Susie Mallett

Parent blog

Monday 28 February 2011

Conductive snorkeling

"Sledging" by SB, February 2011

"Do-it-yourself plinth repairs", January 2011

"Snorkeling infront of the mirror"

"Snorkeling in the sink!"

Before my break in England, now sadly over, I was working with a family in their home. As usual when I work in homes and families, it was very hard to get five minutes to myself, Although I am not always on demand it does seem like it sometimes.

When I am not working with my client I am constantly trying to solve as many problems as possible that occur while I am there. That is after all the purpose of my being there.

On the buses

On my first day of the recent visit we, my client and I, made a journey by local transport to the place where he works. We have made this journey three times together now and we have now reached the point that, by the time weather improves and evenings are lighter, my client will be travelling to and from work alone. That is quite an achievement, especially as he has to change buses once.

Our second journey of the week on public transport was to visit friends in Paderborn. The people we visited are not only our friends, one is also a conductor. The visit was all part of the long-term conductive upbringing of this twenty-year-old young man who wishes very much to become more independent. This is not only in dressing and eating, cooking and cleaning, this young man has learnt all of that. Now it is really important to work on furthering his social skills, travelling skills and the skills that he needs for building relationships, both at work and at play. Using public transport is one of our projects these days, as using it takes us to meet people, visit museums, eat at restaurants, drink in cafes, shop for clothes, go to the cinema and do whatever else takes my client's fancy.

Most children with a disability often do not experience using public transport. Many rarely spend any time out in the big wide world fending for themselves. A taxi or mini bus is often provided for travel to and from school, or mums and dads ferry to and from home and other activities.

From our visit in Paderborn my client travelled home alone. This is the third time now that he has done this and it is becoming the norm. I, as is also now the norm, took the next and last bus back, two hours later.

The next stage in my client‘s quest for independence is to work together with the conductor in Paderborn, just a forty-five minutes journey from his home. He will use the telephone to make an appointment with her, check the bus times, and get on the bus alone to spend a couple of hours working with our conductor friend on whatever he feels like he needs to do. It may be developing new movements or it could just as easily be going to buy some new summer clothes.

This client has three siblings and he has always complained bitterly that unlike them he could not go out alone. He says he cannot call up friends and go off to see them on his own. We are trying now to make up for lost ground, but there is a lot to do. Many of those skills that one picks up when travelling around as a small child with Mum, or with friends, are missing, skills like holding on when the bus starts to move, because that is what Mum always said, or holding the door to step down off the bus if the path outside is slippery. Or choosing to sit near to a door and not walking all the way to the back of the bus, as perhaps Mum would have done when a child would hold her hand.

Out in the big wide world

This client has athetoid cerebral palsy. Until a few year ago he could not venture out on his own although he had learnt to walk independently when he was about three or four years old, long before I met him. He occasionally goes for walks alone in the village where he lives, but getting from A to B under his own steam without someone accompanying him is still new ground to be broken.

This young man will be twenty-one in June, it is high time we got this step in his development sorted too so that he can make arrangements for appointments or to meet his friends like his siblings do. Our conductor friend in Paderborn is going to see what she can do in the in between times, before my next visit. She is waiting for the first call from my client to make the first appointment.

Always being accompanied by someone has made it difficult for him to learn all that he needs to know to make it safe on the street for him, but he is there at last. Now he needs to learn how to organize himself to make arrangements for appointments, and how to get to them.

My client gets on OK in his smaller world at home, but sometimes as his world gets bigger he comes a bit of a cropper because he does not know how things work in other worlds. That is where he still needs our help to show him the ropes a few times.

Wider motivations

Since my client performed the role of St. Martin in his village he is becoming a bit of a celebrity in the local community. As people get to know him better he becomes more and more involved in the local activities.

Several years ago I was searching for some physical activities that he could join in at the local sports centre and his Auntie suggested she took him with her to her water aerobics class. This turned out to be a bit too fast for him so now his Mum takes him to the class for slightly older ladies and gentlemen. I watched him and he really does get along well. He has a life-jacket to wear so his Mum does not have to watch him all the time, and he removes it to do the exercises that are done as a group or in pairs. His teacher in the swimming pool is the father of his riding teacher. They are doing a grand job at continuing my clients conductive upbringing in the community.

One recent motivation for my young client to better his riding skill is that he heard, on the same evening that I arrived, that he will be asked to play St. Martin for the village pageant on a regular basis. The elderly man who usually does the job pronounced that after more than fifty years it is time to hand the role on to someone else.

Another motivation comes from the swimming teacher. At the end of the lesson, also on the evening that I arrived for our work together, my client’s teacher decided to use the time at the end of the session when the “pupils” have a swim for ten minutes, to teach him to snorkel. It is brilliant for him. He has to learn to concentrate on more than one thing at once, the most important of them being to swim and to breathe!

Not only is my client learning to snorkel in order to improve his breathing rhythm, to keep his mouth shut around the snorkel, to increase his lung capacity, to increase the strength in his legs, and learning how to balance his body in the water. He is also learning to snorkel because his teacher has promised that when he can do it he will take him with him somewhere abroad on a snorkeling holiday! Mum and I hope that we will be asked to join them!

