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Kids With Cerebral Palsy May Benefit From Intense Therapy

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WebMD Health News

Aug. 21, 2000 -- When her daughter Olivia was 4 months old, Kathy Krindl knew there was a problem. At 6 months, she found out what it was: cerebral palsy. The pediatrician, Krindl remembers, "didn't come right out and say her prognosis wasn't great. But the tone of voice, it was easy to interpret."

Cerebral palsy is a problem with motor movements and coordination due to damage to the brain -- of which the cause is not always known. Neither is the best way to help these children lead fulfilling lives, because the condition has no cure. The traditional standard has been physical therapy. But now, a growing number of parents are stepping outside the mainstream and getting their children involved in something called conductive education.

Conductive education is not so much a therapy as a multidisciplinary educational program focused on the child's emotional and cognitive growth as well as motor function, supporters say.

While learning to do everyday tasks, children learn motor skills. And in the process, children are hopefully taught to see themselves as active and self-reliant participants in the world. Because these lessons are learned in a group setting, amid songs and games, proponents say children find them fun.

Traditional physical therapy places the focus on building muscle strength and coordination. Those sessions typically take place in 45-minute sessions, twice a week. Conductive education, however, is a five-hour-a-day, five-day-a-week program.

Krindl learned early on that Olivia has spastic cerebral palsy, the most common form of the disorder. Doctors told Krindl that Olivia was "never going to walk, never going to talk," and "we're not sure if she had [thinking] abilities or not. ... It was bleak, but I tend to be a hopeful person. I was skeptical. Maybe he [the doctor] doesn't know everything."

Right away, Krindl took Olivia to speech, physical, and occupational therapists. "She hated them, Krindl tells WebMD. "She screamed ... she was never encouraged to do anything on her own. I know my daughter has a ton of intelligence, the will to do something on her own. Why not give her the opportunity to achieve some sense of independence? Conductive education gives her a reality that's based on her. It allows her to be good at who she is."

Today, Krindl and her mother, Judy Gillespie, run the Midwest Centre for Conductive Education in Glenview, Ill., outside of Chicago. The conductive educators in their school were trained in Hungary, where the program was developed in 1945.

Debra Gaebler, MD, a pediatric physiatrist at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, tells WebMD that she has referred a number of children to Krindl's center. The sessions she has observed are "very rote, very rhythmic, very pleasing. It's translated into the first person, so the child is taking responsibility for his or her own actions. It's very functionally oriented. Some kids come back toilet trained. It has a more practical application than some other ways we do therapy."

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