was soon to discover.

As well as wanting to know what a plinth looks like he wanted to know what we actually do on them and what else can we do with them and, most importantly, what it feels like to lie on one.

By the time Charly the dog and his owner had left the after-congress dinner we had discussed my work in Conductive Education and the dog-owner’s voluntary work improving mobility for the disabled in a nearby town. We had also talked a little bit about the plinth and I had asked a great deal of questions about being blind, that had been very patiently answered. Before we parted company we made some tentative plans for a “plinth discovery” visit to the my adults’ stroke group, which is fortunately running at the moment.

Apologies all round

Just a week later I received a phone call asking what was up. I had forgotten to send an email with more details of times and addresses etc!

Oh dear, and after all my questions about what happens if I sent him an email in English: could his computer read it? I had been advised against it, the computer wasn’t really set up for English and with the translator not being that good he could easily turn up in the wrong place at the wrong time! Then I had forgotten to send the German email.
But the blind man’s interest in the plinth was not deterred and he phoned me instead. I made my apologies and we made further plans on the phone.

These were confirmed by emails on Monday – Charly and his owner would visit us the following day. There began my dilemma.

Don’t panic Susie M!

I was not at work, I had no phone numbers I had no way to talk to the group members about this visit before they would all arrive at the same time as our guests at the start of the next session.

Sometimes I do underestimate the success of our joint work in this group. I forget that we have been together as a group for years. Although members come and go the group actually has a very strong base. It has a secure and happy feeling about it, we all trust and respect each other. All of this proved itself last Tuesday morning.

I had about thirty seconds to tell the group about our visitors before I saw the taxi arrive.

I met them outside and Charly followed me, leading his master inside our building, perfectly negotiating the glass doors, which I was told can be confusing for a guide-dog.

Once inside I described the layout of our room then introduced the group members. Charly was released from his duties and spent the next three hours dozing between the craft-trolley and the parallel bars, with his chin occasionally resting on a ladder on the floor beside the bars. He always seemed to have one eye open, just in case he was needed or talked about.

I then took our guest on a walk through the plinths, not forgetting to describe that they were at knee height and capable of handing out big bruises, especially as the legs are fixed protruding further out from the lying surface.

I then went on to describe how I thought perhaps the morning could proceed, so that all concerned would get the best out of it.

I had spend quite a lot of time over the past few days considering how best to show a blind person what we do in our group, so that he would go away with more than an impression of our voices repeating the actions and counting.

I thought that the best way would probably be for the guest to shadow me. Not only to stand beside me, however, but to have his hands on mine and to feel everything that I did.

There were only four clients present on Tuesday morning. They all seemed positively excited about the change of events and more than ready to give anything a go.

My plan of shadowing didn’t actually come to fruition as I had to move around so much and so quickly between the clients. One of the clients is relatively new, meaning that I had to be at his side much of the time. I was not only needed there to assist him in his movements but also to remind him of exactly what the movement was. It would have been difficult to do this all with someone else’s hands there too.

Again, no problem

The solution seemed to come spontaneously. Our guest remained between the plinths of two of our more long-term group members while I moved backwards and forwards between all four. I put his hands in position on the clients limbs, if by the time I got there he had not already found them. In this way he could feel what they were doing, he could feel whether the movement with the affected side was the same as on the other side, and then he could if he wanted to, and of course if the client wanted him to, correct the movement.

This worked really well. It was just as if we had spend ages working out what to do.

Yes, I had spent quite a few moments, while on my bike, in the underground or lying in bed, giving much thought on what to do and what this experience would be like, but I couldn’t make any real plans. I was most of all just excited and really looking forward to it all, especially to having a dog lying beside the plinths.

As we later realized, a lot of planning had not been necessary.

We, the stroke group, work like a well-oiled motor, even with a new client we adapt so quickly that it is sometimes astounding even for us.

So this new situation proved no hurdle. It was just a smooth turning in a slightly different direction for a few hours.

The B roads are prettier!

That’s what my Mum always said when we were on holiday with our Bedford Dormobile. It was said in an attempt to steer my Dad away from dual-carriageways and motorways, and to add a bit of interest to our travels. He always did it and our lives were the richer for it. We discovered all sorts, from lorries spilling their loads of apples in a country lane, to lovely tea shops to eat scones and jam in, to meadows with rivers to cool off in with the dog.

In the stroke group we were to discover later that our new experience had made such a positive impression on us that none of us would really get back on quite the same track again. Journeying the B-roads was not such a bad thing sometimes! A change is OK if it is well organized!

