Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Kata Szvoboda interview: with introduction

A couple of months ago I've submitted an interview with our Hungarian born and trained Conductor, Kata. to Andrew Sutton's Conductive Post I was hesitant about posting it on our own, because she didn't like the transcription and she had a couple of valid criticisms. The text was much shorter than out two hour conversation and some of the issues seemed to have been taken out of the context of the conversation, shortened, removing some of the original or intended meaning. The chat had a better and more organic flow. I wish our journalist friend was able to do a better job reflecting Kata's passion, her history, her understanding of Cerebral Palsy that goes well beyond her Peto  training, her love and compassion for the children, both as a professional and a mother. She is also a skilled experimentator who has great understanding of other approaches and methods and always looking for ways to make them work together. I have noticed that many Conductors are really not that willing to think outside of the box and try different things. In her years of experience having to adapt to different circumstances, parent mentality in a different country she was able to figure out what works for her here and now and what doesn't. What is also not that common, she is not dismissive of other methods and approaches, because who know what can be beneficial to a child. Apparently Kata was not offered to review the text before I was told to sent it out and that again is unfortunate. She was concerned about how her English grammar came across in the spoken interview and with that I see the writers point. It is a growing trend in American press to try to reflect speech patterns, accents and mispronunciations of foreigners. Also, there is also a risk that your subject would try to rewrite the interview entirely. Many conductors got up in arms about her use of the word "therapy" when mentioning the Peto method. I understand that as not an attempt to literally brand CE as a "therapy", but colloquially meaning an approach  or method of dealing with disability or condition of any kind. This would include things that not only help the condition lessen but also decreases the impact of it on a persons life. Nobody's claiming I believe that CP can be healed like a broken foot. And yes, in a country where caring for individuals with disability has a lot of bureaucracy and money tied into it, where Peto is very little known and trusted, vocabulary is not of primary concern. Using words that people may recognize, not accurate but at least in the ballpark of something that instinctively you can identify as having the potential of helping at least create a possibility that a parent will identify it as something they need to look into.
First and foremost, Kata's story is very interesting. How she ended up in Gainesville, small town USA from Hungary and came to love it. We are not a big metropoly, yet, years later, she's still here, helping the locals when she could've been in a head conductor in a big city. Her loyalty and involvement with the Klausner family through Jordan's untimely deeath is extraordinary. People don't understand, that JKF is not a big institution, we operate a small community school in a building we rent, yet our sense  of mission is great. We have never turned a child away yet.
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Meet Kata Szvoboda, a conductor at a small American non-profit. She admits that with her years of experience she is a sought-after specialist getting offers from centers all over the country to become a senior conductor but she likes the community, the school and Gainesville – her Florida home.
Kata attended the Pető Institute in Hungary. After coming to America following her graduation for a short time, she worked in Hungary for three or four years. She has lived in Gainesville, Fla. for 15 years and now works at the Gainesville Conductive Education Academy operated by the Jordan Klausner Foundation that she helped to start to offer free Conductive Wducation to Floridians.
She sits down with R. Strzalkowski, Jordan Klausner Foundation Associate Director, who was born with cerebral palsy and moved to America from Poland to become an attorney and credits his functionality to years spent in the Pető Insitute.
Why do you think people prefer Hungarian conductors in America?
I don’t know why people want Hungarian conductors, but we are there with the kids – if we need to be on the floor and crawl for six or seven hours with the kids, we do it.  Maybe it’s the culture, but I think Hungarian people who choose this career, it’s because we want to and it’s coming from the bottom of our hearts.  Maybe because we learned the example over there, we are more strict with the kids. People watching from the outside might think, ‘What kind of therapist is so strict? but that’s how they learn. It’s the best way for them to learn, you have to push them.
Do you think parents feel guilty?
I cannot imagine having a special needs child. I think it’s a heart-breaker, you have to give up your whole life. But I say, you know what, 80 per cent of children have cerebral palsy because of the birth and it’s not the parent’s fault.
Do you think there’s an attitude for parents to want to take it easy on the kids?
Yes, the parents think the kids cry because it’s painful, but I tell them, ‘Believe me, it’s not.’  I have to tell them to please trust me, they’re going to stop crying and start to enjoy being able to do movements, but they have to realize they are able to move and do something. If the parents are just holding the kids, they won’t move.
What differences do you see between Hungary and the US?
I see differences in the parents. Maybe it’s also the health companies just trying to give more equipment to the kids to make their lives easier. Maybe it’s financial in Hungary, that they don’t have the money for a wheelchair. There, they first try to just use the kid.
When people ask you what you do here, do they know what it is?
I used to say ‘I’m a conductor’ but, because a conductor is on a train or a band, I have to explain it. If they are not really interested, I just say that I am a therapist. Otherwise, I have to explain that I come form Hungary and do a special therapy I learned over there to help special needs kids to be more dependent. We work on fine motor skills for people of all ages.
Here, I need to explain it 90 per cent of the time. The parents don’t care what the therapy is called, if it’s walking, that’s the main goal.
Do you have any stories from working here to share?
