Monday, September 5, 2011

English translation of Hungarian TV show about the life and work of András Pető (Part 3)

The post below is the rough English translation of the one episode of the series “Hungarians of Sterling Worth” of the Hungarian Television featuring the life of András Pető. I added some explanations in brackets where I felt it was needed. Please click on the link below to watch the show on the Hungarian Television's website.

Hungarians Of Sterling Worth-András Pető (1893-1967)

Part 3 translation starts at 00.33.20

Tamás Vekerdy, psychologist: He was an absolute phenomenon and he was mesmerizing, he mesmerized me, and the children mesmerized me as well. I had been observing at the Institute for extended periods, for days on end.  Everything that happened there, the way the children spoke, for example a 4.5-year-old who couldn't speak before at all and uttered his first words there at Pető.  He told us what it was like when he was laying on an operating table with appendicitis and everybody was talking around him about how it would be much better for him to die, “it would benefit him since he’s a cripple”.  He could understand this all and when he could finally speak thanks to Pető’s movement therapy—because movement brings speech with it—he told us what he went through in his earlier life.  These children were mesmerizing; they were holding down one of their hands with the other to control them so that they could tell us what they wanted to say.  They were writing poems, some of them were excellent mathematicians and this whole cleverness that there would be a school there—that one of the disabled children would be the librarian there as an adult, another one a teacher—was made up by him and brought together by him through paragraphs and law and other mazes with the help of genius and selfless colleagues for example Dr. Hári.

Sándor Török (Hungarian writer, 1904-1985): “I would’ve loved a little garden” /excerpt from his autobiographical novel/:  "I visited one of the programs of the 9-10 year-olds’ once.  This one was an academic class.  However, it came to that the children started writing poems.  They were writing the rhymes on papers kept down with their twitching hands far away from their eyes, with spastic muscles and with glorious smiles on their faces—all about motion.  About rippling lakes, racing mountain creeks, rabbits grazing on a flowery meadow, passing clouds; and I was the witness of the Institute’s head professor starting his overnight vigil all for them."

Tamás Vekerdy, psychologist: It was also Pető’s idea that there were no strapped, tied down hands for children with over-movements.  There were no tin bowls, etc., but there were China plates, glass jugs, glasses, hands moving freely—this was their way to try—at worst they’ll break.  He made these children equal with all other children even in their everyday life and this had a huge effect on these kids.  The individuum is impenetrable.  The thing is how the immortal and impenetrable individuum is accommodated within its worldly body.  Is it perfectly like for us who are more or less moving well or is it only a fraction of it that’s able to enter and the rest is left outside.  Pető looked behind this.  You’re the same, impenetrable, whole, sterling individuum—I can see this all over you—like everybody, you just can’t use your body the same way.  I’m appealing to your immortal being and I’m helping you to use your body a better way.  These were the highlights that could not possibly be bypassed in this approach.

Zoltán Vitó, poet/writer:  Nothing is impossible. I don’t know how—maybe through a special talent--I was able to implement this to all areas of my life.  It was his person who was the most important guidance.  Thanks to this I achieved that I am a recognized poet and writer despite the immense disadvantage and prejudice;  my writings are listed in literary and contemporary cyclopedias,  and furthermore I have a beautiful young wife and a wonderful little son who consummate the array of my struggles and I can call myself a happy person.

Poem “About the magician of motion” by Zoltán Vitó  (I am lacking the qualities to be able to translate a poem like this.)  The poem is about Pető. The poet compares the ability to move to good wine and flush of joy; once one learns to walk they know that nothing is impossible.  Will, heart and mind are able vanquish any monster.

Mária Hári, MD, College Professor:  Peto had a message of higher meaning for everyone.  People usually remembered this for life.  I was unable to completely follow through what I received but he said countless times that “There’s no me, just this” and “it’s not because, it’s in order to”. He took it for granted that he needed to keep his world in order around him.  He believed that order around you comes with order inside you and he took care of these very well.  Part of the order was to carry through and complete each thought and each action, and to turn all failure into success.

Mária Herczeg, College teacher:  He taught all his colleagues the most basic thing:  thorough observation—or rather—he taught us to see; to extensively observe and see.

Gyuláné Kozma, College Teacher, Director:  Professor Pető thought that when it comes to the complex personal development of the motor disabled child, the nice environment, the nice human face and the nice soul hiding behind the nice human face play a significant role.

Erzsébet Gárdos Kőrispatakiné, assistant professor:  There was a homely atmosphere.  It was a closed little republic.  We were almost excluded from the outside world but in a good sense.  He took extreme care so that everything happened in the children’s interest.  They received the best of everything: food, people…

Aladárné Őrfalvy, Head of Department: It was very important to look good.  There were rumors about—I don’t know whose idea this was—everybody was talking about ‘Pető girls’; that only pretty ladies were employed at the Institute on Villányi Street.  Well indeed, he kept an eye on us if we looked appropriate at all times.

Erzsébet Gárdos Kőrispatakiné, assistant professor:  The lady colleague who didn’t help the children the correct way, didn’t look appropriate or didn’t keep everything in order was often sent off to pick up their “Employement book” (i.e. they were fired).  However, he usually changed his mind, asked them to come back and tried to look into how to help instead.

Éva Óra Takácsné, Head Conductor:  He saw me coming in to work on one occasion.  My hair was—like a young girl’s—a bit messy.  He looked at me and asked me why my hair was messy.  I humbly said that I had not have time to go to the hairdresser.  “And you didn’t have money either”.  He gave me 100 Forints [Pető’s salary was probably 500 Forints].  “Go to the hairdresser, and when your hair is done come in because I’d like to see it.”  Then he said in a funny manner: “Don’t spend it on food”.

Aladárné Őrfalvy, Head of Department:  Accepting gratuity was inconceivable.  Instead, he gave money to the needy.  We were even forbidden to accept a bouquet of flowers.  [This was, and still is extremely rare.  Generally all healthcare professionals live on parasolvency in Hungary as they have to supplement their meager income.]  He took this very seriously.