Just one more example of spiraling upwards and outwards, creating new tangents in our lives, and all quite spontaneously.

It is not surprising that iti s so difficult to do “research” into how successful CE is. Do occasions like this get considered as CE?

I am convinced that the visit on Tuesday of the blind man and his dog brought all my clients a step further in their healing processes, it certainly did a lot for me and mine. But how can that possibly be measured? It is all part and parcel of a CE group but is it Conductive Education?

Of course it is!

To me Conductive Education and Conductive Upbringing are about living. They are about providing experiences, everyday life experiences in a secure environment. An environment where I and my colleagues and other group-members can ensure that everyone gets the help that they need to take part in these experiences to the full and learn how to do the same independently.

We achieved lots of our aims on Tuesday with the visit of the blind man and his dog. The ability to adapt to new experiences was one of them, but there were many, many more.

During our next meeting, the client who was assisted and touched and even facilitated the most by our guest tried his best to express how he had experienced this He described how he accepted the touch of someone he didn’t know on his body, and how he had learnt to feel this touch more normally, not as pain or as something to fear. He said he had been able to feel so much better the position he should be in and had tried to achieve this himself. The situation was new, the touch obviously different and he was much more concentrated than he often is.

Yes, you may say, these clients are used to it, with all their appointments at doctors and therapists, but that doesn’t mean that they like it. Getting used to being touched doesn’t mean that the spasticity doesn’t shoot in anymore, it often means that they just get used to it happening. One group member was so interested and thrilled with this new experience that his spastic muscle tone was actually less than it usually is.

My clients learnt to say when something was not OK and also when it was. On the whole praises were sung for the sensitivity of our blind visitor. We have asked him to visit us again. I and my group just loved having him with us. He, and of course not forgetting Charly, really enriched our lives and opened up our eyes to lots that we often miss.

As for Charly the dog, we hardly noticed he was there. He started getting a little bit restless during the tea break when we talked about him. His one open eye opened wider and his eyebrow raised a bit, and his nose and front feet crept a little bit nearer over the ladder towards us.

Charly is getting on in years and will become a pensioner very soon. Being a guide dog is hard work and I think that after eight years they are allowed to retire! A big decision will have to be faced by his owner: What to do with Charly? Does Charly remain as a family dog or does he go to pastures new to lie somewhere else, away from the busy life of a new guide dog and his owner.

We await with pleasure a second visit from blind man and his dog. They already have an appointment for a trip to the integrated Kindergarten and I will of course be there watching and listening, as excited as the children. The stroke group are waiting in anticipation of a second visit too as they are as begeistert as I am.

Saturday 21 November 2009


" Thoughtful", by Susie Mallett, 2004

Someone told me that my "Questions“ posting of a few days ago is one of the best accounts of an adult’s CE group ever!

I replied that I don’t know about that but if it is any good then it must be because this is perhaps the best adults’ group that I have worked with, ever, anywhere! One reason for this just has to be that it is a long-term group with one of its original members still regularly taking part after twelve years of Conductive Education.

I have never seen anything about this written down about this before perhaps it is time somebody began to discuss it: long-term groups.

Yes I know there are exceptional circumstances calling for a different kind of provision but the same must be true for adult CE in general as it is for children’s CE: as a general rule Conductive Education for chronic conditions just has to be long-term. Quick one-off blocks and courses make me wonder what people think it is all about.

I think that my own four-times three weeks each year works perfectly. The adults do not become dependent on me, on the group or on being "therapied". My clients have time between blocks for their lives, to practise what they learn, to develop new interests. Time to live their lives without always driving from one appointment to the next.

I think that this intermittent way, with bits-in-between, is probably a good way for setting up a conductive life style.

This subject could be an important consideration in research projects in Conductive Education with adults: to look at how successful the different models are, which of the models encourage dependence, which of the clients consider themselves ill, with a need to attend "therapy" on a weekly basis, and which models encourage independence, with the clients living conductively, their sessions becoming a small part of the whole that is their lives and not a separate element, or even worse "therapy" becoming their whole lives.

Altendorf in October

I have been asked about the picture that headed the last posting so I thought that I should explain, and show a few more examples of the handiwork of the locals in Altendorf.

Altendorf is in Franken, near Bamberg, Bavaria. It is a tiny place where on the first weekend of October the streets are buzzing with visitors. Thousands descend on the place and wander in and out of the tiny farmyards to look at displays of pumpkins in their many shapes and sizes. The visitors feast their eyes on the funny scenarios, drink gluh Wein and/or beer, and taste the many delicacies made from different kinds of pumpkin.

