Conductive Education is literally just that, an education method. It is not a physical therapy, a cure, or a nursing method. Conductive Education takes advantage of neuroplasticity in the subject individual to exercise and develop new neural pathways that can be used to accomplish basic physical tasks in order to gain greater personal independence and freedom. A holistic approach aimed at the individual's physical, intellectual, and emotional needs is a key feature of the Conductive Education method that makes it particularly attractive to families who seek to prepare their children for later life. The technique has been most successfully applied to children who have cerebral palsy, spina bifida, or brain injury, but it has also been applied to adults with Parkinson's Disease, multiple sclerosis, and post-stroke conditions.
The Conductive Education paradigm was developed in the 1950s by Professor András Peto in Budapest, Hungary as an educational and developmental framework and methodology. It gained greater acceptance across Europe, United States, Canada, and Australia in the mid-1980s. Today, the Peto Institute in Budapest trains and certifies professional Conductive Education practitioners known as "Conductors" to work all over the world. These professionals typically hold bachelor's and/or master's level university degrees. Theoretical and practical training in the areas of physiology, biomechanics, neurology, psychology, and education provide a firm foundation for these workers to provide a comprehensive and effective rehabilitative program.
The six key elements of a Conductive Education program are:
- The Group. The Conductive Group establishes important environmental and psychological conditions conducive to the learning process. The Conductive Group provides a community of age-appropriate children, Conductors, and caregivers where cognitive and social skills can be developed together. The interactions of the group also fosters the child's ability to positively relate to others as they motivate each other in meeting their personal goals.
- Daily Routine. Various physical and cognitive activities establish an educational foundation for developing a problem-solving work ethic essential for overcoming challenges. Rigorous attention is given to improving the child's posture, body position, and balance to prepare them for more advanced physical activities later on. Daily repetition is required to fully exploit the child's neural pathways so they can learn how to achieve goals, interact with others, and take care of themselves.
- Developmental Tasks. A series of tasks allows the child to progressively learn different motor and functional skills that are applicable to everday situations. Learning different movements in different body positions allows them to build upon small victories that can ultimately enable them to improve their abilities. Able-bodied children roll, crawl, sit, and walk spontaneously without conscious thought. However, special needs children don't have this ability and must instead go through a educational process where they consciously recognize and consider what they are doing and how they are doing it. Eventually, the child learns to take personal responsibility, focus their attention, solve problems, improve their memory, and act properly under varying circumstances. The tasks also employ language in an encouraging way that nutures the persistence and humility needed to endure personal failures and grow.
- Facilitation. The concept of facilitation in Conductive Education is different than what is used in traditional physical therapies. In Conductive Education, facilitation consists of various means of emotional, personal, and physical support involving a combination of direct teaching and special equipment. The Conductor mediates success by creating a positive learning environment where the child learns a sense of ownership for their own actions. Facilitation is therefore used as part of a holistic strategy to stimulate, motivate, and teach. The key is for those efforts to progressively yield fruit, even if at first the progress is slow, so that the child can internalize the correlation between work and reward, which will later enable them to achieve their goals.
- Rhythmic Intention. "Rhythmic intention" is a term that refers to the use of the rhythmic aspects of speech as a tool helpful to motor disabled children in planning and regulating their physical actions. The Conductor, together with the student, may for example count out loud "1 - 2 - 3" prior to standing up after being in a sitting position. The use of one motor function, in this case speech, is coupled with and used to support another motor function, namely standing up. For students who can't speak, vocalizations are used to accomplish the same aim. Songs are also an important tool where the concept of rhythmic intention can be employed to provide motivation while accomplishing a task. This combination of sound and movement then becomes part of the mental planning that the child must rely on to execute movements that are not automatic for them. Rhythmic intention therefore is an important part of facilitation that helps grow the child's abilities
- The Conductor. The Conductor guides the child through their Conductive Education journey toward the ultimate goal of becoming an independent and productive member of society. The Conductor is able to integrate many of the diverse issues that face special needs children. The breadth and depth of Conductors' training enables them to identify and analyze minute details of the child's mental, physical, and emotional behavior so that a wide variety of "tricks of the trade" may be effectively employed to address any of a variety of issues and challenges.