Péter Popper, psychologist:  He was poor as a church mouse.  This did have a good reason: I believe he spent at least half of his income on taxi.  He always got about by taxi; he couldn't move very well.  I didn't see any luxury in his life other than the taxi.  Once he—I know this because it caused a lot of trouble—suddenly decided to spend his entire monthly paycheck on chocolate and candy which he shared out between the children at the Institute.  Subsequently he came to realize that he had left nothing to live on and he adopted a Széchenyi sort of policy: “my friends will support me” and that is what they did.

Sándor Török (Hungarian writer, 1904-1985): “I would’ve loved a little garden” /excerpt from his autobiographical novel/:  “He was ailed by many illnesses, some very serious.  There were times when he couldn't even lift a chair; he was pulling it behind him.  When the elevator was out of order—he lived on the 5th floor—he made arrangements with the ambulance to take him to the Institute on a stretcher in the morning and bring him home in the evening.  “Now"—he said while in a bitter mood—"I don’t even like very much what I do.  Destiny put me here and it’s forcing me to remain.  I’m guilty.  I’m not keen on my destiny at all, but I do have to fulfill it.”

Péter Popper, psychologist: Gábor Palotás [MD, special educator, college professor], who also belonged to his circle of friends, came in out of breath:  “the Professor was put into retirement”  “That’s not a problem”—said the professor—“the problem is that the paper boy is already far down the street.”  He picked up the receiver, called the Party Central Committee, one of the bigwigs—I’m not saying his name on purpose—and he said:  “Pető here.  I was put into retirement yet again.”  The Ministry rescinded their intent to retire him a week later and apologized to Pető.  They didn’t like András Pető, they would’ve done everything they could to close the Institute.  The stupendously huge international popularity of the method and the Institute came when Pető was already dead; it didn’t happen in his life. 

Gyuláné Kozma, College Teacher, Director:  I’m very proud of the fact that this special Hungarian product—intellectual product, this special Hungarian product, let’s say ‘Hungaricum’, it’s a fashionable word these days—is still its strongest in Hungary despite its 15-20 years of international propagation.  The Pető Institute is the central place of Conductive Pedagogy.  So if they’re starting anything involving Conductive Pedagogy in Australia, New Zealand, Japan or America, it is certain that a Hungarian professional trained by us is taking part in it.

Lucia Alvarez, College Student /Spain/:  They are opening a Pető Institute in Spain and we’re here to learn the method.

Nuria Idoate, College Student /Spain: I didn’t know anything about this whole thing up until 2 years ago.  It’s very interesting to me.  You teach the patient to think how they have to do the movements.  First they think it over how they do it, then they do it.

Dorte Kirkesov:  I’m from Denmark, I’m a pianist.  I came here to try out the Pető method.  This is a very useful method because it treats the whole body; it moves even the defective side of the body.  It’s difficult to use your bad hand, bad arm in everyday life.  It’s much easier to substitute it with the other.  It’s great that they move the body symmetrically here.  This is what I aspire after.  It’s great that they make you especially conscious about this here, and that you have to try it every day.

Zsuzsanna Baján Gróner, College Student /Israel/: I was really looking for this—this sort of—help, when you can see the results.  This is important when you’re helping somebody: to see the results.  We call our Pető Institute ‘Tsad Kadima’, which means ‘one step ahead’.  This is what this is all about: one step ahead.

Lea Masasa, College Student /Israel/: My friends were curious what I was doing here.  Some of them came to have a look.  They saw the programs and they liked them very much.  They especially liked the way I was working with the children so that they can be more independent in their life.

Éva Bokor, College Student:  What I like the most is that the children always come first.  We’re doing everything in a way so that it’s best for them, regardless how much time and work it takes.

Eszter Kárász, College Student:  I believe what this method really is and what it is about takes a very long time to realize; this may be my defect only but I didn't succeed in realizing it straightaway.  You have to make it a part of your being for you to be able to comprehend.  The reality is that I am in my fourth year now and I just started to comprehend; I may not even be able understand what it is about, only sense the meaning of it somehow.  I’m not sure it’s possible to fully comprehend it the first place, but it’s possible to sense what to do to bring out the hidden abilities of the children instead of forcing our will on them.  We've been taught and told about a tremendous amount contradicting things about András Pető.  I would've loved to know him personally, I’m sure he was a fantastic fellow if I can put it this way…

Mária Hári, MD, College Professor:  What he created is performance of art; he established new quality.  He was a creator—everything he knew became one to give birth to something completely new.

Dr. Pető András Szombathely, Hungary, 11 September 1893, Budapest, Hungary, 11 September 1967

Reporter:  Hajni, I would like to ask you to recite the beautiful poem you wrote.
Hajni: "If I could walk"
If I could walk
I’d be happy
We could go outside to the garden in nice weather
We’d run around with my brother, we’d even climb the trees
If the tree was high, we’d climb on top
If the ground was warm we’d roll on the grass
We would chase each other with my dog
And we’d laugh in a great mood
If there were a lot of bushes in the garden, we could both hide
But until I can walk we won’t be able to play tag.
[Hajni's original Hungarian poem rhymes.]

Reporter:  Do you like coming here to the Pető Institute?
Hajni:  Yes I do.
Reporter:  Why?
Hajni:  Because I know I’m making progress in my ability to move.
Reporter:  What progress have you made so far?
Hajni:  I've learned to walk independently using a walker.



Friday, September 2, 2011

English translation of Hungarian TV show about the life and work of András Pető (Part 2)

The post below is the rough English translation of the one episode of the series “Hungarians of Sterling Worth” of the Hungarian Television featuring the life of András Pető. I added some explanations in brackets where I felt it was needed. Please click on the link below to watch the show on the Hungarian Television's website.

Hungarians Of Sterling Worth-András Pető (1893-1967)

Part 2 translation starts at 00.16.53

Péter Popper, psychologist: I remember there was a little boy who I was supposed to teach to walk up and down the stairs. There were these training stairs with three steps up and three steps down. We were getting nowhere. I was about to go blonkers because the kid always dropped down; he kept collapsing over and over again. I said “Professor, I can’t do this. I don’t know what to do.” “ Show me how are you getting on.” I showed him; I wasn't getting anywhere, the kid always dropped down. Then the professor stood up, he waddled over to the boy—I remember his name—and he said: "Illes, you’re great kid. You’re a wonderful kid. We admire you." Then he put one of his fingers on his shoulder like this. "You’ll walk through these stairs. You’ll walk through. You will." Then Illes walked through the stairs like a champ. Then I said "I’m sorry, if this is the way of doing this, then this is not my path."