Apparently pumpkins have been grown in the area for many years, even back in the Middle Ages but an increase in the local harvest in the second half of the last century must be due to the many Americans dwelling in the area.

If viewing my photographs of the Fest in Altendorf is not enough, then check out some more on the links below.


Sunday 15 November 2009

The advantages of working late

"Altendorf-2004", by Susie Mallett

Here’s integration for you!

I was talking to the cleaner at work last night. I in fact we chat most evenings for a few minutes before I go home and if, as this week, I am there without a bike, she gives me a lift to the bus-stop.

She told me a lovely story about “integration”, It was actually just a story about life, which is how it should be isn’t it?

When the cleaning lady started school, probably fifty years ago now, there was a boy in her class who had become disabled through suffering childhood polio. This boy’s mother brought him to school on the back of her adapted bike, carried him down to their basement classroom and collected him again on the bike when school ended. In between times, if the children went somewhere else they would give him a "carry seat", in other words, two children would entwine their hands to make a seat and several others lifting him up there. The world was then theirs to explore.

After a while these children took it upon themselves to call on the mother and tell her that they were big and able enough to take their friend to school themselves.

So, until he was too big for the back of mother's adapted bike, this is how it was. The child who was to be the chauffeur would leave his own bike with the mother, transfer to the mother’s bike with its well padded seat on the back. then off they would all go, en masse, to school.

Sometimes there were tumbles, which caused lots of laughter before they began the difficult task of getting their disabled friend back on to the cycle seat. There were always enough able bodies in the convey to manage this without calling for grown-up assistance.

That friend is still a friend, fifty years later. This group of “children” still meet for coffee and cakes every few months. They still carry him up any steps in a “carry seat” between them, though he does claims that they were more sprightly in their youth!

When I was in Hungary training to be a conductor I saw a similar situation at a grammar school in Budapest. An “integrated” ex-Petö pupil’s mates carried him, not only up one or two steps but up whole flights. They did not do this with him sitting on their hands in "a carry seat" but carried him complete with wheelchair.

I witnessed this at his end-of-year Fest, when every classroom in the three-storey school was visited by the school leavers. His friends took him everywhere.

No lifts, or school taxis in those days, and what those children did then would these days probably not be allowed.

Times change but as I have witnessed on my school visits recently, it isn’t integration that is a great success, The success is great when it is considered the norm, the right thing to do, taken for granted that this is how it is.

Integration as a word was not known in those classes twenty and fifty years ago, it was not used on my school visits recently either.

All three stories success stories!

More thoughts from the congress.

"The plinth"

" Still smiling "

" 8.30am - filling up"

The plinth

What more is there to say?

At last weekend’s congress we listened, some of us patiently, others attentively, for all of an hour about the use of a plinth.

Nothing was said about what conductive upbringing is all about and, when I tried to bring this into the discussion later on, no one really wanted to go along this road.

The presentation was all about how useful a plinth is to teach children different movements. It actually took a whole hour for the presenter to say almost exactly what Szathmary Judit said much more concisely in her comment on Andrew Sutton’s plinth posting recently.

My argument was then and now has sbeen that we can do all we wish to do in our work, using anything that is available. This doesn't need to be so-called Petö furniture. We just need to use our creative thinking. No one carries a plinth around in a pocket to facilitate movements, so we have to know how to use what is there at hand. We need to show from the beginning how we can to do whatever it is that tat we want to do at any given moment and in any given place, not only on or around a plinth.

A plinth as a tool is often used in a very abstract way in the group.. I admit it can in the right place be a good tool but I still believe that a much better tool would be an adventure playground!

Maybe a good tool but it has no more to do with conductive upbringing than singing while climbing the stairs has. They are all tools of the trade.

What is the trade?

Learning to live.

Just on possible tool among many
I am not really against plinths but I am for showing the ever-growing world of CE that a plinth is not essential to a conductive upbringing. As the CE world gets bigger and bigger it seems that the furniture myth grows at the same rate.

After this presentation someone we work with in Nürnberg whispered in our conductor ears: “You don’t do that in Nürnberg do you? The only good use I can see for them is to stop the little ones crawling away”

There are other means to stop little ones crawling away if they need to be stopped, and yes perhaps this is a reason why some people use plinths, or even a well-padded therapy-bench. Others use motivating games to keep the children interested in the task in hand whether on the floor or on a bench, and some include crawling around in the activity whenever possible.

If children decide to crawl away then they can be motivated to crawl back again.

