My visitors today

Wednesday 16 January 2013

Boosts in confidence - selling books and opening jars

"It came like a Bolt from the Blue" by Waltraud Heußinger, edited by Susie Mallett

Technology and problem-solving, happy healthy souls

A long time ago I wrote about how one of my clients requested my help to buy herself a motorised wheelchair. Of course I was able to offer her the moral support that she needed and she was pleased to discover that this indeed was all that she needed, as the negotiating and test-driving she managed all on her own.

My clients has always been keen to develop her skills and enjoy more activity in her life and since then her success in purchasing the new wheels her independence has increased in leaps and bounds. This new-found lease of life comes not only because of the freedom of movement that the motorised wheelchair affords her but also because of the confidence that she has gained from learning that she can make well considered decisions on her own that provide her, and her husband, with an improved quality of life. To top it all, with a little bit of help she has been able to write and publish a bookabout her experiences, with the aim of being able to share her thoughts, methods and achievements with others.

This client has gradually become an expert on problem-solving and researching for ways to find new solutions. The more independent she becomes, the more skills she develops and the more often her husband is able to leave her for short spells on her own. When she is alone she needs to be able to care for herself and that means preparing food for herself that she would like to eat, not neccessarily the easiest to prepare. Thais food sometimes comes in jars that are almost impossible to open.

On my recent visit to her house this had just arrived in her post – 

As you can see we tried it out on a big jar of pickled gherkins, the jar-size that I also find very difficult to get into, and it worked perfectly. All you have to do, once you have opened it up to put the batteries in (which my client also managed alone), is to sit it on top of the jar, press a big button and wait for the magic to take place. It really does grip the glass and turn the lid.

So that was another problem solved!

I believe that my sister, who has repetitive strain injury in both of her hands, also uses this style of jar-opener.

I was so impressed that I might even consider getting this device for myself to save the damage to the wood-work of many a door-jam, and to save the floor from beetroot-juice stains.Opening jars and bottles in the door is often the only way that I can do it, a techniques learnt years ago from Mum.

Thanks again to my client for finding a solution that I can use and share with others. She also informs me that there is a similar device for opening tins.


A conductive colleague ordered twenty copies of my client’s book today, which gave a huge boost in confidence to us both! We still have many more in stock if any one else would like some copies. Contact me at


My client’s book, in English and German –

What does it take to overcome Neurological Orthodoxy?

This is Miss Maize the hamster, not a rat!

The world of a neuroskeptic!

Almost every day I read the latest offerings from the blog dean’s stroke musings and each day I am surprised at the volume of relevant information for conductors that is unearthed there. Every now and then Dean scatters some of his own post-stroke experiences amongst it and occasionally there are links that he suggests readers ask their therapists and doctors about that are a little bit tongue-in-cheek!

I suspect that this is one of those tongue in cheek instances – “Drunk Rats Could Overturn Neurological Orthodoxy – Ask your neurologist how this knowledge will help your recovery.”

Check out the original source of the article as there is quite a lot of interesting stuff to read there too –

Tuesday 15 January 2013

“The Fallibility of Memory”

"Blue Dog" by Susie Mallett

Dr Sacks again

It is always nice to get interesting emails when I return from my eleven-hour work-day each Tuesday.

Today I had my monthly “News from Dr Oliver Sacks, M.D.” email that alerted me to his forthcoming article, called 'The Fallibility of Memory', coming out in the Golden Anniversary edition of the New York Review of Books on 7 February 2013.

Dr Sacks has published a number of articles in the New York Review of Books, including The Lost Mariner, The Poet of Chemistry and The Revolution of the Deaf. Some others that were later expanded to become books have also been published there.

I shall have to find out where I can order a copy of the magazine, though as this is an excellent publication I am sure that this article, or paid access to it, will be on line.

Tuesday 8 January 2013



A supplement to something that I wrote last year about the joy of success –

Learning and development

How pedagogic specifics bear upon upbringing developments

Spreading joy

In that earlier posting I wrote about the joy of a little girl learning to do up the button at the top of her trousers. This joy spread throughout the group, at home and over many days. This success had a domino effect and started a renewed spiralling in all our lives.

Later I thought about that child’s future and about what changes that resolved problem will make to how she lives her life. Having a button to do up without turned to the trusty Velcro, and therefore having learnt to do it up by herself, means that as an adult she will be able to choose freely what trousers, skirts shirts and jackets she can buy. She will not always have to pay someone to alter her clothes. Hopefully she will never have to change buttons to Velcro and rarely have to compromise on her choice because of a lack of motor skills.

