Friday, 9 April 2010

An upbringing... social, collective and conductive






"A conductive day out"

A tractor museum

What do you do next when a teenager thinks that he can do enough to survive in the situation that he is living in?

This is what I came across recently when working with a family.

In a way it is true. This young man has learnt an awful lot during his long conductive upbringing, at least fourteen of his nineteen years, but there are still many things missing. Perhaps these are things that we who look in from the outside observe and feel to be missing, but these are the same things that, having never experienced them, the young man himself finds it hard to imagine could become a part of his life.

He could if he would

The family and I believe that they could be his life, and that they really would be a part of his life if only we could find out what will motivate this young man to give them a go, try them out, keep on learning.

I am searching for a key but where do I look when this teenager seems to have no dreams to fulfil, when he has no role model to look up to, when he has no ambitions or hopes for his future? He says that he is happy how he is but still wants to take part in conductive work, so it is still our job to find the way forward for him.

Perhaps he does have aspirations but he never mentions them and shrugs his shoulders if asked what they are. The shoulder-shrug is in fact an answer to many questions when he cannot be bothered to think or when he finds it too much trouble to speak and make himself understood.

I have spent the last few years in this teenager’s life searching with him for the key. We have been looking here, there and everywhere for the special thing that will motivate further development. We discovered several things along the way, painting, marching, cooking, even sometimes cleaning, but the enthusiasm for them all seems to pass after a while. Even music doesn’t really motivate at the moment.

Every day for two weeks I was asked if we could listen to some music, as he has always done since he was twelve or thirteen. I agreed as always but on not one day out of the twelve that we spent together did he bring any CDs with him. It was very strange for us to be working and painting for the first time in years with no music.

Life seems to be at a standstill. But why?

School has finished, work has begun. This should be the start of a new and exciting adventure, but it isn’t. The question that we are all asking is: apart from late adolescence what has happened?

Last year the pre-work year, learning some extra living skills and having a couple of days for practise in the work-place where he would later be working full-time, was a great success. He made good progress and enjoyed the projects and learning about Germany, its politics, and life in general.

Then, I suspect, the break between the end of this “college” year and work was too long for this young man. College ended in June, with great expectations for the future, and work began in September. Maybe this was just too long, long enough for the anticipation of a wonderful new life to wane and the questions and uncertainties, and the worries, to take over.

A strange situation – for us both

It is not just change from school/college to work that is a problem. This young man has not been in a conductive centre every day. He had experienced a conductive upbringing within his family, with conductive sessions in groups and individually continuing at regular intervals three or four times a year.

I find myself in a new situation. What to do when a young adult moves away from home, or at least spends much less time at home – moving away from the “conductive upbringing” in the family yet still being dependent on others for many things in his life? These people are not conductors or his parents, though, but a completely new set of people, who need to be informed of the way of life that this young man has been living.

Finding out more

I have been working for two weeks with a sad boy, not at all at ease with himself or his life. At first I was not at all certain how to help.

We decided that we would have to completely change our routine, introduce new experiences to try to re-light the spark in this usually extrovert and fun-loving young lad. One of our ideas was to find out what was happening at work, get to know everybody and set up connections.

I get a lot of long-distance phone calls from this young man, telling me about daily happenings, and I have had difficulty following the stories because of my not knowing any of the people or the routine. This was the time to change all this.

So one of our days in the two weeks together was spent at this teenager’s place of work. I was hoping to discover what we could do to improve life and evolve a new routine for our conductive work.

This visit proved to be a great help to us both. I now have a better idea of who he is talking about when he phones with a problem, I now have contact with his group leader and I have seen and learnt about life in the workshop, a place where my client is finding it very difficult to integrate and find friends. This is indeed something that I had not known before and seems the key to the unhappiness.

On the buses

We travelled to work by public transport, and homewards too. Our plan for the next two weeks when we work together is do this journey every day until my client knows how to carry on alone.

Because of the success of our trip to “work” we went on to spend as many days as we could out in the “big wide world”, trying to get to grips with bus travel, and eating and drinking in strange places, with different cutlery, different cups and plates, different chairs, toilets downstairs, and all the other details that make going out in the world difficult for someone with a disability.

The biggest surprise that I had, although it really I shouldn’t have been surprised, came when we were using public transport. This young lad had grown up with buses in his life. His family own a fleet of them. He also travelled to school every day of his life in a mini- bus, and knows the ins and outs of the local transport system, but he had never travelled on a public bus. He had never had to read a timetable, to wait at a bus stop, and look to see whether the bus had the right number on it when one arrived. He has never had to move inside a bus when it is in motion, never had to think in advance to look for a hand grip, or decide that perhaps it is better to sit beside the driver!

