Waxing physically and philosically...

After literally years of deliberation, and as a result of some delicate and some less delicate prodding, this blog is my effort to organize - to bring together - my thoughts about my work as a conductor and as a personal trainer, to rant and rave as necessary, to celebrate the little things and the larger moments of brilliance, and to share some conductive magic and life lessons gained through 'waxing physically and philosophically'.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Is it CE? YOU tell ME!

When people ask me what a conductor is, I usually say something along the lines of "a conductor is an educator and re/habilitation professional that specializes in teaching movement strategies and skills to people with neuro-motor disorders such as cerebral palsy, Parkinson's Disease, stroke, acquired brain injury, MS".  Who am I kidding - I don't usually say that, I always say that.  Sometimes I substitute "disabilities caused by conditions like..." for "neuro-motor disorders such as...", but the limited list of conditions and the automated emphasis on movement strategies and skills is always the same and I no longer really believe that this is what a conductor does.  People rarely ask for more details - let's face it, that's a pretty good small talk conversation killer - and I am left with this empty feeling of a missed opportunity to elevate Conductive Education (CE) by talking about the subtle but essential and  essentially human aspects of what I do beyond teaching movement -- the conductive magic -- and its applications beyond the motor disordered population.

Wait a minute - so am I saying that CE is not about teaching movement to people with motor disorders?  Yes - sort of.  In traditional CE people with motor disorders come to learn to move better and on the surface the obvious skills and strategies being learned are motoric.  And yes, I certainly spend the bulk of my time working through movement and teaching movement strategies and skills, though I do not limit myself to working only with people with motor disorders.

However, teaching movement is only the obvious 'on the surface' part of what CE is, of what I do.  Below the motoric exterior, psycho-social change - conductive magic - is happening, not accidentally, not as a side bonus, but as part of my what I am purposefully trying to do, as part of what conduction is.  The movement and the magic are intricately tangled and inseparable.  It doesn't feel like CE unless that conductive magic is there too - those changes that happen under the surface when somebody starts to have hope, have confidence, to connect, to think differently, to believe in themselves, to problem solve, to be positive, to be willing to try.  Those changes don't always happen, even when somebody successfully achieves a movement related goal.  And -- perhaps more tellingly -- those changes sometimes occur even when somebody does not achieve their movement related goal, and these changes may in fact actually be pre-requisites for that person's success.

When that conductive magic is there, regardless of the person's diagnosis or lack thereof, it feels like 'we are doing CE'.  Let's push the boundaries shall we -- here are some examples.

Of all my clients, LE is the one that I feel most conductive with.  LE is 46, rather autistic and rather prone to anxiety.  His mind imprints memories and experiences differently to how yours or mine does.  This makes it really difficult for him to un-learn or un-associate experiences that leave a mark, particularly negative experiences such as a recent fall on a slippery surface.  He also has vertigo -- so understandably going down escalators is a major trigger for his anxiety, especially considering he is looking down at his feet to avoid tripping or slipping.  LE's carers and family were finding it impossible to take him on recreational outings as the panic attacks (which included screaming, crying, and repetitive self injuring at the top of escalators or on reflective floor surfaces) were becoming unmanageable; LE was becoming more isolated and depressed.  My role is to help him regain confidence walking around the local shopping centre and on the escalators so he can resume going on recreational outings.

Through strategic trial and error LE and I have worked out a system for managing escalators and shiny floors.  We choose a landmark on our approach to the escalator or shiny floor where we begin marching and singing (we started with 1-2 buckle my shoe because it was easy, subconscious, but LE has since informed me that he likes ABBA so we now march to the dolce tones of us singing 'Dancing Queen').  As we get closer (still marching and singing) I remind LE to keep his head up and give him something specific at eye level to look at - he repeats what he is looking at while still marching, looks down briefly to check his feet and looks at that focus point.  The marching never stops, the singing resumes and on we go.  If necessary LE knows to march on the spot for a few steps before stepping onto the escalator but doesn't stop moving or singing when at the top (the singing and the concentration needed to keep marching mean that the anxiety a.k.a 'bad thoughts' can't come into his head -- we literally are stamping and drowning out the anxiety with ABBA).  If LE starts to freak as we approach, with the simple command 'detour' we march away, regain composure and approach again.  If we are successful I am over the top with praise and high fives.  If we are not successful I acknowledge the effort, don't react to the panic attack (this takes an incredible amount of concerted energy on my part) and as soon as possible try again until we have a good one because I don't want to risk him imprinting a negative experience of escalators and panic and me, I want to leave him with a positive experience to imprint.