We could have asked her mother to use Velcro or to buy her trousers with an elastic waistband but we did not. Many of the non-disabled children in the Kindergarten have buttons and they all run and ask us at some time during the day for help to undo them or do them up, until they solve the problem with our help.

I have often considered things that have occurred to me since that previous posting. One question that I have asked is why alter her trousers now when she is only five-years old and learning fast? Why lay down a need to alter them in the future when we can encourage her to learn something now, something that she can achieve, and in the process of learning this develop so much more? Why should we miss out of this valuable step in a wider learning equation?

This is not specifically a question of a button on the trousers but of something more general and more important, the personal change in this child, her motivation to learn, the relationship that she is building up with me and other conductors as she blossoms, and about all the other new things that she can now do in her joy of learning and achieving.

I have considered all the skills that have that have developed since, that need her to concentrate and to look. Because she has now learned this very difficult task of buttoning her trousers, she looks more often at her hands, she uses her left hand more and she is so happy because she has learnt something that she wanted to do it. She continues to learn things through life and play each and every day, affording her more independence and bringing her such joy. Far, far more than doing up a button, this little girl is blossoming, and this is in itself also a part of huge developments at this stage in her upbringing. She listens and talks and helps others and smiles a lot.

That is the biggest behavioural change: she now smiles a lot.

A paragraph from a life

There may be good reasons why a child is not given alternative means, not given an easier option, like an elastic waistband instead for example. If we as conductors thought that she could not achieve, or it was psychologically harmful for her to try, then we would not try to teach her.

This little girl is very young, she will be going out into the world disability one less signal disability. In the future she will not need to have her clothes altered because we did not teach her to do up a button. That button is just a paragraph, not the whole story.

Other children

How important it is for this little girl to be like the other children in the Kindergarten and have a button on her trousers, and be able to do it up. Of course, if she were fifteen and could still not do it up, that would perhaps be different, and need to be rethought and approached differently. Now at five, though, she does not feel any different in her group, there are non-disabled four- and five-year olds who still ask for help with their clothes. Now through her success she feels very special, just as her peers do in their turn.

The whole group has celebrated with her. This gives her far more than taking half a year longer to do up a button takes away from her. It also gives her the opportunity to do so many other things now that she has learnt it, all with the knock-on effect of more praise from us and more acknowledgement from the disabled and the non-disabled children that she is doing so well.

She really is a very happy little girl at the moment. Giving her an elastic waist or Velcro fastenings on her trousers would have removed many of the moments that are making her happy, because there would be many things that she still could not do.
Since learning this skill she is much more conscious of her hands, she has to look at her hands to achieve this success. Learning to direct her eyes on something means that she is now able to look at us when she speaks to us and at her friends and at their toys while they play.
Has there been a 'price' for of not being able to do up a button till now? She is still just five. There are four- year-olds in the Kindergarten have had elastic trousers until recently who also ask for help with the button. They are not hemiplegic and have no motor disorder, they just have not been taught. Nobody comments that they take long or wonder why they cannot use scissors or a knife and fork. They will learn when they are taught. Do we ask what price they pay for having to ask us to do up the button? I always consider the gain for these littlies from the contact and the learning experience in those few seconds it takes to help, not of any price paid.

And by the way, using Velcro can be difficult too in my experience and does not always encourage hand-eye coordination and two-handed movements. Elastic-waist trousers present more difficulty when tucking in vests and shirts. All these are skills to learn, all appropriate clothes and fastenings in their place but not as a replacement for learning to do up a button when that skill is learnable.


An older client of mine has tried Velcro but he does not want his lovely trendy jeans messed about with, he does not wish to be different. He wants to do up his buttons so we continue learning it. He is twenty-two years old now and sometimes he manages it and is as thrilled with this as the five-year-old is. (When he cannot manage it he discretely asks someone to do it for him. He has a belt that he can always do up himself so he is secure in the knowledge that his trousers will not fall down if the button is left open.)

Where there is a will there is a way. These happy souls continue learning.

...and younger

My own little niece is nearly three. She cannot do up a button on her trousers yet. She will be able to before school I expect, because she will want to do so, so she does not have to ask someone, just like our little girl wanted to learn so she no longer needed to ask and it was important to give her that opportunity.

What a happy little button-girl we have in our group, it is no wonder with so many hugs and so much praise.