Péter Ruffy: "On the path of no path" /excerpt/: "He didn't recognize the word incurable. You were not supposed to utter this word in his presence. When he was sitting in one of the rooms of the Institute with the children who were first helpless, but they were slowly learning to eat, drink, walk, write by themselves,-- he sang with them, he played with them, he did the movement tasks with them-- nobody was permitted to disturb him. He didn't answer the phone, regardless of who was calling."

Péter Popper, psychologist: The professional community despised him. They were circulating the rumors that he didn’t have a medical degree, that he was a quack. They were constantly trying to dump him. Well, He was an eccentric man. He wasn't a conformist.
Let me tell you a story then. There was no organization of the Party in the institute of movement therapy. I think it was the only such place in the country. Why there was no orgazitation of the Party? Because Pető wouldn't allow it. He said one institute can only have one head. "It can’t possibly be that here I am the headmaster, and there’s an other party secretary." They told him that there has to be an organization of the Party. "Allright then," Pető said, "I’ll be the party secretary." "Professor, are you joining the party?" "Absolutely not", he said "but you can trust me on completing all the tasks of the party secretary honestly beyond question." So it happened that the party members employed at the Institute were brought under the organization of the regional pedagogues. They didn't like him very much…

Tamás Vekerdy, psychologist: The medical community wanted to destroy Pető. Then a strike of genius came to his mind. Not only that he made the children roll over to Labor Movement songs—they loved this at the party central committee as some of the comrades’ children were healed by him and he invited them to the Institute—Pető couldn’t care less what the children were singing but he knew that this will be a stunner for the comrades. Pető was nuts like this…but the main idea—they cooked this up together with Sándor Török (the writer) was this: “I can’t warrant ‘curing’. I have to get rid of the doctors. I don’t ‘cure’. I raise and educate.” Therefore the original name—Movement Therapy Institute—was changed to Movement Education and Teacher Training Institute. “This gambit will transpose me from the Ministry of Health to the Ministry of Education. Education is allowed, since it’s not a science—not in the same sense as medicine [not a natural science]. I’ll say I educate, and then they’ll leave me alone.” This panned out well, and these were the times when I paid him visits. He was a genius. He employed inspiration and intuition in his work. This approach itself—which doesn't believe that if I draw a thousand different types of secretion, feed it into the computer which will spit out the results as sure as death and taxes like it would in American medicine (in Hungary if I feed the same secretion into the computer 5 times I will have 5 different results because our computers aren't good enough)—in the meantime we have long forgotten the Vienna-Budapest Internist Medical School’s genial, intuitive “blick diagnose”; I just look at the patient…They were saying at that time that an internist ripens by the age of 50 to 60—Pető stood for this as well. Nevertheless, this whole thing did have a medical premise so to say, and I can also say that he represented a middle-European model of approach.

Dr. István Eke, jurist: I was born as a healthy baby on 4 May 1960. When I was 11 months old I contracted viral encephalitis and this caused my illness. The virus—because this was a virus—attacked my cerebellum, and obviously the illness affected my movement and speech very seriously. I've been coming along from there to where I am now in the course of just over 40 years. I took a degree in law in 1989; I got married in 1998. I have a beautiful and wonderful little wife, and as a matter-of-course I’m trying to live a full life. I learned there at the Pető Institute to dress myself independently and somewhat feed myself independently. I had to learn how to hold onto the spoon so that it doesn't fly out of my hand 50 feet away and I had to learn not to let the plate fall and to control my over-movements. When I was small I had this problem that I couldn't put my pants on. Then I was practicing it over and over again, I was moving back and forth until I figured that if I roll over onto my stomach I can put them on. I got praised ever so much for this because I carried this out independently, and I've been putting my pants on like that ever since. These movements that we learned there soaked in during the long years and you don’t forget them. You don’t forget either the movements or (this may be a mismatch) the humanitarianism that I got there, from the Pető institute.

Mária Hári, MD, College Professor: Once the individual has learnt the strategy, it would be practiced through everyday life, in every moment. If I divide the day to 5-min intervals, he has to be there at all times to follow through what he has learned. Therefore if he followed through during tooth brushing, breakfast eating or going to the theater, during playtime or during watching television, then the learned things will be transferred. Pető said that it is not possible to obtain results with the most outstanding method if the skills aren't used during the entire day.

Dr. István Eke, jurist: The discipline was Draconian. We were sleeping on the plinths on two folded blankets (we had pillows and sheets of course), but when we were doing the exercises we did it on the bare plinth. This was tough. András Pető—with a child’s eyes—was very strict, but at the same time very humane. He was very strict, but he was always—in my opinion—standing for our interests and our growth. When we were demonstrating a task series to András Pető showing him what we've learned so far and he saw how much we've improved since the beginning, he was very happy. He even spent his entire paycheck now and again to buy toys and candy for us.

Zoltán Vitó, poet/writer: Everybody who knew him will mention his great strictness, his implacable rigor, which I experienced as a child but curiously, my untainted pure childlike sense of justice always found him righteous, no matter how frightening it looked from the outside. There were some basic rules of the healing work which were forbidden to break. For example when a child’s feet were hanging downwards because they didn’t have the appropriate sized footstool under them, this was considered a mortal sin; when this happened, Professor Pető was roaring to bring attention to this horrendous law-breaking thoughtlessness. At the same time I also experienced that he had a warm heart—there was a sea of unlimited warmth behind the strictness.

Dr. István Eke, jurist: He always encouraged us. He often pat our head or praised us and said “you see, you can do it” and sure enough children need praises. Let me also mention our conductor’s name, Zsuzsa Kosaczky (? I apologize for the possible misspelling of this name; if you know the correct spelling please make a correction in a comment)—she didn't demand anything. They asked. “Listen, István, you can do this, would you? Please try it.”

