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New Zealand Shows Australia the Way

November 2 2006

New Zealand Shows Australia the Way

Mum watches on.jpg: Watchful eye: Michelle Moulton watches are her husband Scott and their son Jarryd enjoy their time in the water.


The trend of New Zealanders crossing the Tasman seeking better opportunities is being reversed by Australian parents of handicapped children who come to Auckland to find the care they need.

Australian families with children suffering from a variety of motor impairment problems are finding it cheaper and more effective to spend block courses at Focus Conductive Education in Auckland than in their home states.

Care in many parts of Australia costs about $50 per 90 minute sessions and places are usually hard to come by, while at Coyle Street, Sandringham it is $25 a day, says Marie Barker, the mother of four year old Shannon from West Australia.

Eleven Australian children have attended Conductive Education and in January and April two conductors from Auckland ran two-week summer school courses in Brisbane where 14 children attended both programmes.

Sydney based Michelle and Scott Moulton heard about the advances made in New Zealand by a friends' child with cerebral palsy and they decided to see for themselves if it could work for their son, Jarryd.

Anecdotal evidence from others who have been through the courses in Auckland tell of children who were unable to walk were taught to walk, those who were not toilet trained could use the toilet and this gave them hope.

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"We had nothing to lose and everything to gain," says Mr Moulton.

Jarryd was born 24 weeks premature, has chronic lung disease, cannot eat solid food, is developmentally delayed and cannot talk or walk.

Three weeks into the therapy Mr Moulton joined his family in Auckland and he is astounded at the changes in his son. "Seeing him again, after not seeing him for three weeks it's like wow he is a totally different little boy," he says. "In Australia, children with special needs are treated as if they need everything done for them which does not encourage them to be independent," he says.

At the end of the first six week block period, he is standing up for a few seconds on his own, can eat some lumpy food such as spaghetti and is growing stronger every day.

"In Australia they just put their kids in a wheel chair and they deal with it that way."

But the road is not easy for the Moultons and others from Australia who bring their children here.

"We would have redrawn off our mortgage if we had to, and work has been great and given me compassionate leave," says Mrs Moulton. "If we didn't do it, we would never have forgiven ourselves, as we would not have known what could have been."

Finding some form of rental accommodation, home stays, apartments, hire cars and the therapy add up about $10,000 for the six week, stay but the expense is worth it, says Mrs Moulton. One regret the family have is they had not heard of Focus Conductive Education earlier.

"He would have been further along than what he is now if we had started earlier," he says. "He has learned a few bad habits from the therapist at home so now we have to try and break those habits."

One of the biggest differences is the way they teach the children to balance themselves while learning the difficult process of walking.

"The Australian therapist asked the parents to hold their children by the shoulders which encourages them to lean backwards and then to catch them every time they fall."

"Here they teach leaning forward to balance as it makes more sense to do that and then teaching them ways to fall and how to get up again – teach them independence."

His mother says another difference is the way he enjoys going to the sessions.

In Australia he used to cry before going to school, now he cries when he has to leave," she says. "Here he is a reaching out to the children, if someone cries he goes over and hugs them and says goodbye by touching their hands."

A dream for both parents is to see their son walk and talk and due to the Focus Conductive Education programme this goal is getting closer.

Mrs Moulton and Jarryd are back in Auckland for another nine week block course finishing before Christmas but the hard work will be when they leave New Zealand for the last time.

"I am going to have to teach the teachers who to implement independence, because although they may go to a special needs school they don't know very much about conductive education."

Conductive Education is seen not as a miracle cure for motor disorders but as a process of learning where individuals can achieve greater independence.

Conductive Education is the brainchild of Hungarian born Professor Andras Peto.


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