Conducting their progress

Audrey Allen, 2, shares a light moment with her mom, Rebecca Harty-Allen, right, while working with a ladder-back chair at Gainesville Conductive Education Academy. Audrey, who has spina bifida, uses the ladder-back chair to assist her as she learns to walk. Gainesville Conductive Education Academy is a new school for children with neurological and motor disabilities.

TRACY WILCOX/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Sunday, January 14, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 14, 2007 at 1:06 a.m.
As 2-year-old Audrey Allen took each wobbly step forward with the support of a wooden beam, her mother couldn't help but smile.
For little Audrey, who suffers from spina bifida, those small steps are huge milestones, said Rebecca Harty-Allen, Audrey's mother.
And ever since Audrey was enrolled at the Gainesville Conductive Education Academy - a new school for children with neurological and motor disabilities - Audrey's milestones are growing by the day.
"Before she came here, she couldn't talk or walk," Allen said. "And, now, look at her. What a difference this has made."
The year-round academy on NW 6th Street grew out of a six-week-long summer camp. Now the academy, a private school not connected with the Alachua County public school system, has four students and a full-time teacher who is called a conductor, said James Klausner, the school's founder. Consistent volunteers are desperately needed for the students, Klausner added.
Klausner's son, Jordan, was part of the inspiration to open the school. The 5-year-old, who suffered from cerebral palsy, made dramatic improvements when he worked with a conductor, Klausner said. When his son died in an accident, Klausner started a foundation in his name that helped fund the summer camps.
A combination of charitable donations and money from state-funded scholarships pay for the students' tuition at the school, which opened in the fall, Klausner said. Some of the school's students have been able to transfer into regular schools after attending the academy.
"This method of education encourages the children to do things for themselves on their own," Klausner said. "The goal is to get them into the mainstream."
Conductive Education, which originated in Hungary 40 years ago, is a system of teaching and learning for children with motor disorders. It is designed to improve motor skills and increase independence with many aspects of common living.
It is not a cure, but rather a method of exercises and education that are broken down into basic functional movements.
The exercises are performed intensively (six hours per day, five days per week) in small groups, which promote an interactive and fun environment.
Tim Treadwell, whose 3-year-old son Forest has been attending the academy since the summer, said his son has been improving every day.
Forest, who is quadriplegic and has cerebral palsy, has better muscle control, Treadwell said.
If there's one thing Treadwell hopes to see, it's that the community and families with disabled children will support the school so that more children can benefit from Conductive Education.
Reeta and Loren Kendall, who moved with their 9-year-old adopted daughter Betsy to Gainesville from Asheville, N.C., say that before their daughter attended the academy, the outlook for her quality of life was grim.
"The doctors had given up on her," Loren Kendall said. "When we adopted her, we didn't expect her to see her first birthday. We were told she'd be a vegetable."
But Betsy, who is battling cerebral palsy and severe epilepsy, defied all odds and with the help of Conductive Education, is learning to eat on her own, sit up on her own and interact with other children, the Kendalls said.
"This school has given us hope that the doctors couldn't," Loren Kendall said. "We hope one day she'll be able to walk with a walker. She's a fighter."
Deborah Ball can be reached at (352) 338-3109 or

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