Working with children and adults using Conductive Education practices invariably leads you to ask the questions;
- How does Conductive Education work?
- Why does it work?
- What is the brain’s role?
Is the brain fixed and immutable or can it adapt to learn new ways of doing things if you have neuro-motor issues such as in Cerebral Palsy, Spina Bifida, Multiple Sclerosis, Stroke-related disabilities or Acquired Brain injury?
Investigating these questions led me to talk to Dr. Rick Hanson, a neuropsychologist and the author of the bestselling Buddha’ Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love & Wisdom. It has been translated into 21 languages and spent over 300 days on Amazon’s list of top 100 best-selling non-fiction books. Dr. Rick also has a book called Just One Thing: Developing a Buddha Brain One Simple Practice at a Time. He has taught at Oxford, Stanford, and Harvard and his work have been featured in BBC, NPR, Consumer Reports, US News, and World Report.
I knew that his book, “Just One Thing,” explains how you can change your brain by learning – and how learning can change your brain. This is a critical concept in the Conductive Education process where children and adults learn and relearn ways of doing things – like tying your shoes or getting dressed – through practice, repetition, and rhythmic intention.
I spoke with Dr. Rick. “ In your book, “Just One Thing” you talk about how you can change the brain for better in many ways, with exercises and even your own thoughts. How does that work? Can you give me an example?
Neurons that Fire Together Wire Together
“There is a famous saying in neuroscience, “neurons that fire together wire together.” That means that with our thoughts alone, we can change the physical structure of our brain.
“The brain is continually changing its structure. “The only question is … is it doing so for better or worse? And who or what is changing it? All the events in your life, the media, the economy, the people you live with, sleep with, work with, or stare at across the dinner table? Or, are we in charge of changing our brains – and changing our lives?” said Dr. Rick.
“When you say the brain changes, are you talking about actual physical neural substrate changes in the brain? How does it do that?” I asked.
“It’s quite amazing. An example I love is taxi drivers in London. As you might know, London is a spaghetti snarl of streets. Taxi drivers have to memorize all the streets. During their training, a part of their brain called the hippocampus – it’s like a muscle, and does visual-spatial memory – is worked out considerably. So, guess what? At the end of their training studies show – solid science – that their brain is measurably thicker in that part of the brain. They worked that brain muscle. It got bigger,” stated Dr. Rick.
“Similar studies show that people who routinely do some prayer or mindfulness practice, or contemplative exercise every day, have measurably thicker cortexes in parts of their brain that are involved in controlling attention and self-awareness. They are working that part of the brain, so it gets stronger. Mentally and physically“
Connecting Mind and Muscle Through Learning
Dr. Rick’s cab driver example is similar to how Conductive Education works with individuals that have neuro-motor dysfunction or disabilities. The idea is to try to connect the mind to the muscle with rhythmic repetition of exercises and using learning as the connective bridge.
The starting point for the Conductive Education approach is the understanding that motor disabilities typical of adults and children whose central nervous systems have been damaged are a learning and/or educational problem, as well as a medical one.
Conductive Education takes into account the fact that for the individual with severe motor disabilities, learning even the most basic movements, those that enable one to achieve simple goals or to perform uncomplicated acts, is sometimes enormously difficult.
It is a Learning Issue
Conductive Education’s uniqueness is the recognition that the disability causes learning difficulties for children and offers education and teaching that will enable them to overcome these difficulties at home, at school, and in society. Conductive Education is based on the belief in the capacity of individuals to change by learning and relearning. New physical abilities are created as a result of learning. The goal is to mediate between the world and the individual by creating within them new abilities and potentials rather than merely using existing approaches.
Movement dysfunctions are the central feature of the impairments with which Conductive Education deals with. This means difficulty in movement among children and adults stemming from damage to the central nervous system (Cerebral Palsy, Spina Bifida, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s, Stroke-related dysfunction and Acquired- Brain Trauma). Basic human activities cannot be accomplished in a simple, reliable, predictable manner. The disturbances in movement affect position, motion, use of hands, speech, and daily routine activities i.e. essential human activities that connect the individual with their surroundings.
Adopting New Methods
Without learning, everything we deal with will be impaired unless we adopt new and special methods that compensate for the implications of the problem of movement. Find news ways of connecting the mind to the muscle.
Participating in Society
Although motor disabilities are permanent (currently), the goal of Conductive Education is to promote learning for the individual thereby diminishing the secondary, yet harmful, influence of the disability upon psychological development and upon social life.
Motor disabilities affect the individual’s ability to participate in society which then has influences on the mental level. Through Conductors (teachers) Conductive Education also intervenes on the mental level: feelings, motivation, awareness, proficiency, and personality.
The word ‘conductive’ signifies a unique style of teaching whereby the main objective is to bring the student to a recognition that he can direct his own learning and derive pleasure in doing so. The pleasure of learning becomes the driving force for solving problems stemming from motor disorders.
This, in turn, helps the individual live a better, more independent life.