Boo has been attending a conductive education nursery one morning a week for two months now. Conductive education is one of a gazillion (take it from me: I’ve counted) on the list of words I didn’t know before I had my little boy. And it’s a phrase that generates interest every time I mention it to friends, on Twitter or the blog. What is it? Does it work?
Those are big questions and not easy to answer briefly, but I will attempt to do so soon in a dedicated post. You can read a little more about its principles here. For now, all you need to know is that conductive education is a highly structured routine and group based set of learning activities that are designed to encourage the cognitive and physical development of children with neurological and motor difficulties, especially (but by no means exclusively) cerebral palsy. The long-term aim is to enable children to live as independently as possible and all physical and cognitive tasks practised each session are designed to promote that, whether it’s taking your shoes and socks off, feeding yourself, brushing your hair, or getting down from the dinner table. Conductive education settings are often called Schools for Parents. The reason for that is that we have much more to learn than the kids. And we work with our own children, one-to-one, with the help of the teachers.
Boo LOVES conductive education. He is sociable, and really likes all of the other 5 children in his class. (So do I. They are all amazing, funny, sweet and tenacious little people.) He also adores the teachers and would spend every minute of every session cooing, smiling and otherwise flirting with them (a good way of making sure he gets the second helpings of lunch and pudding he always manages to get) if we let him. But make no mistake. Conductive education is really hard work for him and for us. Brutally hard work, sometimes. For three hours a week, every wrist or head angle, leg or back position is monitored and corrected. There is no giving up.
Boo has got used to the routine of conductive education (the same activities – with variants – come in the same order each week) and anticipates the next one now. Among his favourite tasks are the anticipation games that are played. So at different points in the session the children have to be still in any given position (they do it in lying, on their tummy and sitting), hold that position (not easy) and then listen for a ‘ready, steady’ and then anticipate whatever exciting (often movement, light and sound involved) action is going to follow, and which they then have to track. But this doesn’t happen until someone (one of the children) makes a sound, whether it’s a fully sounded ‘go’ or other excited noise. This is physio, occupational therapy and speech and language all at once.
Two weeks ago we were getting ready to do this and Boo was sat on a low box with his legs at 90 degrees. He had a ladder chair in front of him so he could hold onto the rungs to keep upright (he can’t sit independently) and I had my fingers lightly on his pelvis to stop him from tilting/falling. While he was waiting for the ready, steady, go he was making some very odd noises. To be honest, I thought he was filling his nappy, but I couldn’t see his face as I was behind him. But the noises got louder…
I was just about to check when I felt a force pushing my fingers away from him. Boo had stood up. He had pulled to stand using the ladder chair and was giggling as if the most hilarious thing in the world had just happened. Everyone stopped. Now normally, conductive education is quite strict. If you are doing a sitting activity, you sit, you don’t stand. But no one told him to get back down.
We were all amazed. He had pulled to stand. I never thought he would be able to do this.
OK, he was wibbly wobbly in his trunk. But he was standing tall and proud and he was so pleased with himself. No one was going to rain on his parade and tell him to get back down.
I came home excitedly and told the Grumposaur, who was about as shocked as me. But in Boo Land, while we take every bit of progress and celebrate it we are also cautious. It doesn’t pay to get too excited here, as pride often comes before a fall. So we took the good, but told ourselves it might just have been a one off.
Except it wasn’t.
The next week the children were being encouraged to sit still by watching bubbles. Boo would do anything for bubbles. But if you ask him to pop them with his arms or lips, well… nothing doing. But it did encourage him to sit nicely on his box with the ladder chair in front. Until the bubbles stopped.
It happened again. He pulled up to stand and started roaring like a lion cub with excitement. Then he sat down and did it all over again just to show us it wasn’t a fluke. He got lots of bubbles as a reward. Boy he deserved them. I couldn’t believe it.
And then just as I thought there was no breath left in my lungs I was forced to expel the very last bit. Over-excited by the sea of bubbles around his head. He let go of the ladder chair that was holding him up with one hand and reached up to pop the bubbles.
Tears of disbelief and joy welled up. I still can’t believe he did it. Talk about trying to run before you can walk (or stand before you can sit in Boo’s case).
Moments like these are priceless. When you have been trying to teach your son to roll back to front daily for about 16 months, trying to get him to sit for over 12 your will gets ground down no matter determined you are. But Boo’s doesn’t. He never gives up and I will never give up on him doing anything so long as he is willing and able to try it.