For most, education is about learning. For those with Cerebral Palsy, it’s also about learning but in a different way. It can be learning to go up and down stairs, it can be learning to feed yourself, it can be learning what it means to be treated with dignity and having to work hard to achieve the little things in life.
In a two-part series, we are going to look at a different form of learning directed to very special people – children with Cerebral Palsy. The form of learning is known as Conductive Education (CE).
Why are we looking this? It is because of a local girl that many in Saugeen Shores community know – Eugenie Richard. Now a young woman of 17 and in high-school, Eugenie’s mother, Angela, believes in CE since her daughter has been a recipient of the method since she was four years old. “I see such an incredible difference in Eugenie after she spends time doing the physical exercises day after day,” says mom, Angela.
Unfortunately, because it is not funded by the government, the benefits have been sporadic over the years, mostly at the summer camp, STRIVE Learning Centre, a registered charity for kids with Cerebral Palsy, at the YMCA camp at Geneva Park in Orillia.
This February however, Eugenie is receiving an additional benefit as STRIVE Executive Director and Conductor, Tunde Oroveczne, is staying at their home in Port Elgin, where every day is a physical and mental work-out for Eugenie, one that is making her stronger a little more each day.
“I have personally worked with Eugenie since she was four and I know what she is capable of but we have to repeat things every day to make her learning beneficial,” says Oroveczne. CE is intensively based on continuity and, therefore, repetition of a skill, so that every day is a day-long learning process.
The ‘Conductive Education’ (CE) system was started in Hungary by Hungarian Professor András Peto in 1948 and whose work has resulted in Peto Education Institutes/Learning Centres established throughout the world with only three however in Canada – privately owned with families responsible for costs. The method is based on the summation that children with disabilities can have an education based on their individual physical and intellectual needs but, not necessarily, on what an established education system deems suitable.
Oroveczne, a graduate of the Peto Institute at the University of Budapest and a certified teacher and therapist, established STRIVE in an effort to broaden Conductive Education in Canada. “This is about helping these children and young adults have dignity and to help them learn. It is not right to simply let them languish in wheelchairs hour upon hour. They must use their bodies or they lose all muscle mass.” Oroveczne understands disability coming from a home where her father was paralyzed after an accident and she is passionate about treating the individual in a humane and proactive way.
Professionals who are graduates of the Peto Institutes are trained to ensure a consistent entire process is carried out based on seven significant elements: Group, Facilitation, Daily Routine, Rhythmic Intention, Conductive Furniture,Task Series and, of course, the Conductor.
A group setting, such as camp, is considered motivational and the other elements are considered integral to build not only physical strength and ability but mental health and a certain level of independence. The method applies to the need for a unified, integrated approach for educating disabled children to maximize the effects for the most benefit possible.
Unfortunately, for mainstream education systems and much of the medical community, CE is viewed as different, and, therefore, questionable. Conductive instructors (‘conductors’) are educators trained and socialised within the holistic CE philosophy that is based on the total individual.
For parents however, it has been a struggle to acquire what they want for their disabled children, and for their families. According to parents, it means standing up against existing systems where careers, reputations and income streams are on the line. In the U.K. for instance, opponents to the development of CE included the paediatric community, therapists, special schools and an education system that began to emerge that wanted total inclusion. It was, and is, a system that wants full integration within the education system. Unfortunately, it took little into account the various levels of disability and how, for some, inclusion simply means existing at the most basic form with little to no actual learning.
With the fall of the Iron Curtain and Hungary’s entry in the European Union, Conductive Education began to shift out of Hungary and became increasingly international. It also became apparent that smaller CE centres could become a business and viable but it also became a system that, without national support for parents, few became able to afford.
In Part II, we’ll look at some of the statistics surrounding the challenge of providing education and services to those with neurological issues, including the numbers with Cerebral Palsy; the advancements being made with Conductive Education (if any); more about STRIVE camp and we’ll take a close-up personal look at a day in the life of Eugenie.