Everything I say when I'm with LE is purposeful.  I don't know what bit of what I say might imprint in his mind, and he is echolalic (repeats certain things that are said over and over, sometimes with increasing volume) and has certain programmed learned verbal responses making his responses to what he is not repeating relatively predictable.  Which means while we are walking towards the shopping mall and the escalators I have time to get him repeating and affirming what I want him to be thinking.  It goes one of two ways.  I'll say 'LE, you've been doing really well with the escalators', he'll say 'well with the escalators, well with the escalators' (echolalia) or I'll say 'you are getting better and better at the escalators', he'll say 'yes I am' (programmed learned agreeing response).  Imagine the effect of me slipping and saying  'you don't seem scared anymore' and him repeating 'seem scared' or me saying 'no biting and screaming like last time' and him saying 'yes I am'.

LE knows the system we are using -- his memory is very good -- so while we are walking we break down the task ahead and go through the plan step by step.  He knows what's expected of him, what is going to happen, and what the back up plan is.  I ask him to visualize it happening perfectly and smoothly, while we are walking and talking about it, and to try to imagine feeling brave and confident and strong and proud of himself - I don't know whether he understands these 'feelings' but he gives me these words back as part of the dialogue we have when we are talking about the system or visualizing doing it and I ask him he feels.

I know it must sound odd, but it works so well to work conductively with LE - the manifestation of his autism lends itself so perfectly to working through repetitive intention and systematically broken down and practiced complex tasks.  Repetition of key words and phrases and systematisation of everyday tasks are weird for most people new to a CE environment but are perfectly normal to LE -- it's how he does everything.  Because I can manipulate the way he already uses language to affect his thinking, intention, confidence, ability and can use language so obviously to plan and structure his actions he becomes able to do things that seemed impossible to him and to those helping him.  I'm working with what he already could do - repeat things, memorize things, walk rhythmically - and using his autism positively instead of trying to stop him from being autistic.  His mom and carers have reported that he is managing better with them now and that he uses the exact system with whomever he is with, even 'explaining' it to new staff.

Is it CE? You tell me!  I'll give you some more 'unusual examples' of working conductively and of variations on the conductive magic theme in my next posting.  In the mean time you can LOL while you think about LE and I marching our way onto escalators singing....        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=REElUors1pQ

"Yes, I am a dreamer
For a dreamer is one who can find his way by moonlight
and see dawn before the rest of the world."
-- Oscar Wilde --


  1. You're getting there, Lisa. You will have really arrived when you stop apologising for what you are saying and come out boldly and unashamedly.

    What you do is a psychosocial process, using psycho-social methods and aimed at effecting psycho-social change.

    Confused folk often refer to it as a 'therapy'. Those who like using such words might like to consider the implications of regarding it as a psycho-therapy. (I think that it 25 years since I first read that in print.) Or they can examine what AP meant by the German word 'Heilung' in this context, you cannot get more psycho-social tha that.

    So, yes please, lots of firther practical reports of your psycho-social practice. And bolder and bolder statements of principle


    PS and, since I know that there are other struggles that concern you, think of what this implies about the very substance of motor disorders, and the processes of researching these.

  2. Thank you Andrew --

    I hear what you are saying, and it is not that I don't agree. But - and yes there is always a but --when people ask me what I do, do I say I use psycho-social processes and methods that effects psycho-social changes? Even if that made sense to the average bear, it would not attract people to my services or to CE in general. Most people / families that come into CE come in for very specific reasons -- they might leave with psycho-social benefits or outcomes and they might even rave about these psycho-social benefits and outcomes, but they do not come in looking for them. For the most part, without some 'physical goal' to do with some sort of motor impairment, people would not seek out CE.

    And -- it is not at all that the physical goal is a way to trick people into coming into CE. Working through movement and towards specific motor skills is a part of the CE experience. Movement, bodily control, mind/body connectivity, understanding and working with one's body, physical contact are tools to facilitate the psycho-social outcomes as much as the psycho-social processes and methods facilitate the development of motor skills. The physical experience and the psycho-social experience are intricately connected as are the outcomes in these domains.

    I will keep thinking about this and the implications thereof, and I will post a few more stories over the next few days. I have had a lot of 'not public' response to this posting -- it has hit a chord amongst other conductors.

    Thank you again Andrew -- for encouraging me to think critically about what I do and for encouraging me to write about it

  3. I suggest that you lose 'psycho-social' except for use amongst those (very few) who already have a clue.

    Why noy just say that you teach them, and then say some of the things that you are teach in particular contexts?

    Tou don't have to explain 'teach', most people have an inlkling about this one, and then you canm get straight on to what most folk regard as remarkable, some of the thinks that can deb, ought to be taught! You might even be asked How?

    Meanwhile, I look forward to some of those other accounts...


  4. I'm with you on this one Lisa. It IS CE to me! I presented at a CEPEG conference a couple of years ago on non-conductive kids and CE and overwhelmingly the response to it was that others agreed it was still CE and that they were doing similar things too!

    Also, the other day I said to a non-conductor colleague that really CE aims to make people happier in themselves and I think she probably gained more insight into what we are really doing with that one simple statement than all the times I've tried to give a technical breakdown of what we do! Have only read this post so far but will read the rest as soon as I get a chance... Keep up the good work!