Perspective: Helping Hands for First Steps; Conductive Education Helps Disabled Adults and Children to Achieve Greater Independence and Inclusion in Everyday Life. as the National Institute of Conductive Education Moves into Phase Two at Its Site in Cannon Hill Park, Birmingham, Director Andrew Sutton Explains the Importance of Their Work
Byline: Andrew Sutton
The often bitter experiences of children with movement disabilities, and their families, rarely make it into public awareness. These disabilities range across a wide spectrum, from the cerebral palsies, often complicated by intellectual and other additional disabilities, to milder difficulties often referred to as dyspraxias.
These disabilities often result in significant needs for care and welfare but the state's failures to provide do not hit the headlines like, say, when something goes seriously wrong in the care of the elderly or the mentally ill. And during most of these children's childhood, it is on our troubled education system that parents have to depend for much of their help.
Of course, there are some children with movement disabilities whose experience of the education system (and health and social services) is uninterruptedly sunny and satisfying. But let us look at the other side of the coin.
As a society, we very properly lavish enormous attention to ensure the best possible circumstances for pregnancy and birth, to give the best possible start to life. Sometimes, however, all does not go well and - often for reasons that no one knows - some parents, a tiny minority, find that their child has cerebral palsy.
They soon find that no one can tell them exactly how their baby will develop or what precisely the future holds but for a few months, maybe even a couple of years, the health service provides a variety of assessment services. Very often, however, the family may discover that, when it comes to the crunch, they are on their own. Where do they go when they need practical advice about feeding and dressing, toileting and play? Who do they turn to for comprehensive information on services available in the state or voluntary sectors? Most of all, who can answer what are often the most pressing questions of all: What should they expect of their disabled child? What can they do to maximise development?
Most parents of disabled children have a very realistic understanding that there is no miracle cure. Most however have a powerful common-sense understanding that all children, including theirs, can learn if taught the right things in the right way.
Which brings us to the education system. As the child approaches school starting age, most parents of children with cerebral palsies become aware of the mysteries of 'statementing'. This refers to a long and involved bureaucratic process to define the child's 'special educational needs'.
Twenty years ago, this process was introduced in a spirit of making sure that all children should be provided with everything necessary for a fulfilling education. Now the world has changed and the statement is experienced by many families as a means to help local education authorities control budgets and identify children's needs according to what they, the authorities, can afford. For some families, the struggle to meet what they feel to be their child's needs may turn out simply not worth the candle.
Those who can afford the time, the emotional energy and, yes, often the money too, take up cudgels with their authority. 'Fighting the statement' may prove an even more demanding task than bringing up their disabled child.
This is not how most people thought it would be. …