Where he got on and where he got off had never before been his problem.

He really has so many things still to be learn if he is to get by alone out in the big wide world. Things that were unimaginable even two years ago because physically they were not possible for us even to consider trying.

Questions, questions...

I often ask myself whether all this might be too late. During the past two or three years this young man has developed so very much physically. Enough to be able walk well, independently, without fear of tripping, falling or stepping into the path of cars – but he still has not been able quite to manage to step out on his own into the world.

Could it be that he has been protected too much, despite his conductive upbringing? Has too much been taken out of his hands? How could this have been worked out any differently, though, given that he could not get around safely independently for the first eighteen years of his life?

These questions are of course without answers, we have no way of knowing what might have been. What needs to be done is to find the path to travel now, discover the key, that will motivates this young man now to step out into his world.

Sometimes during a week full of excursions, I wondered whether it would have been better had my client needed to use a wheelchair, an electric one at that, so that he could gone further distances without fear of falling over, and could have tried to conquer the world at an earlier age.

But would he have conquered it? Would there have been too many other restrictions? Would he have been able to use public transport now if he had been using a wheelchair ten years ago? I doubt it. I doubt whether in Germany that long ago access would have been good.

Learning together

It is time for us all to work together. Me, my client, his group leaders and his parents. Many aspects need to be practised that will improve independence, that will make it possible for my client to travel independently to and from work, improve his abilities to socialise outside his immediate family.

I do not know whether the difficulty that he has, to concentrate and to take care of himself and of others when he is out and about, comes from his not being interested in doing so, because someone else has always taken care for him, or because he just does not know how. These are things that we are now finding out together. We are doing a lot of work on the influence that he has on other people in his life, and the influence that they have on him.

Sometimes I fear that I am not with my client often enough or long enough to teach him, to assist him on to his next stage in life, which is why I am so keen to involve not only his family in our work together but also the people he works with every day.

I still ask myself whether he really wants to learn? He still says that he does, so I try to discover ways to teach him, and when we are together he learns and is motivated to use what he learns, but I have discovered that, when I am not there, he does not often use what he has learnt – even more reason to involve the other people in his life, so they can carry on the teaching process.

Wanting to learn, together

Deep down I believe that my client does want to learn, otherwise we would not have just done all the exciting things that we have done recently. But will he remember how to take care of himself next time? How many times will I have to visit until he learns how to travel alone to work. How much interest will he show when other people offer to help him do the things that he began with me? Will it be enough to encourage them to get involved.

We have talked about how anyone will help him do whatever he wants if only he asks and then tries his best. People will not offer if they do not see his enthusiasm, and often they do not even know what he may like to do.

I do so hope that he can show enthusiasm, enough to encourage people to help him to read, go walking with him in the country, travel buses with him and show him how to read the timetable.

I hope that by the time I see my client again in three or four months time he will be hopping on and of the buses like an old hand.

A social upbringing

I have so many questions.

This recent work convinces me more and more that, as a child moves into adulthood, conductive upbringing must include more and more people.

In the case described here, and of course in many others, continuation of development can take place only as children get older and their world widens into an adult world, and only if all of the relevant people become involved in the ongoing conductive “upbringing”, right through into adulthood.

It is through the activities undertaken over the past weeks that I have hoped to introduce the people involved in my client’s new world to his world of conductive upbringing.

The tractor museum...

Let us leave these questions for a while and get on to the tractor museum and its side effects.

As already mentioned, when I arranged this period of work with my client I had suggested that we should try a different approach. We decided that we would do more living, and do everyday things that are not yet everyday things for him. We would then try our hardest to turn them into everyday things as soon as possible.

We used the computer to organise all of our days out. “Googling” is something that my client is getting quite good at.

One day we decided to take the bus from the tiny village where my client lives to the nearest large town. We would visit a museum, have lunch, buy a birthday present for his Mum, have afternoon tea and, the most important thing of all, he would go home alone. I would remain for a night with my conductor friend and her family, and do a bit of baby-watching.

We did it all

There were two highlights. First there were the really long concertina-buses with a bendy bit in the middle. We walked a couple of times to the back, learning where to hold on as the bus rocked us about. And secondly, there was travelling home alone, with getting on the bus home was made even more special by the fact that my conductor friend turned up unexpectedly at the bus station to collect me and waved this young man off.