So a week that started off with journeys to work and to friends to learn how to get around in an ever-widening world, continued with snorkel practice in every possible situation. We did not travel on the buses wearing our snorkels but we did walk about wearing them while practising a good breathing rhythm, and we even tried to paint with them on. Eventually when we had improved enough we put our heads under water in the bathroom sink wearing them!

My client was really proud to be able to tell his swimming teacher at the next lesson that he had been practising with me. His teacher was motivated to try the next lesson with the flippers on! An athetoid young man with flippers on, whatever next?

I learnt a lot while watching my client working in the group with his teacher, next visit I will join him in the water and give his mum a chance to exercise with the others.

Finding motivation

There were a few difficult moments during the start of my work with this young man, this often happens as we get to know each other again and my client is confronted head on with what he can and cannot do. I always suggest he thinks of a few things that he wants to learn or improve while I am with him.

Despite often wondering over the years of working together what on earth I am going to do to motivate him I always know that inspiration will come from somewhere to help us continue with this long-running conductive upbringing. I do get despondent when I feel that I am I not getting anywhere, when I question whether I will ever find something to motivate a twenty-year-old to carry on learning.

Something always lands at our feet, sooner rather than later. Over the years we have been inspired by learning to march for the shooting-festival parade and by improving riding skills to perform as St. Martin. There has been learning to dance for the end of school party, and learning to eat and drink standing up for an uncle’s fortieth-birthday celebration. We have had weeks of improving speech in preparation for the opening ceremony of two public exhibitions of his paintings, and spent time learning to laugh in the appropriate places in order to watch his twin brother perform in his first theatre performance with the village troupe. Now we have a conductor on call just forty-five minutes away to take this young man further afield and widen his horizons, and a local villager who is prepared to take my client on a snorkeling holiday if he learns to snorkel.

At work my client has a group leader who is prepared to help him learn how to fit in socially with his colleagues. The group leader and fellow workers are teaching him about the importance of cleanliness, tidiness, and good behavior in the work place and encouraging him in his quest to find friends.

This young man has been brought up conductively his whole life but we now see that there were gaping holes in this upbringing, places in his life where the upbringing was not conductive at all. At school I believe that my client was not expected to behave to the standard that was expected of him at home. He was not encouraged to achieve high standards in class or to learn many of the skills necessary in his life. It is only in the past few years, since leaving school, that his reading skills have developed and that he can deal with money. It is not only that skills are missing, he has also not developed an attitude towards working that is appropriate now that he is earning his way in the world.

We hope that this attitude towards work will improve through the activities that he now takes part in. We have made a plan that will keep him busy in his free time. He has extra riding lessons so he can one day ride St. Martin’s horse without someone leading him, he is learning to swim and snorkel for his promised holiday, he is working in the evenings in the family business instead of hanging out in his room watching TV for hours, and he is learning to use the phone to make appointments in order to fill up his Saturdays with activities when taking trips to his other conductor.

People are the key

When I was discussing the problems of motivation for this twenty-year old young man with a colleague recently, he said to me:

“It must be hard for every young person in his situation. The question is what deus ex machina, what device, can be found and tried that will lift him out of himself? A nice girl is the obvious answer, a group working on something that he could be part of another, a cause would be another. Now the old motivations are dropping away there is a need to find the right circumstances to produce new ones.”

As I write this posting I realise that between us, my client and myself, and the people in his ever-increasing world, we did a really good job in just a ten-day visit, of finding the circumstances to produce new motivation. We are back on the conductive road. Full steam ahead!


During my visit I was ill and I had to stay in bed for a day. When I did not arrive upstairs for breakfast it was my client who came downstairs to find me feeling very poorly in the bathroom. It was also he who came to visit me about four or five times during the day, only once finding me awake enough to talk to him. He perched on the side of the bed and told me what had been going on all day, then he left the door ajar and spoke to me as he painted in our work room next door. It was my client who asked me whether I wanted tea to drink and asked me if I wanted at last to join them for something to eat.

Later, at the table, he asked me why I had had such a bad migraine. I said that I never really know why they happen. He said he is sure it was because it was just too much for me working with him. Although I love to be there working with him, he was in a way right. It had been very difficult for us both. I had despaired just a little more than I usually do about whether inspiration would turn up. But as always the inspiration came to us and we had a very successful week. My client feels much more involved in the family life now that he has special jobs to fulfill, just like everyone else in the large family has. He is building up his own private connections in a world outside his family home and is thriving on his success at making friends.

It certainly was hard but what great results we got! We re-discovered motivation.

Sunday 27 February 2011

My Book

Let me tell you a story, Book One

Readers, I have at last sorted out the selling of my book on line.

Thank goodness that there are people out there in the world who are less afraid of pressing computer buttons than I am. Thank you to those who have helped and guided me while I set up a method of payment for my book. It has been tried and tested twice by Kasey in America and it works very well.

Thank you Kasey for the order, for being young and brave and for being the PayPal guinea pig!

It's so easy...

Because I am based in Germany, Kasey tells me, the first page or maybe even the first line of the invoice comes up in German but she clicked further where she informs me it continued in English and was simple enough to follow.

So if you wish to read my first book, that costs just 8.,50 Euros plus postage and packing, send me an email with your order to:

Do not forget to include a postal address for delivery!

If you are based in England I will forward the address to Gill Maguire who will then despatch the books from there to save on the postage costs.

Thanks for reading!