Spontaneous activity is our aim, isn't it?


We still have a garage full of plinths in Boxdorf. I don’t think that after the “use of a plinth” presentation we will have many people knocking at the door to take them away, which was I think the aim of including it in the congress.

I felt like I was hitting my head against a brick wall when I was trying to explain to an audience, that was longing for their tea-break after an hour of staring at plinths, that conductive pedagogy is really a very simple, holistic way of looking at life and doing what is needed to live it to the full.
I was trying to explain that it can be far from easy to realise this simple holistic theory in practice, and in fact very hard work for all concerned. If a plinth helps in this hard work then use one if it is available. But in doing so never forget that we are using it as a tool to get along the road to living real life.


A blind man approached me at the after-congress dinner to find out what a plinth is like. He asked if he could come to my group and find out for himself what it is that makes a plinth so special that it became the subject of an hour-long presentation to an audience of two hundred.

He is, I hope, coming to visit my stroke group next week, together with his guide dog, to check us out, and of course the plinth.
More I hope on this later in the week.


Congress -

Andrew Sutton on plinths -

Paintings at an exhibition

"Forest, after David Hockney"

"Three butterflies"


"Cuckoo, duck and dolphins"

"Hockneyesque trees, an after-Chagall horse ,and an original KK bee"

Action stations

In the TWTWTW week I finally got to see the exhibition that my art-therapy client and colleagues and had put together just the day before I left for England in September. I described the last-minute action and amazing cooperation of various colleagues in an earlier posting, "The Spontaneous Vernissage"

I missed the private view but have been told by all of those concerned that it was a great success. Several people told me that my client had felt very proud to have his work hanging on the walls and he gave everyone present the feeling that he was thoroughly enjoying himself. My client, diagnosed as autistic, also said a few words of welcome at the private view, standing beside his father and his social worker.

It was not until TWTWTW, that is two weeks ago now, that I finally had the time to go to the BUNI-TREFF to have a look for myself. It was quite impressive. The exhibition space is situated in the café and extends up an open stairway stairway. Large paintings hung on the stairway can be viewed from below quite easily. I was really impressed by how the paintings had been framed by the "Man Friday" at the Verein. Just a sheet of hard board and a thin strips of wood attached with double-sided tape. A a perfect frame for the almost three-dimensional pieces behind glass would have lost some of their energy.

A wholesome sight

I knew all the pictures. Most of them had been painted in our art-therapy sessions and I had seen them en masse as we delivered them at the Buni-Treff, but somehow they looked so different on the walls. They were no longer separate items, they had become a unity. The whole of my client's work to date. It really was quite impressive to see and, while for me it was a good feeling to see them like this, I think for my client it must have been even more satisfying.

I have only once in my life exhibited a group of paintings. It was a joint exhibition and only for one day, at a congress, but nevertheless I remember the feeling of satisfaction that I had when the set of paintings was completed and hung on display to the public. My client most certainly felt this too, although unable to express it in words. I could see his pleasure in his face and, as my colleagues reported, it was also obvious in his behavior at the private view.

An afternoon out and about

It is a long time now since my Indian-Summer holiday in England that followed the blitz of organizational action for the exhibition. This week the exhibition came to an end as it was time for the next artist’s work to be put on display. We juggled appointments for the three of us, me, my client and the same Man Friday who framed the pictures, so we all could go together, with a small van to take the pictures down from the walls.

We added another new experience to my client's gradually richer and richer life, we made more connections for him in a gradually widening social world, and at the end we all sat down for a coffee together.

All in all the experience was a great success. My client experienced a situation that not many artists are lucky enough to be in, a solo exhibition. He had done everything that he needed to do, with aplomb. We all got to know a few more people, kindred souls who are now willing to work on similar projects with us.

In this case a little imagination, a lot of pulling together and a few spontaneous decisions worked wonders on the lives of several people, not forgetting all those who were able to view the paintings.

The paintings

I nearly forgot them!

When they were hanging it was interesting to see that the underlying interest that my client has in nature really did shine through.

There were a variety of birds, there were plants and insects and trees. What I enjoyed most was the brightness, the humour, the sense of fun displayed in the paintings and collages, the liveliness of the colours and the textures of the materials.

We have decided that, instead of leaving these beautiful works of art in a box, we will exhibit them in or work place until we find another gallery space to put them on public view.

A big thank-you to the Buni-Treff, the boss at the Verein and my two colleagues for all their help in making this wonderful new and spontaneous experience possible. I look forward to lots more work in this team.