It had been difficult to decide what we would do, which museum we should visit. My client can, when fit and motivated, walk up to ten kilometres in a day. But at the moment the motivation is missing, and the long snow-bound winter has meant less exercise, which has made him less fit.

I did not want my client to pick a museum with long distances to walk both to get there and then again inside, which would result in us not having the energy to do anything else with the day. I need not have worried. My client made the right choice after we had looked at plans and lists of contents of various museums. The tractor and car museum was to be our destination, a small museum, just a short bus ride from the centre of town with everything on just two floors.

I could not have been more delighted with the choice. The Tractor Museum was chosen in preference to the Computer Museum. I was surprised at the choice believing that he would be more interested in Cyberspace and its history than farm machinery. I was wrong and silently very pleased. Give me a John Deere any day, before an Apple Mac!

I think that my client was surprised at how much he enjoyed it. He took a lot of photographs of the reconstruction of a Shell petrol station, that he discovered on the ground floor, to show his grandfather who had kept a similar one himself.

...and more

Back in the town after our fill of tractors, my client picked a restaurant for our lunch, a very spacious one so that he could walk carefully between the tables to a seat. He took his jacket off alone, he choose his meal alone. He ordered his drink and food and remembered to ask for a straw for the drink. Not only was I impressed with my client's ability, I was impressed by our waitress who understood his almost every word and, when she did not, not once did she look at me for assistance – she asked my client until she understood. She was thrilled that she had understood and my client was just as pleased at having successfully placed his order.

The same success was repeated when we had afternoon tea, after my client had taken me to the cathedral. He wanted to show me this beautiful building, even though he was flagging quite badly. We sat on a pew after completing the circuit and discussed our next moves, an early bus or afternoon tea. My client decided that if he went home it may look to his family as a bit of a failure. Anyway he wanted to eat waffles with hot cherries in a huge traditional German cafe, drink hot chocolate to warm up, then play a couple of games of Noughts and Crosses and another of Town and Country with me before getting on a fourth concertina bus to the main railway station to begin his solo journey home.

The day was his, and as he was proving that he was getting decidedly better at decision-making, one of the areas that we were working on. His wish was my command! We spend a lovely relaxing hour or more in the cafe.

Thoughtful, planning

There were many times during the day that I noticed my client was deep in thought. He admitted that he had been worried about the journey home. The quiet time in the cathedral and the hour or so that we spent in the cafe was a perfect choice to calm him and prepare him for the coming event. The excitement of an extra bus journey also distracted him from the adventure to come, and spared him a long walk through the town to the station. All his own decisions.

My client had actually planned his day perfectly to suit his capabilities. He obviously knew them well and is now learning that he can decide things accordingly.

He showed some more of his thoughtfulness when, in between eating in cafes and the visits to museum and cathedral, he managed to spot a bookshop and a gift shop where we bought the perfect present for his mother and where he insisted that I bought a painting book for my friend’s son!

As a step on the ladder to learning how to make his life more independent, more interesting and motivating I think we did very well. We had climbed up several rungs over the course of a few days.

We still need to keep hunting for that key to what will motivate my client to want to do such things when I am not there. But we are now full of renewed hope and buzzing with ideas for future trips to museums, and bus excursions.

I work on my own so much, but after I have had periods of work where I visit homes, go to schools, meet speech therapists, get invited to meetings with teachers, physios, classroom assistants and parents, visit work places and meet friends and relatives of clients, I begin to realise that I do not really need to feel that I work alone.

A collective upbringing

When the communication between all parties is good, and when we all begin visiting each other, we begin to see that the conductive upbringing is extending outwards, alongside the lives of my clients, just as it must do for continued development to take place.

I often think about what it would be like working in a country, for example somewhere like China. I wonder whether, with or without conductors but with many different professionals who take a extra conductive training to becoming “feldscher conductors”, a conductive upbringing might proceed more smoothly in all parts of someone’s life, more so than it does in a case such as I have just described. A case where a conductor alone (me) is trying to reach and teach everyone in my client's life.

In a country that is introducing CE in a big way can it happen as I imagine it? With the clients' development and life spirals upwards and outwards can the number of people who are informed and trained in CE also radiate outwards and upwards with them? In countries such as Germany where I do most of my work, conductors and feldscher conductors are far too few and far between for this to work in but the rarest of cases.

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