Let‘s begin with the blue
The sun popped its head out from behind a cloud this week. We have had a couple of days when we could believe spring is springing, with the sky a beautiful cobalt blue. The world looked different, it was different. There were smiles on people's faces, a few cycles on the bike path, flattened brown/green grass on the verges, and the waist-high piles of snow are disappearing.
We have had three months with not only masses of snow but no sun. To have blue above our heads now, twice in a week, has made a big difference to most of the souls in Nürnberg. I travelled to work in sunshine and I came home in sunshine, that really does make a difference.
The stroke group has been coming to me for the past three weeks. Now that is a really old group, it is the second oldest one that I have after the group for workers. The clients themselves are not, however very old, relatively young in fact compared to other times in the ten-year history of this group.
The clients are not old. Some have also only been there for a short time so they are new clients, but the group is old.
What does that mean for us?
It means that the group is well established and has a well-oiled routine, a routine that can change at the drop of a hat just because it is so old and well-oiled.
It means that I know what I am doing. I know where to find everything that I need, and the clients learn where everything is too. It means that I know the clients and they know me.
I think, though, that the most important thing is that the clients feel that the group is old. Being in the group gives them a feeling of security and again this prepares us for the new.
We have lots of changes
We welcome many visitors and our door is always open. We do many things at a moment's notice but the group has a underlying routine and this security allows us to be adventurous.
This old group is planning a new adventure for the next block. One of our members has had his driving licence restored.He is just waiting for his car to be altered and the world will his oyster once again.
The car has to have a knob fitted on to the steering wheel and possibly a brake and gas lever fitted on to the right -hand side of the steering column. When these alterations have been checked by the MOT people we all are off!
This client will not need to rely on a driver to get him to the group any more an,d to celebrate his freedom, he has promised to drive us to the cafe in the village for coffee and cake. The treat will be on me. That will be our first-ever trip out together, as we have never had the transport before. We have never had a client get his driving licence restored either.
The adventures are 'the new made possible because of the old.
Staying with the stroke group...
The client with the car walks with a tall, fully extended "Nordic walking" stick. These sticks are telescopic and some can be extended to reach a length of about 175 cms.
This man has always used this stick, never a shorter one, when he walks in the street. It gives him a bit of added security when he moves between the bustling crowds. It good to watch him walking, very upright, looking a bit like a shepherd or a bishop watching over his flock.
Using such a tall stick means that the head is lifted and the back is straighter, with very little bending at the waist, both necessary for a good field of vision when a shepherd observes where his flock is wandering or when my client is negotiating his way across a busy street.
Last week the rest of the group got very interested in this stick. I have always recommended these taller sticks to them but no one else has taken them up. Until this last week, that is.
At some stage during the individual walking programme they all asked whether they could try out that stick.
Gradually we had one delighted shepherd after the other, all with heads held high, backs as straight as soldier’s, all of them looking like very different people. An energy entered their whole countenance, a spring was in their steps.
By the following session we had one group member who had borrowed a Nordic walking stick from his dad and one who had borrowed the sticks from her husband. A third was going to use his wife’s and the fourth was going out at the weekend with his wife actually to buy one!
I wait with anticipation for the next time we meet, to hear about the results of using these borrowed sticks.
On to the new
I have already talked about a lot of new things, either experiences that we have had in the group or plans that we have in the making. Now it is on to something that is new for me.
I often accompany my clients on trips to doctors, to their therapists, or to the boot-makers. I sometimes accompany parents on visits to schools for parents' evenings, and I sometimes visit classes alone. These visits are either out of my own interest or after requests from parents, sometimes (but more rarely) on request from the other professional. This week I did something that in my almost twenty-one years working in Conductive Education I have never done before. I attended a speech therapy session with one of my young children.
At the same time that I discovered Conductive Education in 1987, I was working in special education in England. I worked very closely with a speech therapist. She was an inspiration to me and I still think about her often. I am grateful for the knowledge that she passed on to me when we were working together in my classroom at lunchtimes, teaching children, and a heap of assistants, therapists, grandmas and other helpers, how to enjoy their mealtimes. Since that I have had no contact with speech therapists, except for this lady in the UK. I still write emails to her asking her for advice.
Here in Germany most of my clients with speech difficulties have a speech therapist, though many stroke clients, despite their on-going need, do not get this provided by the health service for longer than about three years. This is one of the main reasons that they seek out conductive groups. Their therapy "allowance" gets slowly reduced as the years pass by, so they go on the search for something else.
The opportunity has not really arisen before for me to go to a speech therapy session. Often these take place in school, near home or at home. They are also only about twenty minutes long making a long journey to attend unfeasible. I have a child in my afternoon group who has speech therapy in blocks, this is quite unusual.
A week of afternoon “Petö” is replaced by a week of sessions with her speech therapist.
I always notice huge improvements in this child’s ability and her will to communicate each time that an intensive “speech” block has taken place. So intrigued to find out what she did I made an appointment to go with her. When I was there at the session this week the therapist told me that she also sees huge improvements after a couple of weeks of Petö sessions. That is always good to hear.
I have never known someone attending a block of speech therapy. I think that this is the ideal way for this child, especially in the winter months when there is a lot of illness about. No sessions get cancelled. If someone is ill the whole block gets postponed. There is an intensity in the work that cannot be achieved in twenty minutes a week and this means that Conductive Education sessions can be more intensive too.
Unfortunately last Monday no one had remembered to inform the therapist that I was coming too, but after her initial shock it was fine and Opa and I were put to work. Opa always attends so he knows what to practise later.
You know, one hears such dreadful stories about conductors and Conductive Education, and its relationships with therapists. I have never experienced this. I have never had a bad experience. Of course I have met therapists who are not convinced, but these therapists don’t invite me to watch them at work or ask to watch my groups. I have always had good experiences and this one with the speech therapist came very near to the top of the list.
What did I learn? Was there anything new?
For me the most important thing was the assurance that I received while observing that, as a conductor I am doing all right, just the same as when I was reading Makarenko last week. It was the same kind of feeling. I was once again reminded that I really did learn how to do it in my training, I really have learnt more through the years of practice and I did learn an awful lot from my speech therapist friend in 1987.
I observed this week with the speech therapist: the importance that she puts on getting legs, hips, chest and jaw in alignment to enable speech to flow more easily, just as I do it.
I learnt how she gives a bit of help to the back of the head, on the cheeks, under the chin and on the jaw, to reach an optimal position to produce the wanted sound, just as I do it.
I observed how with this child a favoured position for working is in a knee-stand, just, as it is for me. I learnt how I can give a bit of stability to this position with a thick roll placed between bottom and feet.
I learnt the process of how to encourage the sound sch, one of the most difficult letters in the German language for any child to pronounce, I was told.
We learnt to blow without saying 'pooh'. Winnie the Pooh was banned from the room and soon feathers were flying all over the place, without a sound.
I had time for a few words with the therapist alone and I explained how I do things and asked for a few tips. I also told her that we have so little time to deal with everything in the sessions and that, as before in 1987, a lot of my work to encourage the tongue and lip movements needed for speech are worked on while we eat. Swallowing, the therapist said, that will be what they work on in the next intensive block.
It isn’t only after such an intensive block that I see and hear huge developments in the speech of this child. It happens also after a holiday. After days spent with her family when there is time to sit and chat.
I came away from this new experience feeling pleased to have the new contact, happy to know a speech therapist around the corner, happy to have a place to go to to ask for advice.
Most of all I was again happy with the re-assurance that I am doing all right.