Earlier posting on this subject -

Saturday 14 November 2009


" Rosehips" 1976 by Susie Mallett

The Working Men's Club

I have a men’s stroke group at the moment. A sort of working men’s club, with me the only female member. They seem to be loving it.

We have a lot of fun and we work very hard. Sometimes I have to be really strict as they lark about so much but we are also very serious at times.

I think that maybe for some of them I am one of very few people in their lives, perhaps for some the only person, who talks to them about the invisible problems that are part and parcel of being disabled by a stroke.

I get the group talking to me and to each other about their lives. Their partners come to the group and we get them talking about their lives too.

I encourage them to ask each other questions by doing the same myself. They talk to me and then to each other about what is going on every day in their personal lives. They don’t only talk about their aches and pains, slow movements and spasticity, their double vision and other symptoms. They talk too about how their disabilities and invisible problems affect their whole families.

On Thursday there was a breakthrough, most probably influenced by having a new member in our midst. This new member is someone who still has such a long way to go before he joins in our conversations spontaneously but who is being included in every thing that is said nonetheless.

This long established rest of the group have learnt from me how to ask questions. They do it just as I do, encouraging our new group member to take part. They are actually getting really so good at it that I tell them that they don’t need me anymore. I can take a back seat, I have just about lost my job!

Although when I threaten to leave them to it they are not quite ready to try it out.

The group is now aware that they can help each other by asking questions and that by doing so they can also help themselves. Not only because they are practising their speech and recall of words but because they also put their abilities to put themselves in someone else’s position into practice. After a stroke this ability is often lost, or when not lost cannot be expressed.

They are learning again to consider what other people may be experiencing and look at this in relationship to their own lives. They are realising how invaluable their own experiences are and that, as they learn how to share them with other members of the group, they are also teaching others. Including me.

People who have only recently suffered a stroke really can benefit from the experiences of the others and this is what I encourage in our half-an-hour's so-called break. This is in fact a very important part of our programme, the “question and answer” time.

So the group is slowly taking over my job. What a joy it is to watch this. It is lovely to observe how the group members take note of how they can gently push our new member until they receive the appropriate answers to their questions. Somehow they know just how to do it.

They are always kind, they always wait expectantly for an answer. There is no pressure experienced, as perhaps there might be if I was to be doing the asking and trying to encourage speech.

They were, and some still are, all in the same boat, so they don’t have to imagine or visualise how the other one feels. Many know from first-hand experience. In our group they learn to put this experience to positive use.

Not all stroke-sufferers remember this time, it is not stored in their memories, but through the make-up of our group, with beginners and advanced clients all working together, they are able to see what progress they themselves have made by being with the other group members. The new group members see and hear about the progress that is possible and are motivated, even when they know that sometimes it has taken place over a time span of ten years.

The choir conductor

It is hard, even for me, to visualise how it was for one of my female clients who isn’t with us this month. Ten years ago she could hardly utter a word. She is my “singing client”, the choir conductor!

She is the lady who now cooks and cleans and sews and paints, speaks on the phone, uses the computer, sings and thoroughly enjoys life.

She phoned me a few minutes ago asking me for the URL of that newspaper article that I mentioned in my blog this week. She is off to court on Monday to fight her case for her carer, (yes, as ever it is about finances). She is gathering as much information as she can find on Conductive Education and the other things that she does to live her healthy life, to state her case. She is doing this mostly by herself, of course with the assistance and advice from her family and all who touch her life.

When we first met she could string only two or three words together. This lady now is one of the best motivators in the group. She can explain in detail the processes that she went through in all areas of her progress and development. She describes the return of feelings, that at first were experienced as pain, she talks about re-learning all about her body imagine and the awareness of herself in space.

Best of all she describes how it was when she first started to speak. How she heard this strange noise and always looked around to see who was making it until one of her family told her that it was her. It was at this point that she started learning to speak properly.

This is the way our group works, sharing and learning and questioning and having fun in between.

The Russian, and me

It is a breakthrough enough to have this all going on in the group, but yesterday there was more.

One man went one step further and realised that I am there too. That he could communicate with me on a different level. He asked me:

So what’s going on in your life?”

I must explain here that this man is from Russia. His speech and communication skills have improved over the past few years in leaps and bounds. He lives, just as I do, much of his day in his second or perhaps third language.

What happened when he had a stroke I can only guess at and ask his family. Of course, I do not speak Russian. I don’t know hether his mother tongue has been affected by the stroke in the same way as has his second language, I do not know how well he spoke his second language before the stroke. He now speaks it well, much better than when I first met him a year after the stroke. But I don't know whether this is recovoery from the stroke or if he is learning to speak the language better.