Zoltán Vitó, poet/writer: When I started walking—after many years of hard practice—independently, I couldn't yet put my heels down. I started walking in a way that I stood up, swung myself forward, and if I didn't want to land on my belly I had to step forward with my foot; I scampered and walked. I wouldn't have yet been able to stop while scampering because for that you needed to stand firmly on your feet. I remember one of these scamperings: I took a direction and landed between his knees. He was so touched that he kissed me on my head. It was a paternal kiss. I think this was the greatest acknowledgement, and he rewarded my performance with this.

Tamás Vekerdy, psychologist: Later on as I got closer to him he once told me—he was explaining me what the problem was—“look, they bring in a person in here. He can’t move. They roll him in here. Then I meditate. I look for the therapeutic movements that he needs. Then we’ll do those. Then they ask me ‘how are you healing’; I can’t say I’m meditating, they’ll regard me as a cretin and they’ll take the children off me” and so and so on. So he couldn't say this, but he had to say something, and meditation wasn't a good enough explanation. He was obviously very informed in the fields of Anatomy and Physiology and so on but he had the face to say things like “is it really that big of a matter if some nerve fibers that should start a movement are missing? It is not a huge matter. The stimulus will somehow run down, but we mustn't disturb it. That’s why we’re counting; so that you empty your consciousness and then the stimulus will run down. Somewhere, in the muscle. Nobody knows. It will somehow run down and the person will move.”
Conductor: “Take a big step forward. I’m holding your shirt here so that you feel safe. That’s it! Very good…I’m holding your little finger. This was great, you’re so clever…”

Péter Ruffy: "Grandiose Angry Man" /excerpt/: “One of his colleagues said that he’d known him for 20 years but he still didn't know who he was. Another one of his old colleagues noted that he was a mountain range that you couldn't see the peaks of. He didn't tolerate any indulging in personalities. He was impetuous and stern, he was angelic and stubborn, grand and extraordinary. He lived for others.”

To be continued

Thursday, September 1, 2011

English translation of Hungarian TV show about the life and work of András Pető (Part 1)

The post below is the rough English translation of the one episode of the series “Hungarians of Sterling Worth” of the Hungarian Television featuring the life of András Pető. I added some explanations in brackets where I felt it was needed. Please click on the link below to watch the show on the Hungarian Television's website.

Zoltán Vitó, poet/writer: I was his student for 7 years. When I was brought in there I couldn't even stand up by myself. When I left at the age of 15, I left on my own feet; I hopped on the tram and went home. He taught “impossible doesn't exist”, and this has been my governing principle throughout my life whenever I had to fight my battles.

Dr. István Eke, jurist: Let’s say “I clasp my hands” which is natural for a regular man—I don’t even like this word “regular” but it doesn’t matter now—for a non-handicapped person it is natural, but for us it wasn’t. We had been practicing it for months on end. As a child I felt this was tough on us, but now as an adult I feel it was well worth it because I was given a lot: both regarding my approach and my physical abilities. What I’ve got regarding my approach is this: never, ever give anything up; impossible doesn’t exist. There’s no such thing as ‘impossible’.

Sándor Török (Hungarian writer, 1904-1985): “I would’ve loved a little garden” /excerpt from his autobiographical novel/: “I was observing a youngster once in one of the rooms of the Institute: a patient—or to better suit the Institute’s philosophy, a student—he started off at 10am at one end of the room. His ‘homework’ for the morning was to reach the opposite wall. He was pushing a chair in front of him, slowly, inch by inch. The room was approximately 20-25 feet long. By noon, he reached the middle of the room. There he took a break, turned towards me, and he uttered his words triumphantly, with indescribable happiness written on his face: “They healed me in here!”
It’s not that you need to use your hands to help most of the time—as professor Pető was once explaining it to me—you have to approach them from the inside. The deeper I am able to connect with them, the more effective I become.”

András Pető, MD, 4 Klotild St., District 5, Budapest, non-party [the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party and its Stalinist predecessor, the Hungarian Working People's Party. This is significant, as being a non-party shows Pető was a non-conformist and rather brave], single, 57, Director of the Institute of Movement Therapy of the Special Education Teachers’ College:

“I’m coming from a lower middle class family. My father was a storekeeper and post office director. My mother was an elementary school teacher before she got married. I disappointed a lot of people. Some expected me to become an excellent mathematician. Some envisioned me to become the next great poet of Hungary. Others thought of me as an emerging German-tongue poet-star. Some others thought I would become the star of pulmonology. Nonetheless, just to add insult to injury, I lived a life of adventure, misery and pleasure; I often had no idea how I was going to make a living. At times when ill-fate caught up with me I took up jobs as a physician at various pulmonology hospitals, physical therapy institutes, mental health hospitals. Later I became a medical science writer, an editor of a medical journal, and the director of a medical publisher. I was just starting a medical and science press company in Paris, France when the war broke out. A friend of mine and his wife asked me to come to Budapest, where I was driven into movement therapy. I became famous, and I paid income tax as a physiotherapy teacher. One of the fully recovered patients forced me into the College of Special Education, and that’s where—after combatting a lot of difficulties—the Institute started off. I had less and less time for my adventures with women, men and objects, and with life’s strange circumstances; I held myself to a strict daily and weekly routine. They tried to fire me from the Institute several times with great vigor, but I fought my battles and held on tight.”

He died in the Institute in the afternoon on 11 September 1967, on his 74th birthday.

(A short footage of Pető’s funeral is shown; Maria Hari is saying goodbye.)

Mária Hári, MD, College Professor: “His mother was an outstanding pedagogue. His grammar school was a very famous monastic school; his teachers were outstanding monks, one of whom introduced him into modern literature. He became and remained very widely read. Pető was a Renaissance man.”

