Susie Mallett

Parent blog

Sunday 14 July 2013

Building a mosaic

In my library
I have always liked mosaics, not surprising really as I look at them as I would a comic book story or a cartoon, like a never-ending story of life, a wonderful history lesson. There are some wonderful mosaics in Nürnberg’s main railway station that were built during the restoration of the whole site. I watched their creation each time I passed through on my way to work and I continue to look at them now, always finding new points of interest.  

Parts of a wider whole

I was sitting on the terrace with my downstairs neighbour drinking her coffee and eating my cake. She often asks me about my work and my writing. Quite near the beginning of our conversation she remarked that my work is like building a mosaic. We talked some more and I kept coming back to this remark and told her how right she is. She then asked me whether I had written anything already that day. I had not. I then realised that not only is my work like a mosaic, helping to prepare and to fit stones of the appropriate shape and colour into the lives of my clients, my writing is a mosaic too.

Both my work and my writing are mosaics in process, the parts gradually coming together to produce a whole then moving on again towards a new horizon, with new motivations and new aims. 

As I get older I realise that part of this mosaic is that other conductors will carry on the work that I have been doing. As I come to the last decade of my life as a conductor (although I do not quite believe that, as for me it is case of once a conductor always a conductor) is very important to me that I find younger conductors who will continue the work with me and after me.

Daily I encounter situations that emphasise the importance of my eighteen years’ contact with the people at the centre here in Nürnberg, in local schools, with therapists and with the people that provide all our aids.

Our first children are now in our young adults’ group, our first parents are now big supporters of our cause, and younger parents look to us all for advice and encouragement.

Something for posterity

In my writing and my plans for more books I hope that by placing lots of interesting stories together I will create a pattern that will reveal to those interested a story about the conductive upbringing and living that I am involved in developing with my clients and colleagues.

Perhaps by writing my story something of it will survive, just like the ceramic mosaics that lie hidden by layers of earth to be discovered years later in many corners of the world.

Home-made food

The story that got us on to mosaics was of course about the children I work with. 

My neighbour had given me some home-made jam that Little Princess and Jolly Prof. enjoyed in their home-made yoghurt (I have bought a yoghurt-maker for which the children love preparing the mixture and eating the result, but that is another story). With the yoghurt eaten I asked what we should eat next, Little Princess asked for bread. Because I had none Jolly Prof. announced that the only solution was to make some. Little Princess asked, with only her eyes, whether we could. I looked in the larder and announced that yes; we had all we needed so we could. 

No one minded that given the time the bread would not be ready to eat with our lovely homemade strawberry jam, before the children went home! 

(When these two children first started at mainstream school I worked with them for two years, just the three of us. They know me and I know them very well. What they know best about me is that I much prefer to abandon my well planned afternoons to do what they plan, and so on this day they just got on with it!)

Building life’s mosaic

It was while listening to this part of my story that my neighbour decided that my work sounds like it is like a building a mosaic. She knows that these two children have been working with us for nine years. It was when I told her that I had just put the ingredients, the mixer and the bowl on the table and the two of them had got on with alone (while I stood back to watch them thinking about their years of practice to achieve such an enjoyment in life and doing things) that she remarked that my work was a mosaic in the making. In that moment I watched and enjoyed the fruits of their years of mosaic-building. I hope that I will be watching such mosaic-building in the future too and enjoying its results with them.

Team work

Adding that personal touch

It is the hole for the jam of course!

My neighbour and I went on to talk about more than the anecdotes that make up my stories. We also discussed the difficulties that these children have and how there is a spiralling of influences that develop that can all contribute towards dysfunctional behaviour and movement. We discussed whether after many years of experience working with children with cerebral palsy I can honestly say that there are some constellations of symptoms that regularly occur and whether these can be overcome.

Two children with diplegia

As we all know no two people are the same. Everything in our make-up, in our upbringings, in our lifestyles, everything influences everything about us, and this in turn influences the development of our personalities, some in slight ways, and some in such big ways, so that it is impossible for two people to have the same ‘symptoms’ of anything at all.

However, I could say to my neighbour that, especially in diplegic children, I see many of the same difficulties emerging again and again, and can only assume why this is. I may not know why but I do know that it occurs, and because I have seen so many children and worked so closely for long periods of time with them, I also know that it is possible to overcome problems that these symptoms, these dysfunctions, bring with them.