He is now able to joke with us and show us his real personality. This is the stage that I love.

Working with people who speak and use two languages every day and have had a stroke is really very interesting, especially as I personally know what a muddle it can sometimes be speaking German and Hungarian every day and with English buzzing in my head.

This man is now able to relate very well to other people. He has progressed so far that he can visualise that they too have a life of their own. Hence the question he posed.

I am thrilled that he has progressed so far. He was brave and confident enough in the group to actually ask me about me and he asked so nicely. He wasn’t abrupt as stroke suffers can sometimes be, he wasn’t too inquisitive, he was friendly and worded his question subtly so I could answer whatever I liked.

I was so pleased that I really did give them a "snippet" out of my life.

I joked at first and said I had been out to dinner with a man!

It was true but his family had been there too, but initially it made them all wake up in anticipation of a rather different answer!

I told them that I had been out to dinner the night before with someone I have been working with recently. It was a sort of a "thank-you" and his nine-year-old daughter was there too. I told my group about what a pleasure it had been to be in this child’s company and how much I had learnt from her that I can use in my work.

I explained that often physically disabled children sometimes are not as far advanced in their social and emotional development as their non-disabled peers. Contact, as I experienced at the dinner, are invaluable to me, a huge learning experience. The little girl learnt something too as at her request we played some English games together between courses.

My stroke group found this "snippet"interesting, although I think that they would have prefered the romantic candlelight dinner story that they had at first anticipated.

They realised that I spend a lot of my time with people with disabilities and the penny dropped that sometimes I needed some input from non-disabled children and adults.

Learning to ask questions is one big step, learning what to do with the answers is another.

I think they had a lot to think about with my answer. I could almost see the whirr in their brains as they thought about Susie and her life and her learning outside of the group.

A vital principle

What I bring into the group to help us solve our problems there has to come from somewhere. Just as their experiences that they share and learn from come from their personal lives so do many of mine.

Friday 13 November 2009

One step at a time

"All arms and legs in a muddle", by AB, 2007, aged 10

I have just bought myself a netbook

Steps one, two and three
Wishing, informing and growing computer confidence

I have been considering buying a netbook for sometime now, ever since Laci and I played with his over the road in the Caffé Fatal. I wanted one just to make blogging a bit easier for me, but me being me and unsure of my computing skills, and wary about spending my money, I had to wait until I really knew a bit more of what they are all about. I have been asking around and surfing and googling, and generally collecting information for months.

Step four
Deciding to buy

The waiting probably saved me some money as the computers get cheaper and cheaper by the hour.

Today on my way to work on the other side of town I found a paper on the train advertising them in every colour under the sun. As these rainbow-coloured creations were all on sale at a shop very near to my flat I decided that the time was right and I was ready to take a big step now.

On my way back across town to the next work appointment in Boxdorf I called in very excited and hoping very much that I would at last be making my purchase.

Small steps and big steps each in the same direction. Eventually after several months I have reached my destination. Now begins the next stage of the journey of discovery, with my new little friend called "Ees". I shall call him Es for short, as that is what my Mum called me.

I really wanted a little netbook so that I can carry it to work with me on my bike or on the tram, or even use it on longer journeys on the train. I wanted something compact to take with me to the UK without having to pay excess baggage in these days of very strict regulations. I really just wanted to have an up-to-date piece of technology instead of an out-dated heavyweight laptop.

My aim is to save time and write my texts for blogs straight into the computer, instead of storing unpublished blogs in my old-fashioned "real" notebooks for weeks on end. I want to prevent "That was the week that was" turning into "That was the month that was" or even into "That was the year that was"!

Of course I shall still use my notebook and pencil, I cannot be without it. I need it for my doodling and for just having the feel of a pencil between my fingers. But now I can type up my ideas wherever I am, in any spare moments that I may have. The idea is that when I get home all I have to do is transfer my work onto a USB stick and Bob's-your-uncle, there is the blog posting just looking for a photograph to complete it. Let us see, when I have finished writing this whether the next step is so easy and whether I can do the transfer with the same ease.

It is hard to believe but I went computer-shopping all on my own. I found a young man with lots of patience. He spent a whole hour showing me one netbook after the other, until I decided on the price in the middle and compromised with the colour. I now have a very snazzy white one instead of the pink one that I had set my heart on. Slowly but surely, as it does what I ask of it, I am falling in love with it!