I myself was already at school when had to find out the hard way. I remember it well. I had to go to the toilet, in the cold outside (the last time, I think, that I ever went to the toilet at school), I was about four or so. The teacher said she would come and help me but she did not come, I expect she forgot. I remember wandering around in the half-covered area in the dreary autumn cold, lost. When the teacher eventually arrived I had by then done my clothes up myself. No praise received for that success, just a telling-off because I was lost. I probably did not even say anything at home about that huge step in my upbringing. I would have been too afraid to but it would have been noticed, I am sure.
I am sure that we do better than that.

Sunday 6 January 2013


… an ineffable but perhaps a vital part of the process of upbringing

I had some lovely hours one morning in December and some more that afternoon.

It was the lovely afternoon hours that I had originally sat down to write about but before putting pen to paper I suddenly realised that the whole day had been rather good. I shall stick with my nice afternoon-hours story to start with.

I think that I have written before about my making stuffed-toys project, today it continued in leaps and bounds.

Four pre-school children came to paint animals with me. They want to have the finished articles scattered on the seats in the parents' room in their new conductive Kindergarten, which is almost ready to move into. The children are looking forward to this move but with some apprehension too. I am pleased that they will at last have a lovely new and bigger space to work and play in, but I am not happy to see them go. My room for conductive groups does not, unfortunately, go with them.

I am staying put and after the move I will not be able even to watch the children playing outside any more from my window. Yes, you could say I am more than a little bit sad at the prospect of the children being only twenty yards away, knowing that they will not be popping in to see me in the same way as they have been for the past five years, bringing me a baked apple, a homemade biscuit or a freshly painted picture to see.

Singing while we work

As my four artists produced an amazing nine animals between them they chatted and sang to their hearts’ content – Oh, how lovely it is that we have an integrated Kindergarten!

While they sang about the Christmas bakery, making up their own words to a popular children’s song, singing about what we were doing and naming those who were working around the table, we painted and painted and painted. It seemed like we painted for ages but it was in fact only sixty minutes.

In their songs the children moved from the bakery to the artist’s studio, to the garden and eventually back to the bakery. Whilst catching their breath between verses they chatted with me while I helped to squeeze the nearly empty tubes, washed brushes and at the same time felt almost redundant. These five-year-olds were so jolly, so confident and oh so very independent. They oozed confidence in carrying out their arty work, not once asking for artistic advice, only for help to squeeze out the last drops of yellow.

(Yellow is always the first colour to run out in our paint-boxes, probably because always lots of sunshine and also the odd lion, are painted. It could be black that would run out first if I ever bought any. I was asked for black several times today, but I had to let the children know that here, we always mix the darkest colour possible ourselves from different amounts of many of the other colours.

Great inventions
So, while it was decided that the horse's hooves could in fact be painted with glittery purple, just as though he had nail varnish on, plans were hatched.

We made plans for the most amazing inventions imaginable. The motivation for our Heath Robinson inventions was our wish to share each other’s company after the move

One little boy had asked – “Susie are you moving with us?”

I answered that unfortunately I have to stay put, but I told them all that we could still visit each other. I explained that we would not be too far away from each other and the children would only have to put on a coat and change out of their slippers to nip across to me, unless of course we came up with something else!

The children did not need anymore of an invitation to put on their thinking caps. With all thoughts of singing about the Christmas bakery forgotten they invented a fantasy slide to bring them to my room. When they mentioned it I first envisaged a slide like in our playground but I soon realised that these little ones had set their sights on something grander. Something more like those that can be found at a swimming pool would certainly be more suitable for their purpose as the children between them had decided that they would like to arrive in a side window which would mean travelling down many twists and loops in order to arrive there. With the slide's construction discussed and solutions found on how to visit me the questions then came about how they would get back.

At one point one of the children forlornly said to the creative young man who had initiated our Heath Robinson conversation – “We will only be here till the summer so do we really need that slide?”

“Off course we do” – was the general consensus but the problem still was what would the children do about getting back again?

Landing on their feet

I offered to build them a rocket but this was quickly rejected in favour of a human cannon that would shoot them right through the roof and back to their Kindergarten. I was so impressed, especially by the demonstration of how they would land safely on their feet. All this imagining, inventing and adventure was taking place at the same time as we were producing lots of lovely pictures that we will turn into stuffed-animal cushions!

It is important that these children have the link that our creative work forms, a link that bridges the gap between the new building and the old. Our project, painting, sewing and stuffing toys, will ease them through the changes and retain a link to their “old” life and experiences, linking them to their old environment so that with or without slides, rockets or human cannons they will still continue to visit and spend a creative hour or so with me!

The next big step in these children's upbringing will be eased, also a vital process in upbringing.