Tamás Vekerdy, psychologist: When I’m searching for Petö’s roots, I can pinpoint two things: The first is the Budapest of “Nyugat” [Extremely important literary periodical in Hungary 1908-1941], and the other one we can find in Buddhism I think—based on what he later became. He was unbelievably unique. He was the child of the Budapest of the early 20th century, the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy; he belonged to the folks of the “Nyugat”; Karinthy, Ferenczi, Kosztolanyi [2 important writers everybody knows and read in Hungary and a psychoanalyst who was their friend]—so don’t think of a Buddhist monk in the Eastern sense. He was a man who excelled in torturing his maid. He hosted fantastic dinners. He checked himself if the roast beef had the perfect texture and if it didn’t, he sent it back. In the meantime, there was an abundance of his own dramas that he wrote incognito in German at the bottom of his closet. I don’t know how to say this: He was a well-rounded man, and he succeeded in creating something extremely important from this; something deeply entwisted with this land.

Mária Hári, MD, College Professor: You can tell he was extremely well educated if you look at his library. He picked and chose each and every piece himself. It contains philosophy, history of medicine, history of religion, literature, in a fine and distinguished assortment. When there was a power cut and he was looking for a book in the pitch dark, he just reached over and found the exact page he was looking for. Sometimes the books were only pages because he got rid of what he didn’t find worthy of keeping.

Péter Popper, psychologist: He had a very peculiar way of looking at people and the world; a way of thinking and the way he related to people. Pető said: “my son, in each stage of your life the most important thing is to live your fate”. I said “but Professor, how do you know what your fate is?” “You know you’re living your fate”—he said—”when you do what others are pressing on you to do”. The professor said “look son, if you happen to take a bitter piece of bread into your mouth, swallow it, don’t spit it out; because if you spit it out, it’ll get back into your mouth a hundred times, each time even more bitter than it was before”. I know this is a Buddhist doctrine but Pető didn’t tell me that; he just gave me this piece of advice in relation to one of our conversations. However, don’t think we were always talking about fate. I remember that once he looked at me and said: “my son, if you ever get into the blissful situation that two women are fighting for you, then your job is to do nothing. The more aggressive woman will take you and that will be perfect for you”.

Tamás Vekerdy, psychologist: His references made it clear that he was very familiar with Judaism as well as Christianity; he could make sense of its deep mysticism. By all means we can say that he was a man for whom transcendency—the transcendent origin of the human individuum—played a significant role, even though these thoughts weren’t fashionable at that time.

Sándor Márai (Hungarian writer, 1900-1989): "Diary" /excerpt from his autobiographical novel/: “P”, the wonder doctor is visiting me in the evening. He looks like Karinthy, but older and even uglier. They brought him to me when I was ill. I didn’t venture to take his remedies, but at the end he helped me: he shook me up from my lethargy. His knowledge is vast, especially in the field of medical history, Chinese medicine, etc. He’s a nutter, but he’s a colorful, strange, precious nutter who has his mind in order. He’s currently working with 20 crippled children in an institution. He gives the paralytic, sclerotic, handicapped children back the desire and ability to move; he gets rhythm into them. It’s quite possible that his method is worth a lot more than medicine that has been by and large ineffective so far.”

Mária Hári, MD, College Professor: He really found absolutely everybody suitable for something. He looked at the world in a way that he could make everyone useful; he found something positive in everybody. The examination [of new patients] at our place was not the way it was elsewhere: we weren’t examining the knowledge or ability that was missing. We call it ‘operative observation’. I’m inspecting what is it that I need to do so that he can do what he now can’t…because disability lasts forever, it stays, but you can chance the dysfunction into function.

Tamás Vekerdy, psychologist: “What happened was that patients officially deemed incurable by medical science suddenly just started getting ‘cured’. For example a girl who broke her spine stood up. When the assistant professor came to visit from the Medical University what was going on, he said: ‘I can see it, but I don’t believe it’. They preferred calling him a charlatan from then on, because there were examples of ‘miraculous recoveries’, but he couldn't explain how he achieved it. That is to say he could explain it, but it would've been difficult…

Mária Hári, MD, College Professor: There’s a gap between the conception of the movement and the performing of the movement. He intends to do it, but he can’t accomplish it in an appropriate way. The wonderful thing what Pető came up with was that he figured he had to change the way of the intention, and he had to teach the way of the intention. This concept was non-existent. [He taught] how to want [to do a movement]. For example: I want to hold onto my ear. If my muscle tone is spastic and I want to hold onto my ear I’ll do this [Maria pretends that her arm jerks up]. This is a bad automatism and I can’t hold onto my ear. However, I can be taught how to want to hold my ear; I can be taught a different strategy. I can be taught to slow my will down, put my elbow forward [on the top of the table], wait for the stiff muscles to relax during the slow rhythm (because slow rhythm relaxes stiffness), then use the relaxed tone and hold onto my ear [Maria shows how].

Sándor Márai (Hungarian writer, 1900-1989): "Diary" /excerpt from his autobiographical novel/: "I was in Dr. P’s Institute in the afternoon. The equipment is incredibly scanty and clean. They are just having their ‘treatment’. They are singing and counting in groups. They’re making rhythmical movements that look like some old, cultic religious chants. All cases are incredibly severe. P’s method gives rhythm to the handicapped limbs through singing and counting together. His experience is that the group gives you self-confidence; it becomes a collective rhythm, which has the effect that the handicapped limb will revive. ‘If you can move your arms, you can move your legs as well’—says P. Then: ‘man doesn't write with his hands, so what’—he’s right. This constant buzz, whoop-de-doo, rhythmic singing shuts the children up without a doubt and releases something inside them. One of the boys—looks like 6, he’s name is Palika—he’s really 15. His limbs are completely atrophied, he can’t speak. I’m sitting by his plinth for an hour as they’re teaching him to speak. He’s getting individual treatment, they’re stretching his limbs. At the end they’re pushing the chair to the common dinner table. The ritual singing and hand-moving doesn't cease here. The little ailed fingers are grabbing the spoon, the rhythm doesn't leave them for a minute; something started moving inside them, and it’s now artificially kept alive by P’s method. Palika is smiling because he’s allowed to sit at the table with the others. This smile is the oddest I've ever seen on a human face. ‘It’s not worth dealing with anything but hopeless things’. "

This is about 1/3 of the show. To be continued

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Conductive Education, the Brain, and Dr. House

If you watch TV, you may have seen this scene from episode 15, season 6 of Dr. House:

Wow, how interesting! Sadly, the brain imaging procedure shown in the clip, called “cognitive pattern recognition” doesn’t exist. House says “it’s not magical, it’s experimental”, but exactly magical it is! There is no brain imaging device today with the help of which we could see pictures and thoughts in someone’s brain. It is entirely fascinating though…just like time travel, or traveling with light speed (just press the light speed button, whoooosh!). It’s so much fun to watch movies. This is for now—as it’s supposed to be, and as you’d expect from a TV show—entertainment.