The next story that I told her is one that features what I describe as ‘three-dimensional vision’, something that in turn has an effect on orientation, and again how this, in the way that everything has an effect on everything, has an effect on the physical process of walking, and on directional skills, on reading and writing and much more.

How the story goes…

I work with the children who come to the after-school conductive group and I am always searching for new ways to keep the whole group happy and motivated, while at the same time developing their skills together as a group. Recently we have been practising standing, at the same time as developing fine-motor movements while playing board games at the table. One little boy must have a cupboard-full of board games at home as he brings a different one with him on Thursdays and another on Fridays – much to everyone’s delight. He always chooses something appropriate – a game that is over in about fifteen minutes, needs fine-motor, gross-motor, and a little bit of cognitive skill, and is suitable for ages 7 to 99.

It was while playing one of these games on Thursday that I was once more made aware of one of the recurring problems that I have observed in children with diplegic cerebral palsy. It was this that I described to my neighbour while we were drinking coffee and eating cake, explaining to her that, with a great deal of practice, patience and whole-family involvement, it is possible to solve the problem.

In the group I had two children with diplegia, one with tetraplegia – but almost diplegia – and an athetoid child. The athetoid child needed a little help to throw the dice, to pick up the wooden fruit that we were picking from the cardboard trees, and to put them in to tiny baskets. Otherwise she knew perfectly well where everything was, quickly learnt the rules of the game, and always watched the board so always knew whose turn it was. She could also predict what was needed to be done in the next rounds, she thinks laterally too! 

The tetraplegic child, who is the youngest by far at seven years, did everything all alone. He is the board-game provider and the second Jolly Prof. to join our group; I call him Supermarkt (Supermarket) because I say so often him – ‘Super, Marc’. 

He is young; he has been in a conductive group now for eight months. As tetraplegia children, and seven year-olds, often are, he is easily distracted, but he will learn to conquer this through conductive work and attending mainstream school.

The two diplegic children in this group are so different to each other that no outsider would believe that observing these two confirms myself my beliefs that some same symptoms of diplegia occur in different children, and most importantly, my observations show that these symptoms can be solved, overcome, by lots and lots of practice and determination.

Grammar-school children doing German homework
I have worked with one of these children, Jolly Prof, for nine years, the other one I see just once a week and have done so intermittently over the last couple of years; I know her symptoms but have had relatively little time personally to work on helping her to solve them.

Jolly Prof. is off to Gymnasium (grammar school) in September and some of these symptoms have disappeared or have been overcome, which is why he has managed school so well. He has attended conductive parent-child groups, conductive Kindergarten and conductive after-school and holiday sessions. 


As we were playing our board-game on Thursday I noticed how surprised Jolly Prof’s school assistant was to see how the other diplegic child was trying to pick up the printed cherries from the cardboard tree instead of the taking the three-dimensional wooden cherries to put in her basket. I was not surprised and this is one of the reasons I play such games with this child, to develop her awareness of the difference between two-dimensional pictures of something and three-dimensional objects representing the same thing.

I have played many similar games with many diplegic children over the past twenty-four years. One of them is now at university studying for her master’s degree and another is Jolly Prof. I explained to his classroom assistant that he too had found many things very difficult, including stepping up on to different levels and down again, climbing the stairs, copying from the blackboard, hunting for hidden objects in a room, finding his books in his bag, because he had a problem with distinguishing between two and three dimensions. I told her how we had practised and practised and practised until this problem is no longer dysfunctional. We will do the same now with the other child; I have already told the mother which games she should encourage her child to play — 

Lego or Duplo building bricks, copying buildings that someone has already built; jigsaw puzzles, turning the shapes to make it fit choosing the piece because it is the right piece and not taking a piece and finding a place for it; collecting cut out paper-shapes from the floor to put together later as a picture; join-the-dot pictures; solving mazes; all sorts of board games where figures need to move around the board, games such as  Take it Easy, Make’N’Break, and Fruit Garden – 

Going our own ways, telling our own stories

Our coffee-and-cakes chat came to an end with my neighbour going off to pack for a holiday in Italy where I have been told there are some wonderful mosaics to be seen, and with me going off to do some writing. I had been inspired by her questions and her spotting a link that I had yet to make – the building of mosaics within our conductive lifestyles. 

It is no wonder that when I took a peep on the shelves in my library that I discovered a whole shelf of books related in some way to mosaics.

Perhaps we should add building mosaics to our list of art projects for the future.

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