Plasticity of the Brain

Two of the projects I’m working on at the moment are wholeheartedly embracing the notion that physiotherapy, movement and brain plasticity are deeply connected. Gaming could be ideal for exploiting this learning, especially now so many games are using big body movements for motion control. Most of my interest has been in early years, looking at how the treatment of children with cerebral palsy can create new connections.  Norman Doidge has made this even more interesting by looking at how older brains can be changed through physical exercise. He cites the case of the 50-year old surgeon after a stroke left his arm ‘useless’. The surgeon regained excellent use after agreeing to master tasks using his affected hand. He recovered well enough to practice surgery again.

10 Responses to Plasticity of the Brain

  1. “Most of my interest has been in early years, looking at how conductive education can create new connections.”

    I would be interested to know just what you think conductive education actually is? It seems that you think it is a form of physical therapy. Is that so?

  2. Karen Johnson says:

    I believe that physical activity affects all aspects of our being, mental and physical. Finding, or being encouraged to find new ways to move the body stimulates new activity in the brain and allows new learning to happen. Physical and intellectual stimulus are both useful. They both contribute. I believe that physical games are a great motivator to encourage children to use the body in new ways and thereby reap the benefits that are both physical and mental.

  3. I have no doubt that you do. My question was whether you thought that conductive education was a form of therapy?

  4. Karen Johnson says:

    I don’t make a distinction between education and therapy I think they’re both the same thing. What do you think Conductive Education is?

  5. Ah! I asked you first! But putting that aside …..

    I have some difficulty sharing your notion that education and therapy are the same thing. At extremes, at the risk of seeming frivolous, one thinks, for instance of the teaching of mathematics, which it is difficult to see as a form of therapy.

    The questions that concern me are questions about the schooling and education of children, especially those with cerebral palsy. These are questions relating to professional training, to pedagogy and to curriculum. These do not appear to me in any sense to be questions of therapy. I do not know that these questions are actively addressed in the State’s educational mainstream in respect of children with cerebral palsy. Conductive education, on the other hand, does address these questions.

    Conductive education (“education”) to me therefore is a unified system and practice of education and “upbringing”.

  6. Karen Johnson says:

    Thank you for that. Not that many people do share my view of education. I’m not a great fan of education as prescribed by the state. SATs and targets and the reification it can involve sometimes seem to me to be anti-human.
    I think the best educators I’ve worked with are more generous and broad-minded than the national curriculum allows for. I think education needs to be more whole child-focused and personalised than the practice I see generally in schools. I see lots of good teachers but they’re not necessarily able to operate in any way that allows them to connect with the individual needs of children.

    I see your point about the mathematics question – generally it’s taught as a skills question. But I also believe the ability to acquire skills can be affected by how we feel about ourselves: our self-image, which can be closely tied up with our physical abilities; how we’ve been nurtured and taught previously, by parents and by teachers. To me, the ability to mend a car or rewire a plug can be affected by how you were taught to do that, by a concerned and supportive teacher or by a vicious, sniping teacher. You can be a passive-aggressive maths teacher or a joyful, inspiring maths teacher.

    The immediate end result may be the same – you can either do it or not, so maybe education is successful without considering the person. But what you say about conductive education ‘a unified system and practice of education and “upbringing”,’ to me is what genuine ‘education’ and parenting is. I feel a lot of what passes for education now is just factory stuff, designed to squeeze the joy out of individuals and make them ready to ‘accept’ their place, rather than an aspirational, inspiring or ambitious vision for the child. So to me conductive education is one of the things that is ambitious – it teaches children by allowing what they are capable of to be realised as fully as possible, like a good parent or therapist would want-in the Carl Rogers sense. Education and therapy to me are, at their best, about becoming a person – becoming the person you can be.

    I am also concerned about how the state educates children with cerebral palsy. It is ‘OK’ but not great. But your question makes me realise Ive given up on expecting the state to do any good, and got on with finding my own solutions. I don’t see how someone like Ed Balls can possibly know as much about it as I do and I don’t see any way of influencing the kind of people who think the national curriculum is a good thing.

  7. You might be interested to take a look at my blog posting at and especially (for the posting itself is little more than an alert to a website) to the very short exchange between myself and Andrew Sutton, which led to his Comment on 14th December.

    I will return to your last Comment here for which thanks.

  8. Karen Johnson says:

    Thanks very much for the link to Ken Robinson.

  9. Andrew Sutton says:

    I can go along happily with what you say above about education (and upbringinging) in general, and the UK’s education system.

    By the way do you realise that, in the history of ideas, C. Rogers and Conductive Education have a common ancester in Martin Buber. Not a lot of people know that.

    I do part company though with what I see as the biologism in your posting above. If you substituted ‘mind’ or ‘psyche’ for ‘brain’, and ‘activity’ for ‘movement’, we’d perhaps be back on track together.

    Of course, this leaves you with a problem over ‘physical activity’, a well established and respectible phrase in other contexts but an oxymoron in this one!

    We (and I mean hre not you and me but our whole society) is up a gumtree when it comes to discussing such matters, as we have no working technical vocabulary.

    This is not just a matter of words but of the substance that they represent, and of the practices that might stem from them.

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