Entertainment it is, but don’t we all just love this stuff? I went to college in the 1990s, in the “decade of the brain”. The entire topic—brains, neurons, new neural connections, “brain plasticity”, etc. –just blew my mind. I was sitting through the Neuroanatomy lectures with my ears wide open, eager to discover the secrets of this mystical, magnificent organ, learn the names of the parts in Latin, their locations, their functions. I soon had to discover though that I’m not going to get the answers I was looking for, which left me somewhat disappointed. The profession I was studying—I was training to be a conductor-teacher—was not based on any sort of fancy brain science. We did have to study Anatomy and Neuroanatomy since we were teaching disabled children and such knowledge of the human body was deemed necessary to be able to do this job well, but this didn’t mean that any one of the teaching methods or techniques that we were also learning about during lectures and in practice, in the classrooms, had any more backing in neuroscience than any of the same teaching methods and techniques used by any teacher in any school around the corner. Teaching just turned out to be teaching, and it worked if the children ended up learning. We were taught, in theory and practice, the how-to of working out new teaching methods if the teaching methods we tried so far didn’t work. We were taught not to give up on the children, we were taught that it is in all cases the teacher’s fault if the children don’t learn, it is because we didn’t choose the correct methods or didn’t allow enough time and opportunity, and not because the child is too disabled to learn, as there is no such thing. The proof was right there: children with various levels of disabilities were learning all sorts of “impossible” things seemingly against the odds, through processes that us trainee conductors had to observe, understand, and then do ourselves. In the meantime, we were taught exactly this much about what’s happening in the brain while the children go through the learning process:

“Despite the injury, the central nervous system always has reserves that aren’t injured. These parts may take over the functions of the parts that are injured.”

Anyway, it was something like this. We were taught this much mostly because this is how much just about anybody can guess. If you look at the “Good reads” links on the right side, you’ll see a link called “Neuroscience for Kids”. The site may be intended for kids, but it does actually establish as much as it is known about the brain today, minus the details. The wording of the articles, for example this one about learning and brain plasticity correctly includes “some evidence supports” and “according to XY” which are the appropriate terms to describe something we have good guesses about, but we aren’t sure.

Fascinating brain science here or there, science is just science, not to be confused with science fiction, or science of the future. We do know a lot more about the brain than we did 50 years ago and we now have incredible imaging devices like MRIs but we still know almost nothing compared to what there is to know. Nobody to this day can look at an MRI of someone’s brain and tell what the person is thinking, or knows, or can do. Great professors and 21st century technologies here or there, nobody on earth would be able to tell you by looking at two random brains which person can play the guitar.

It is because of the extremely interesting and mystical nature of brains, and brain injuries, and because of the fact that the topic is very widely present in pop culture and entertainment that I can’t blame anybody, especially not parents of disabled children for falling into the trap and trying to find solutions for brain injury by trying to reverse the brain injury itself. I do understand that it sounds logical: the brain is injured—this causes disability—let’s fix the brain injury—the disability will go away. It would be great if we could do this. I’m not sure how many people realize that if we could, it would be absolutely the greatest scientific discovery of all times, probably more important than any Nobel prize winning discoveries to date; this would give humanity such a power that is currently hard even to imagine: besides being able to cure a plethora of conditions, we could also transplant a brain from one person’s head to an other’s, we could transplant a head to a whole new body and the person would be able to walk away, we could destroy a person’s brain and grow them a new one (talk about starting afresh!), and…you use your imagination.

I hope it is clear by now that it is very unfortunate to associate conductive education, or pedagogy in general with brain science as this doesn’t lead anywhere, it just leads to science fiction and attracts ridicule. I can’t tell how many times I’ve been asked mostly by parents but sometimes by journalists and also by other professionals about the neurological background behind conductive education, but I failed, and I’m afraid I will always fail to give a satisfactory answer. I did try to satisfy the curiosity of these people, mostly by translating to English from Hungarian the one sentence I was taught at college (which gave me an awful lot of trouble, especially at the beginning, and I can tell it troubles some of my colleagues, too), but I gave up on that long ago as I found it counterproductive. All in all, when our children learn, something does indeed change in their brain—it must!—but we don’t know exactly what that is, and we have a very vague knowledge of how it happens. If you decide to ask me about what has happened to your child’s brain who has athetoid cerebral palsy and has learnt to produce readable handwriting in a conductive education classroom, please ask me at the same time when you’re asking your typical child’s Math teacher what kind of recovery his brain went through when he learnt to multiply numbers.

Therefore, we have no reason to try and analyze these changes in the brain since doing so won’t change one bit how we’re going to teach our children. There are much more useful things for us to do: we can learn more about teaching for example. We don’t have any reason to think that learning takes place in any different way in disabled children than it does in any other human, all we know is what we can observe: that it is more difficult and takes more time to learn with an injured brain. We can, however, also easily observe that learning isn’t impossible (why would it be, brain injury doesn’t equal total brain death) because our children constantly learn, don’t they? The disabled child learns the alphabet for exactly the same reason the typical child learns the alphabet: because they’re taught. Now, there is no doubt that it might be lot more difficult for the disabled child than for the typical child to learn the same thing, but difficult doesn’t equal impossible.

