Driving home from a paediatrician appointment with Jasmine and Montana, her nine month old twin girls, Carmen was deep in shock and unable to process the brutal diagnosis that had been dropped out of the blue.

“She’s got cerebral palsy”.

“I didn’t even know what it was”, says Carmen “What did it mean for Montana or us as a family? Would she even walk and talk? It’s very hard to accept that something is wrong with your child. You just don’t want to face it”.

Montana has spastic diplegia which means her leg muscles are hypertonic (rigid) and she lacks fine motor skills.

“Nobody could even tell me if she would ever walk,” says Carmen

Roll forward through nine years of determination and learning, and just a few months after complex multi level surgery on her legs, Montana recently took 24 steps unaided. And also enjoys riding her new BMX bike – a birthday present she begged for.

Carmen is convinced Montana’s achievements are in no small part a result of the therapy, education, care and support she received through Conductive Education, a programme designed to improve the quality of life for people with motor disorders such as Cerebral Palsy.

“I hate to think what Montana would not be doing now if we hadn’t gone to conductive education.  I don’t want to paint a picture that they perform miracles – it’s a lot of hard work” says Carmen proudly, “Conductive is very specifically for children with motor disorders. It’s about learning every day skills, whether that is picking up a toy, feeding themselves or being mobile”.

Originating in Hungary, the programme has a holistic approach to learning and physical therapy, encouraging children to reach their full potential, no matter what their level of disability.  It is based on the belief that people with a motor disorder caused by brain damage can, and do, learn.

After visiting the local Conductive Education centre on recommendation from her Plunket nurse, Montana became one of 150 children enrolled in nine conductive education centres around New Zealand.

Christchurch has conductive education centres which cater for children from a few months old through to the end of high school.  Montana now attends Addington Primary School, where she is mainstreamed but has access to conductive education programmes for sitting, lying, fine motor skills.  And she continues to receive muscle relaxing sage baths which she has enjoyed since being a baby.

Parents and professionals involved in conductive education say there seems to be a degree of reticence within the New Zealand medical community to recommend conductive education and professionals from medical and educational fields are encouraged to visit and find out more.

Whilst parents are passionate about the care and support the programme provides it undoubtedly requires a big commitment. In the early days, Carmen and Montana spent 18 hours a week at conductive education, with sister Jasmine also attending.

“It was pre-school for both of them”.

With a 20 year history in New Zealand, conductive education is now facing a critical time.  The programme is under threat from the removal of a therapy funding entitlement. The centres for school aged children are progressively losing the funding for the physical programme which currently enables them to employ conductors, the highly skilled practitioners who deliver the programme.

To find your nearest centre or more about Conductive Education, visit www.conductive-education.org.nz

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Dave Ching is the National Coordinator of the New Zealand Foundation for Conductive Education, a charitable trust that supports the nine Conductive Education centres around New Zealand. From 1990 to 2006 Dave was the principal of Addington Primary School. In 1996, at the request of parents, he worked to establish a Conductive Education facility at the school. Today Conductive Education units cater for children from a few months old through to high school.

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