I think that I made a good choice

I have no idea how I have got the thing turned on and working but I have. I have no idea whether I have got all the settings right and I am waiting for some technical advice before I go any further and attempt to go online. But I am writing and when I have finished writing I will see whether I can save it on to my USB stick, get this into the bigger computer and post it.

One step at a time seems to be working! Just as we conductors know it always does.

Step five
Using it

It is actually making me feel quite clever and I am impressed, not by my skills but my bravery.
I haven’t started to panic yet. The only problem that I have come across so far is that I can’t find the spell check. That really will be a disaster if there isn’t one! I apologize beforehand and hope that I find it soon.

I have discovered that I can if I wish change my keyboard to a qwerty but I am so used to using a German qwertz that I am sticking to it now. I have never had an English computer anyway so having one now would just be one problem-to-solve too many. I have, however, always had an English spell check but that may have changed now so I may have to learn to spell at last.

It is going to take me months to work out all I can do on this tiny machine but I think after just an hour of fiddling I have done quite well in writing a short blog.

The next step?

That will be to go online in the Caffé Fatal. I may need a technical advisor for that. Laci, if you are reading this, thanks for the encouragement and take note that any advice will be greatly received.

It appears to have worked. I posted it!

Wednesday 11 November 2009

Nürnberger Nachrichten, Monday 9th November 2009

"Grüß Gott", by AB July, 2008

One of my littlies whose Mum did us proud with her presentation at our Congress on Saturday, arrived this afternoon full of beans, her athetoid movements even more squiggly than ever due to her excitement.

She and her school, and Mum, had hit the headlines!

That is a bit of an exaggeration, not the headlines exactly but we are all very happy with the couple of columns in the local daily paper.

The report from our Congress did exactly what we wanted! It put the emphasis on our success with the integrated kindergarten and, since September, with three of four integrative children in normal school.

The article tells us:

"Conductive Education wants to help children and adults with disability to be able to take a more active role in our society.

Many professionals from the field, from Germany and abroad met this weekend in Nürnberg’s Grand Hotel, to learn more and to exchange experiences.

The little F... (that’s one of my littlies) is happy: the six year old who is disabled from birth but is mentally very intelligent, is since the beginning of the school year attending the “Hegelschule” She is dependent on a wheelchair [since last week she is walking with her rolator in school and pushing a chair, and she can now take four steps on her own] but the school director, the teacher and nineteen other pupils in the class have welcomed her with open arms. An integration assistant is there at the little girl’s side.

“Something like this should be the rule not the exception” said her mother.
The norm for children like her is to attend the school for children with physical disabilities.

Prof. Reinhard Lelgemann from the Department for Special Pedagogy in Würzbürg University reported on a school project in Rohrdorf near Würzburg. The project with two conductive classes for disabled children in a local junior school, has proved what pedagogues have believed for a long time: that both sides benefit from the teaching of children with and without physical disabilities in integrated schools and classes.

The parents who were at first sceptical have changed their opinions after seeing the social development of their children.

The success of F… and of the school project in Würzburg is due to a special education that was developed over sixty years ago by the Hungarian Dr András Petö. Conductive Education has its emphasis on the development of independence in everyday life.

Things like dressing and cleaning teeth are learnt. Working with simple materials tasks involving movement skills, speech, cognitive development, are holistically “trained”.

In Nürnberg this is carried out in two children's groups at the Verein für Menschen mit Körperbehinderungen. F... has been attending one of these for the past four years, the Komet Kindergarten in Boxdorf.

Three conductors are employed by the Verein . As well as the five children in each of the two groups there are 30 adults who take part in the education, for example those with multiple sclerosis and stroke-sufferers.

But although there is recognisable success the health insurance companies and the rehabilitation providers still do not pay for the cost.

There are three other people, therapists and teachers with experience in this method working at the Nürnberg centre for physically disabled children."

Littlie was so thrilled this afternoon, and Granddad too when they arrived for "Petö", waving the newspaper at us.

Granddad had already read the article to his granddaughter three times and he then gave me the page to copy and hang up on our notice board. We had to read it aloud of course once more for the rest of the group to hear.

Granddad was grinning from ear to ear. He was so excited and as proud as Punch of his family, the school, and us.

The school was also over the moon with the report, the Director had brought the paper to the teacher early this morning to read out to the class.

Of course the Kindergarten and the conductive staff are smiling from ear to ear too. So much so that we all look like we have slices of watermelon stuck between our lips!

Littlie’s Mum really did do a good job reporting on their joint success story at the congress, as did the Kindergarten’s Montessori teacher and conductor.