The main problem is that it is difficult, and sometimes incredibly difficult to teach a disabled person. Those who lack the necessary training, knowledge and experience to understand that difficult doesn’t equal impossible will not be willing to realize that it is their insufficient teaching methods, and not the disabled person’s inability to learn the culprit. Whoever teaches the disabled person—parent, teacher, any professional—has often to be very imaginative in their ways to work out new and new and cunning methods to teach. They also have to quickly realize when certain methods don’t work (whether they worked before or no, or if they work brilliantly with other children), and then they have to try something else, and then something else, until they succeed. This, as you have probably guessed, is the ideal situation and is rarely happening. Such approach is time-consuming and laboursome, and someone has to pay for it, so instead, today’s society is ready to accept “oh well, he’s disabled and he’ll never learn to hold his spoon”. You bet he’ll never learn to hold his spoon, especially if he never tried, or if he tried, he never got the chance to follow through the learning process—which can easily be long, very long and very difficult.

I have no doubts that this is the main reason why conductive education, despite having been around for about 70 years in its birthplace in Hungary and having been available for the West and the rest for about 30 years, is still not around in every household raising disabled children and is still not around in every school, rehabilitation center, playground and mind. Neuroscience, brain fixes and quick-fixes sound so much better than “hey, you have to put in a lot of time and effort and learn the hard way”, right until we understand that the first is not possible but the latter very much is. Parents who did understand this have been fighting and fighting for conductive education for decades now, and it will make another post to try and figure out the reasons why on earth this has been taking so long.

My respectful message to Ontario March of Dimes, and everyone else who participates in constructing web pages that give out information about conductive education, or anyone who advises parents or professionals about conductive education: Pie-in-the sky explanations and representations are okay in the Dr. House TV show, but they are sketchy in the fields of our profession. Don’t do it. Such talk may indeed attract more people first which may help your business, but in the long run, you’re only helping to spread ignorance and misinformation about conductive education, and I believe that is not your goal.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Guest post on Janet's blog

Janet Harrold, grandmother of beautiful Hailey is doing a series of guest posts on conductive education.
A mom's point of view:
My contribution:
Thanks for Janet for the brilliant idea!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Why do some therapies work so well for some children and not for others?

I encountered the above question a few months ago on an internet forum. The forum is big on promoting all sorts of alternative therapies for cerebral palsy, ASD and the like, containing numerous parent testimonials on how much HBOT, Stem Cell Therapy, the Feldenkrais method, diets and the ilk helped their child’s progress. The general message of the testimonials is “It worked for us, you should try it, too”, and “you don’t know until you try it” and it gets a ton of cheers by fellow parents for all the great encouragement.

Parents exchanging information is certainly a good thing; however, information about certain therapies being nothing else but well-advertised woo-woo isn’t always welcome on such forums, whether they come from a fellow parent or no. Criticism of therapies isn’t frowned upon though if it is presented in the form “well, it didn’t work for us, but it might work for others”, with “we’re all different” and so on, suggesting that it is unknown factors that make it a mystery why certain therapies work for some children and not for others. There is, however no much mystery here, but before we can answer this question, we have to look into what it actually means that a therapy “works”.

Asking the question of why the therapies work in some cases and not in others contains the presumption that the therapies do indeed work in some cases, we just don’t know why. This presumption is supported only by the testimonials, the sometimes detailed descriptions of the child before and after the therapy. The difference between “before” and “after” appears to be very convincing for the readers, who are then appropriately encouraged to try the therapy with their own kid without further questioning (not without further “research”; they may read 100s more of similar forums with identical content and may read the therapy’s various promoters’ websites in countless numbers; what they don’t look up is factual data and the realities of the human body).

Most people (from all walks of life, whether parents or not, regardless of how highly paid or intelligent they are) don’t know where to find research data, and if they accidently encounter it, they don’t know how to read it. This is not a sign of stupidity; most people simply don’t need such stuff and they probably have better things to do than going through medical journals and paying for articles most of which are crap anyway. But it is because of the average person’s total non-involvement in finding data first-hand that most parents never get to find out that this or that therapy has been, flat out, without a doubt proven to be doing nothing by competent scientists who designed their study to rule out biases (HBOT), or the therapy uses new science and technology involving potentially dangerous substances the safety of which hasn’t been established and there are doubts because they make animals sick (stem cell), or the therapy in question is benign, but simply a renamed, remarketed, often watered-down version of an already existing therapy (Anat Baniel method). They don’t get to find these out, therefore they rely on fellow parents’ testimonials.

Why shouldn’t we rely on testimonials?

If quack therapies don’t work, why do so many parents report that they do? Surely, nobody in their right mind would think that those parents are lying, or they’re trying to deceive others, or that they’re stupid and they don’t know what they see. We have a good reason to think that all those parents know their children well and they’re perfectly capable to observe their child’s abilities before and after a therapy event or a series of events. They see progress because most of the time there is progress. The child couldn’t say ‘daddy’ before the hyperbaric oxygen therapy was started, and now, 3 months and several sessions later, he can say ‘daddy. The child could keep his sitting balance independently for a few seconds before the therapy started, but has shown progress after each session and now he can sit for a minute. The results are clear, they’re even measurable!

However, none of these results show that the therapy worked, regardless of how spectacular they are. Children—all kinds of children, disabled or not—develop, learn and progress all the time. If we observe any child at a point of time and observe the same child later, there will be progress and WE WILL SEE THE PROGRESS, whether we subjected the child to therapies or no. Sometimes children seem to improve a tremendous amount in a short time, and unfortunately a lot of parents attribute the progress to the latest therapy they did, instead of the perfectly reasonable explanation of the progress: children observe, experience, participate, see, listen, move, play—they do things all children do, things that everybody does, things that are behind all learning of all human beings.

Simply because one thing (progress) happens after another (therapy), we have NO WAY TO KNOW that the second thing was caused by the first. Unrelated events follow each other all the time. Just by observing that B followed A (however correct that observation is) we can’t tell for sure that there is a causal relationship between the two. If events that followed each other were always in a causal relationship, then I could claim that the sun sets every evening because I drink a cup of tea every evening!

In order to establish a causal relationship between A and B we need a controlled study. There is no other way of knowing so far, regardless of how smart and intelligent we are. In a controlled study there is an experimental group and a control group, which are as identical as they can be except for one factor: the experimental group does get the treatment and the control group doesn’t. What we must observe at the end is the difference between the two groups, because progress, however great, doesn’t prove the effectiveness of the treatment if both groups progressed equally. If the treatment group shows better progress than the control group, then we know that the treatment is effective. (There is a lot more to know about trials, but this blog is not the place to gather that knowledge!)

