Conductive Education (CE) is an intense, multi-disciplinary approach to education, training and rehabilitation for individuals with Cerebral Palsy, Spina Bifida, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s, Stroke-related Disabilities, and Brain-Acquired Trauma. The goal of CE is to help the individual learn how to successfully navigate and tackle the challenges of day-to-day living to become more independent and integrate into society. For this reason, Conductive Education focuses on learning exercises about how to complete daily activities like eating, dressing, tying shoes, putting on AFO leg braces, brushing teeth, combing hair and other tasks.
But the essence of, and the foundation of CE reliably rest on the brain’s amazing ability to adapt, which is called neuroplasticity.
What is Neuroplasticity?
Neuroplasticity: The brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life. Neuroplasticity allows the neurons (nerve cells) in the brain to compensate for injury and disease and to adjust their activities in response to new situations or changes in their environment.
Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to form new neural connections – and it works just like a muscle. The more you use your brain in a specific way the stronger the brain muscle and connections become. It is believed to be the basis for both learning in the intact brain and relearning in the damaged brain that occurs through physical rehabilitation.
Dr. Jeffrey Klein of the McKnight Brain Institute, University of Florida, and Theresa A. Jones, the University of Texas at Austin, penned Ten Principles of Neuroplasticity* and considerations on how to apply them to the damaged brain. This is especially relevant to the Conductive Education approach to rehabilitation that is used at the Conductive Learning Center of Greater Cincinnati. The understanding of these principles, written in easy-to-understand non-medical language will help you understand why Conductive Education works and what you can do to reinforce it.
“The brain encodes experience and learns new behaviors. It is also the mechanism by which the damaged brain relearns lost behavior in response to rehabilitation. By understanding the basic principles of neural plasticity that govern learning in both the intact and damaged brain, identification of the critical behavioral and neurobiological signals that drive recovery can begin”*
Ten Principles of Neuroplasticity
Currently learning is our best hope for remodeling the damaged brain.
Use It or Lose It – Why Learning Matters
Neural circuits not actively engaged in task performance for an extended period of time begin to degrade. Failure to use specific brain functions can lead to the loss of that function. Conductive Education focuses on practice, repetition, rhythm, and intent.
Use It and Improve It
Training that drives a specific brain function can lead to an enhancement of that function. A great deal of research indicates that behavioral experience can enhance behavioral performance and optimize restorative brain plasticity after brain damage. Motor skill training after unilateral cortical damage has been found to both improve motor function and to drive restorative neural plasticity in remaining cortical regions. Use it. Improve it. Simple. But hard nonetheless.
The nature of the training experience dictates the nature of the plasticity. In many studies, learning or skill acquisition, rather than mere use, seem to be required to produce significant changes in patterns of neural connectivity. Learn or relearn how to do a task and repeat it. Conductive education programs emphasize specificity daily.
Repetition Matters – Getting Over the Hump
Induction of plasticity requires sufficient repetition. Simply engaging a neural circuit in task performance is not sufficient to drive plasticity. Repetition of a newly learned (or relearned) behavior may be required to induce lasting neural change. The role of repetition in driving plasticity and new learning can be critical for rehabilitation. Plasticity may represent a marker of functional recovery indicative of the behavioral change that is resistant to decay (and loss). A sufficient level of rehabilitation is likely to be required to get the subject “over the hump”—that is, repetition may be needed to obtain a level of improvement and brain reorganization sufficient for the patient to continue to use the affected function outside of therapy and to main
Induction of plasticity requires sufficient training intensity. In addition to the repetition, the intensity of stimulation or training can also affect the induction of neural plasticity. Animals trained on a skilled reaching task to perform 400 reaches per day had increases in synapse number within the motor cortex, whereas animals trained to reach 60 times per day did not have such increases. Similar effects have been found in stimulation experiments. Low-intensity stimulation can induce a weakening of synaptic responses, whereas higher intensity stimulation will induce long-term potentiation (a persistent strengthening of synapses based on recent patterns of activity. These are patterns of synaptic activity that produce a long-lasting increase in signal transmission between two neurons.
Different forms of plasticity occur at different times during training. The earlier you can start therapy after a stroke or neural injury, the better. Research shows you can always make improvements, but the greatest opportunity for brain changes is early on. The time factor may be even more critical after brain damage given the dynamic changes in the neural environment that are occurring independently of any rehabilitation.
The training experience must be sufficiently salient to induce plasticity. Simply put, it must be important, relevant and have meaning to the individual. It must be meaningful to induce plasticity. Conductive Education focuses on meaningful exercises to accomplish critical daily life-tasks like eating, dressing, tying shoes, putting on AFO leg braces, brushing teeth, combing hair and other tasks.
Training-induced plasticity occurs more readily in younger brains. Young brains tend to change more readily. But, having said that, Change can be effected at any age with Conductive Education practices.
Plasticity in response to one training experience can enhance the acquisition of similar behaviors. It can transfer to other closely related capabilities and tasks.
Plasticity in response to one experience can interfere with the acquisition of other behaviors. Learning an easier way might not be the correct way. Gains in rehabilitation depend on learning how to do it the correct way.
The Ten Principles of Neuroplasticity are fundamental to help guide the optimization of rehabilitation and functional recovery. Conductive Education addresses all ten principles of neuroplasticity help to improve and promote progress in functional recovery.
Source material: * Kleim, JA, Jones, TA. (2008). Principles of experience-dependent neural plasticity: Implications for rehabilitation after brain damage. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 51, S225-S239.
The Conductive Learning Center of Greater Cincinnati is a Not-for-Profit Corporation under Section 501 (c)(3) of the IRS code. The School offers conductive education methodology as an educational option to students diagnosed with neurological based motor impairments, such as cerebral palsy, spina bifida and other motor challenges.
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Address: 325 W 19th St, Covington, KY 41014
School Hours: 9am - 2:30pm