With the start of Conductive Education Awareness Week on 7 March, clinical negligence lawyer at Penningtons Manches, Tim Wright, explains the system and how it works for people with brain injuries.

Brain damage can occur at any stage of life or in the womb or during birth. It can take many forms and cause many degrees of disability. It goes without saying that such injuries can often be devastating. Treatment can involve surgery and medication but physiotherapy also plays an important part in improving any mobility difficulties. 

In the 1940s, a Hungarian physician, András Petö, founded a new type of therapy for people with brain damage. Having studied medicine at the University in Vienna and worked in various hospitals in Austria, Professor Petö became an experienced neurologist. He called his therapy Conductive Education (Konductive Förderung in German) and went on to found the Peto Institute in Budapest in 1952.

WHAT IS CONDUCTIVE EDUCATION?

Conductive education is technically, and almost incomprehensibly, a holistic integrated pedagogical/educational system. More simply, it is an educational system which, through a process of experiences, helps a person to work with their disabilities to advance to a state of increased independence but particularly through independence of movement. 

A person with brain damage might be confronted with a wide range of developmental challenges such as perception and cognition, social skills, emotional development, speech, language and communication and above all, fine or gross movement. All of these can affect a person’s confidence, motivation and every aspect of their personality. 

Conductive education tries to reduce or reverse these difficulties by looking at the whole person, focusing on the personality as well as the more obvious physical handicaps.  

As a therapy, Professor Petö created ways of stimulating not only movement of parts of the body but also the wish, desire and ability to be active. In fact, his design for this therapy was more an educational programme than a clinical treatment of a clinical condition. 

Everyone has residual capacity to learn something new such as a language, skill or sport. An injury to the central nervous system does not mean that an individual loses that residual capacity. Conductive education attempts to activate that capacity to take over from the damaged areas. It does this through a general educational process rather than through clinical treatment or physiotherapy. 

THE ROLE OF THE CONDUCTOR

A teacher in conductive education is referred to as a conductor. The conductor creates an environment where the residual capacity of the injured person's brain is accessed and taught to release lost functionality. In a younger person, the conductor helps them to learn anew to provide that missing function where previously there was disability. 

Damaged mobility can be accompanied by a challenge to the capacity to perceive. People with intact mobility use their environment as a tool to develop and can adapt and respond to its demands. But those with disability need help to adapt formatively with their environment. The frustrations experienced by the damaged individual can themselves be a source of impairment of personality. Damage to personality can lead to a restriction of physical development. 

Conductive education attempts to break this virtuous circle by creating an environment where an individual can both learn and desire to learn.  

A SYSTEM FOR ALL AGES

This educational system can help people of all ages and is particularly successful with young children who have been injured at birth. The conductor will often work with parents in a full time educational setting but the child will also benefit from part time or more limited courses. 

Tim Wright is the secretary of The Dame Vera Lynn Trust for Children with Cerebral Palsy, a charity which funds a school that provides conductive education for pre-school children and their parents at Ingfield Manor in Billinghurst, West Sussex. He said: “I have been able to watch this educational process from the observation rooms in the school and am most impressed with the improvements that I have seen in very damaged children. Conductive education is continuously being developed by its conductors and remains a very valid therapeutic tool.” 

Conductive Education Awareness Week - 7-13 March 2015  is organized by CEPEG (the Conductive Education Professional Education Group) and PCA (the Professional Conductors Association UK).