Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Peto problem.

Some 25 years ago Conductive Education was what at least seemed like the leading approach to Cerebral Palsy. Parents from all over the world would rush behind the iron curtain to the Peto Institute in Budapest to give their kids a fighting chance. I don't think the method ever particularly caught on in the United States. But everywhere else it felt like everyone has heard about it and anybody wanted to try it, often sparing no expense to get to the centre. I guess an ounce of hope is more valuable than gold. But something happened to the Peto Institute over the last two decades. Something I don't yet fully comprehend. It seemed that somewhere between the high point of it's popularity and today it has lost all its glory. I understand why Americans don't know what this method is. But imagine my surprise when I sat down with a journalist from the Polish leading disability magazine Integracja, talking about my life and my then upcoming keynote address at the Munich congress, to discover she hasn't heard about it either. When I said "It was really big in the 1980's", she laughed. Then I realized. The 80's was a really long  time ago. I might just as well have been asking if she remembers World War II. She was to young to know anything about the Peto hype and the Institute seems to be doing very little to remind people that it still exists. It needs to reach out to people. It needs to put together a strong image, a message of hope that says "We have this method, decades of experience, it really works and it can really help your child". The problem is, the Peto Institute never needed to reach out to parents. Parents always came to it. But times change. And if you don't evolve, you stay behind. They need a strong and aggressive PR. I wanted to say the Institute needs to think of itself as a product, but it has always been a product. It was the only enterprise in the Eastern bloc I can think of where you needed dollars for the very expensive stay regardless of which side of the iron curtain you came from. Back in the 1980's it was a money making machine, while in most eastern states it was illegal to have any amounts of foreign  currency. And I guess, decades later the center could not keep up with how the market and the world worked. We now want information. We want proof, we want research. In the age of the internet we want to be able to compare things side by side. The Peto Institute was used to parents turning to it quite blindly. Not only coming to it first, but asking very few questions. And then the Institute provided very little understanding about what they were doing. At the World Congress on Conductive Education it started making a little more sense. One of the presenters said that it was Peto himself that was protective about his method and told his Conductors to keep it a secret. That way all you can copy are if you will the external features, if you will. The furniture. The exercise routines. But none of the ideology. None of the theory. And the secrecy continued throughout the decades. When I was there in the 1980's my parents were never allowed to take any pictures. They saw some of the exercises, but never were disclosed the reason and theory behind them. The Peto Institute felt it can gamble by keeping the most to themselves and yet keeping people intrigued and interested enough to keep coming back. And it lost. With new methods, new concepts, new research coming to prominence in the  information age you have to reach your client. You need to sell your product. And as much as you can you have to be transparent. The Institute seems to be sitting on decades and decades of success stories and experience. Where are the publications? The case studies? The research? The comparison of data over time? It seems  that all of the Conductive Education publications appear having no connection to the Institute itself. It's a number of often prominent, passionate private people who dedicate their time and put things together often in a semi-amateur fashion wanting to keep the legacy alive. And where is the Institute in this? Shouldn't it want to save itself the most? Shouldn't it be doing all the ground work. Setting up congresses, commissioning research, publishing in a multitude of languages, bringing back success stories for talks, tracking down former pupils. The only, yet limited push that I see always seems to be on Peto the man that made it all come together, not Peto the method. The question is: if everything that happens in the world of Conductive Education takes place with minimal if any involvement from the Institute, can it be saved against its will? When will it start to be a lot more proactive on the PR front to stop itself from falling into oblivion. This requires time. And planning. And money. You can't simply have a press conference these days and expect people to not only come but care about it. We're bombarded with information. Every day you're competing with news stories about anything from Kim Kardashian's undergarments to terror attempts in Kenya. Whatever you do it needs to be thought out and continuous.  There was a World Congress on Conductive Education. Sadly the world didn't seem to care. The most mentions that I saw of the event was in relation to my key note address. But this is because my own foundation, FDAAF, felt it was important to get the word out. So, we've written out a press release in accordance with the Associate Press stylebook and then we paid to have it distributed. Many outlets got it. Few picked it up- Conductive Education isn't exactly a hot topic. But the Peto Institute isn't doing itself any favors by voluntarily eliminating itself from the media.


  1. I agree. I am a conductor living in the US. Currently, I'm in a physical therapy program. The holistic approach that used to be unique to CE, is taught in this PT school. When I was trained back in Budapest, holistic approach was one of the many CE principles that distinguished CE from physical therapy. The difference between CE and physical therapy is that PT has evolved with time. Even though conductors don't like to be called physical therapists, I'm afraid PT's started to catch up.