I have lots, thank God, just positive and success stories.
I have a boy who is really in my heart. His name is Elijah. In 2005, he was here in the summer camp we started in Gainesville and he has cerebral palsy. He has athetoid, which is over-movements. At that time, he was walking in a walker, but he was walking kind of like a crazy person. He couldn’t stop – if he walked, someone had to chase after him to stop him. He is so self-confident and he wants to walk. He is smart and he wants to do more, he is interested in doing anything. After the eight-week summer camp, he was able to do 68 steps by himself without the walker. He was about seven years old at the time. It was a big push to the grandmother, who is now pushing and forcing Elijah. It’s not enough if I push the kid, someone has to push at home.
Now he is becoming independent – he can go to the bathroom and feed himself.
What is the best age to start CE?
Newborn – right after birth. The youngest client I had in Hungary was three weeks old. In America, the youngest was 1 ½ years old.
Why don’t they start when they’re younger in America?
Probably because the parents have to pay a lot and in Hungary it’s kind of insurance-covered. Plus, the parents don’t know and sometimes won’t have a diagnosis from a doctor until two or three years old.
It makes a huge difference if they don’t start until they’re older. At that point, they’re already more damaged than they were before, and I’m not a talking about the brain capability.
Definitely the younger, the better, there’s no question. Trying to make a kid walk who has sat in a wheelchair is very hard.
Do you think there is enough information about C.E. in America?
No, definitely not. I don’t think the doctors know about Conductive Education, and even if they know, they are afraid to tell the parents. In Hungary, we have more and better relationships with the doctors because we don’t see each other as competition – we try to work together. It depends on the people, but it seems here in America, it doesn’t really work yet.
Maybe it’s because in America they start the therapy later, so the parents don’t see the success as much. Here, you can only do a little piece, and sometimes it’s not enough for the parents or the doctors – they want the big change, they want the miracle.
Have you thought about how to change that?
I’m working on it and this summer I have a two-year-old and a three-year-old, so I’m very excited.
How have you changed your practice here in America?
I tried to do a plinth program I learned in Hungary here, but with 15- and 16-year-olds that are over 100 pounds, you have to adjust what you do. The idea is to make them more secure and relaxed.
Could you talk about what you’re adding to the summer camp?
We’re having volunteers to do extra art and music, which is something we do all the time in Hungary. In the summer time, we make it a little bit more fun and in the afternoon, we will have music and art or a movie afternoon.
What about how the students stayed over night in Hungary, do you prefer it to be a 24h experience?
That’s the way to have the most effect, but when they go home here, the parents do the job instead of the kids.
Do you feel that kids show more resistance, as they grow older?
Maybe it’s just that they are not able to do more, that’s why it’s best to start with newborns.  But I always say that you can make progress no matter what, no matter how old they are.
What do you think about other forms of therapy?
We do swimming and aqua therapy during the year and it’s great, the kids are relaxed and love it. I also have some students who do horse therapy and suit therapy. I tell the parents to try whatever they want, you never know what will work. The more you try, the better it is for the kid. Everything gives a little something. I think that it’s better if we have a team.
Do you know other conductors in the America?
Yes, all over America, and I would say we all have the same experience. We all try to do the same thing as we do in Hungary but, after a couple years, we all realize we can’t do the same thing. If we do 100 per cent in Hungary, we maybe do 50 percent here, and it’s not that we don’t try, it just doesn’t connect here.
In my dream world, we would have a mommy-baby group and I would separate the kids by diagnosis.
How did you end up in Gainesville?
I was in my third year at the Pető Institute when I met a colleague who was here for a summer working with Jordan Klausner, and she told me about the opportunity to work here privately for the family. Then we got the idea to start the school, and a few years later, here I am.
The parents who are looking for us still have a hard time finding information about Conductive Education, so we need to have more information available on the Internet. We have some students come in from out of state. We had about ten kids this summer.
Volunteers are a big help and some just have a sense of what to do.
I have volunteers who keep coming back for years now because they just love the kids. I’ve had more good experiences than bad.
What keeps you going every day?
I just love it. Of course I want to have my dreams come true, but I always want to be a conductor and always doing my best.
During the year, unfortunately we don’t have as many kids. But I’m really hoping we can have little ones that grow up with us.
Why do people stop coming?
The ones that are not here and in the public school system and they are doing well. They may come back in the summers because they want to. Elijah cannot wait to come, and every morning he has a big smile and is full of happiness.
What is your hope for the parents in America?
I hope they get information about the therapy as soon as they find out there’s something wrong with the kids and I hope they get some financial support from the government, like insurance.
I don’t understand why the physical and occupational therapists are covered by insurance and why some other therapy without an American license is not. The parents of children with cerebral palsy are often not able to work, so it’s like a circle, they can’t pay for special therapy.
Public school is free but the kids are sitting in a wheelchair all day long and they can’t do much.
When the kids are older and they don’t get the miracle, the parents give up a lot.
If you do the therapy here but stop it at home, we have to start all over. I tell the parents to engage the kids. You have to be motivated, then the kids feel motivated.

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