If we choose to read and understand the results of such trials instead of reading the 100th testimonial, we come unimaginably closer to bringing the right decisions for our children and family.

There are, of course, no controlled trials for everything (there is in the case of HBOT), but we do have other means to see through products and services that offer miraculous recovery. If a therapy is based on the magnetic properties of human blood, we know that it’s bogus because blood isn’t magnetic. If a therapy is based on the awakening of dead nerve cells, we know we’re being set up because death is irreversible. If the therapy is based on injected substances that make lab rats sick, we have a very, very good reason to keep our children away from such therapy.

Our question “why do some therapies work so well for some children and not for others?” is identical to the question “why are some planets in our solar system flat while others are round?” Both of these questions presume a statement as true—some planets are flat, and the therapies do work for some children—without even considering that the statement might not be true in the first place.

The biggest problem with all the countless bogus therapies is not that they don’t work; the damage is caused by the wasted time, energy, and resources. If we spend our money on a course of HBOT instead of buying an adapted bicycle for our child with cerebral palsy, we deprive our child from a superb physical activity, fun and quality time spent together. If we spend our days driving back and forth from one therapy to the other, we deprive our child from having a healthy and predictable daily/weekly routine, consisting of plenty of playtime and plenty of time and energy allocated to allowing the child to participate in their own care. If we hang on to false promises and false hope, we won’t find the real hope—every human being alive, however disabled, is capable of learning—for a long, long, long time. The upbringing we provide will absolutely have a huge role in the child's development, but upbringing has nothing to do with medicine, quack or scientific.

The parent who finds that his son has improved after “every therapy under the sun”, may be correct in his observation, but is not correct in his assumption that his son’s improvements were caused by the therapies. One could wonder what if the child, who has such a great learning potential that he continuously improves despite being dragged though untold amounts of various woo-woo, was allowed to spend all that time playing, or god forbid, physically participating in play activities with other children? The boy would most probably have improved a lot more without the therapies.

Be careful with parents’ internet discussion boards. I know how much it helps just to get your story out there and share your thoughts and feelings with many others who are going through the same as you are. I know how relieving it is when someone, somewhere UNDERSTANDS. But you must be aware that parents of disabled children are not more likely to possess critical thinking skills than anybody else, which means most of them do not know of the confusion about correlation/causation. You can be pretty much assured that most testimonials you read on these sites are a result of a parents not realizing that their child’s progress is normal, almost inevitable, and not the result of woo-woo.

Please understand your responsibility if you have a website, blog, magazine where you allow promotion of quack therapies. If you claim that your site is not a medical journal and therefore it doesn’t have to be accurate, and that you’re just trying to help by allowing free flow of information and encouragement and so on, please consider that your site is used by desperate and vulnerable people and they might take seriously what they read. The “information” on your site may affect parents’ decisions and affect the lives of their families and especially their disabled children in a very negative way. While free discussion should always be allowed, you can always balance out the one-way effect of a site like that with providing links to sources where the reality about these therapies is revealed.

Finally, the above photo shows India actively participating in a family dinner, feeding herself and chatting away with the guests. This is a great achievement for her, and it’s not a result of medical, quack-therapeutical or magical interventions, it is simply the result of good old teaching and learning. We taught her to do this by organizing our day in a way so that there’s plenty of time for dinner, we set her up in a way so that she can sit with us, we asked her and expected her to hold her own spoon, we helped her manually when she got stuck (without taking the spoon out of her hand), cheered her when she took bites, and we did this EVERY DAY. It took time and effort to do all this, because you can feed India a whole plate of food without her participation while she’s sitting in her stroller in less than 20 minutes, while the conductive upbringing version of dinner used to take well over an hour. The stroller version doesn’t contain any learning opportunities, while the conductive version contains nothing else but learning opportunities. There is no therapy than can compete with that!

Trick or Treatment: The Undeniable Facts about Alternative Medicine

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

This is a first, and this is for real

For anyone who read my elaborate essay on stem cell therapy for injured central nervous systems and is interested in a follow-up:
This is the first FDA-approved trial of human embryonic stem cell based therapy for spinal cord injury. The trial aims to assess and evaluate safety issues, with the secondary aim to find out if any restoration of function is possible in humans using embryonic stem cells. As opposed to adult stem cells from various sources, embryonic stem cells do have the capability of turning into something else than blood. In this case they're expected to turn into oligodendrocytes. (Not straight from the embryonic stem cells; read more here and here.)
The trial was supposed to start in January 2009 but it was placed on hold by the FDA because some animals developed cysts from the stem cells in the previous, animal study. Now the hold has been lifted (more animal studies were submitted to the FDA; treated animals regained some function).
This trial will enroll 10 participants, all of whom will have to have a very fresh injury: between 7 and 14 days old!
Now comes my opinion: The Corporation that has been working for 10 years to make these so-called progenitor cells (that are to be injected into the participants' spinal cord) out of embryonic stem cells is--very understandably-- pushy about doing this trial, because they want to get paid, and this, if successful, means big money. Now, there is nothing wrong about that.
What is totally wrong is that some "doctors" at quack clinics in developing countries (read: no regulation, no monitoring) are already getting paid, all without any effort to learn anything about stem cells but how to get hold of them; all without animal trials, assessing safety, learning about side effects; all without any real attempt to find out how to make this extremely complicated form of therapy to work or do anything at all. Their various assumptions (e.g. bone marrow stem cells will miraculously turn into neurons and restore function in patients who have been disabled for years) only sound scientific for someone utterly desperate to help their child (parent, sibling, etc.), but do not sound scientific for anyone who has ventured to read anything else on the subject but quack clinics' websites. There is, of course, no science in the Dominican Republic that isn't available in the USA; but in the USA, pushy corporations here or there, you'd have a hard time to get away with experimenting on disabled children of desperate parents (or on any humans for that matter) using untested substances based on as much science as a fairytale, requiring the parents to pay tens of thousands of dollars for the "therapy".
Well, I'm holding my breath! Any promising results of this trial would be wonderful.