The story of this Littlie is one of those hidden away in my notebook that should have been in the posting TWTWTW (that was the week that was) but got buried through lack of time and energy to type.

Here is that story now.

I just had one of the best days of my life as a conductor

On October 23rd I was invited by a physiotherapist to accompany her on a visit the Hegelschule, that is the school that Littlie attends.

I jumped at the chance and I was there bright and early to be welcomed at the school gate by a row of eight-year-olds with banners saying “Good Morning”. Not made especially for us, these children are there every day to welcome the whole school and any visitors. To give them all a smiley start to the day.

Littlie's teacher and the integration assistant have oftenvisited us in the conductive group that Littlie attends. It was high time that I visited them and began the conductive work in the classroom.

This little girl is in a class of only twenty children and I was to realise as the day went on how much these children all care for each other, look out for each other and respect each other, and this includes Littlie. She is one of them, no need to mention integration or inclusion, she is an equal, there from the start.

The ideal would have been for her to attend a school that her Kindergarten companions attended but they now all attend different schools spread all over the city. Because it was an integrated kindergarten the children did not come from a specific catchment area. So socially, in the playground, Littlie was having to start all over again, just like a lot of the first-year pupils.

In the classroom it was easier. After only half a term she was well and truly part of the group. I am told that due to the excellant work done by the classroom teacher this has been so from day one.

It had been a struggle to find a school that would take Littlie. The school her brother attends eventually turned her down just a couple months before term started. With everyone pulling out the stops to help the family a school was found and now every one is extremely happy with the choice. On this and subsequent visits I was to discover exactly why.


The physiotherapist and I were greeted enthusiastically, we took our places and I began my work of observing where, if anywhere, I could give tips to make life in school easier for all concerned.

After a while we took a break. We left the room with the classroom assistant and tried to answer all of her questions. She is a teacher but she is new to the job of assiting a littlie with physical disabilities.

Tips were passed on, learnt from years of experience and trial and error. Things like not to make her work sheets too much bigger than the norm. A child with athetoid movements can’t control the movement anywhere near as well when the arm or hand needs to move away from the body. This littlie rests the pencil against her cheek as she writes to prevent the jerking that would make her writing illegible.

Tips on how to sit for various activities. A trip-trap chair was considered the best plan and one was promptly delivered by the physiotherapist on the next Friday, when we followed up our first visit.

I don’t know why these trip-trap chairs are not used more widely in Conductive Education. Perhaps they are in other centres. The height of all parts of the chair are adjustable, the seat the foot rest and the back rest. The depth of the seat and foot rest can also be adjusted.

The box that Littlie was using for her feet before the arrival of the chair is now being used to sit on in the morning circle and the chair that she used to sit on is used to hold on to to walk around the classroom, as it takes up less space than a ladder-chair or a rolator.

There is now a frizbie on the table, to stop the pens and pencils rolling away. The wire draw under the table is now a holding place when stability is needed when standing and sitting.

Out in the playground the rolator is used instead of the wheelchair, to encourage activity and discourage passivity. To encourage the making of friends and to keep warm!

When Littlie was in her wheelchair her peers walked behind her but now with a rolator they run around together and everyone keeps warm.

There were more tips for what could be done in sport with the other children, tips for how to eat and drink and tips for lots, lots more.

Conductors learn too!

But what is more important is what I learnt.

On the last day before half term, the children in this class looked on with wonder as Littlie showed them how she has just learnt to walk four steps. I looked on in wonder as I see what she learns from her classmates and what they learn from her. The class were so quiet, the children nearest holding out their hands in case she fell.

The children are encouraged to raise their hands and tell everyone if they have understood what Littlie says. Therefore she speaks clearer and clearer everyday. This week she has been calling my name for the first time. Especially loud and clear when I am distracted and she wants me to help her with her food.

In the classroom the looks on the children’s faces when Littlie succeeds have been a joy to see. She is a part of this community. The teacher tells us they have been given a gift. She doesn’t mean the child or her assistant, but she means the whole experience, the whole package. That package includes me and the physiotherapist, Grandma and Grandad too.

It includes the adaption of everyday objects as a walking aid or aids to working, and the patience of the children as they listen out for Littlie’s softly spoken answers. The teacher says that all their lives are richer because of taking a risk, because of saying Yes when others said No.

Today they got the praise they deserve in this newspaper article

Well done Littlie and co, pioneers for CE in schools.

I am so happy to be part of it, to observe it and, most of all, to not hear one word about integration or inclusion.

As always I am begeistert by my work.


Nürnberger Nachrichten -