Conductive Education: Benefits and Challenges

By Ratliffe, Katherine T.; Sanekane, Cindy | Teaching Exceptional Children, May/June 2009 | Go to article overview

Conductive Education: Benefits and Challenges


Ratliffe, Katherine T., Sanekane, Cindy, Teaching Exceptional Children


Conductive education (CE) is an intensive, holistic approach to the education of people with physical disabilities that recognizes that teaching and learning are related to the emotional, cognitive, and physical aspects of individuals. Andràs Peto developed this approach to learning in Hungary after World War II. His method for helping children learn skills to improve their function in different environments, which he called "orthofunction," included intensive daily integrated social, communication, and motor activities (BourkeTaylor, O'Shea, & Gaebler-Spira, 2007). These activities were designed to be carried out in a structured environment, such as a classroom, for several hours each day.

Despite its popularity in the United States and throughout die world, research has not demonstrated a clear advantage of CE over traditional forms of schooling and therapeutic interven- tion. Yet, the number of centers offer- ing CE continues to increase, and school districts are being asked to con- sider this expensive and time-consum- ing approach by families who advocate strongly for CE programs for their chil- dren with disabilities. This article addresses the history and content of CE, the different types of programs available, family perspectives about CE, comparisons between CE and tra- ditional special education services, and the benefits and challenges of different CE models so that teachers and admin- istrators can make informed decisions to appropriately support children and families.

Early History of Conductive Education

Conductive education emerged from Hungary in the 1960s, and by the early 1990s, programs were developed in England, Canada, New Zealand, and other countries (Lambert, 1994; Sutton, 2000; Wagner, 1994). Television productions highlighting CE such as the BBC's Standing Up For Joe about the Horsley family (Paul, 1985), and To Hungary With Love, which described the beginning of the globalization of CE (Paul, 1986), caused a surge of interest in England and around the world (Sutton, 2000).

The level of adherence to Petö's program necessary to provide optimal results was debated in the literature (Bairstow & Cochrane, 1993; Sutton, 1984). In particular, the debate addressed whether CE centers needed to be freestanding, modeling themselves on Petò's institute in Hungary, or whether new models integrated with existing school systems were appropriate (MacKay, 1995; Wagner, 1994; Weber, 1995). Many program developers decided that changes in the mode of delivery were acceptable and necessary because of differences in culture between Hungary and other European countries (Weber). By the late 1980s, families in the United States were beginning to hear about CE, and programs were established in several states. A 60 Minutes television program about CE in 2004 helped to expand the movement in the United States (Pelley, 2004). More than 100 CE programs now exist in more than 20 states (Bourke-Taylor et al., 2007), and 40 programs employ trained conductors in England (Morgan & Hogan, 2005).

Case Study: One Family's Story

Ricky Wood, a parent of a 5-year-old girl named Peggy with severe cerebral palsy, heard about CE from other parents and looked it up on the Internet. From what he saw, it embodied his values of addressing children's needs holistically, and yet had promise to yield real results in terms of increased functional skills for his daughter. Cerebral palsy is a non-progressive motor disability caused by damage to the developing brain. It can result in problems with movement and posture and also can affect speech, eating and swallowing, and other activities of daily life. Ricky hoped that CE would provide the intervention that Peggy needed to progress in her skills. He traveled to Israel to visit programs and interview other parents.

Ricky found that the CE programs in Israel were usually independent centers, modeled after the Institute for the Motor Impaired, Andràs Petö 's program in Hungary. …

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