Dr. James Klausner: Conductive Education
James Klausner wasn’t looking for an additional career when he decided to start a rehabilitation program for kids with Cerebral Palsy. He already was quite busy with his day job as a lecturer at University of Florida and a physicist. It would be enough to nominate him for the Spirit of Gainesville award for his work as a professor. But he wanted to help kids in Gainesville, kids just like his son, who passed away at age six. He wanted to make them mobile, more independent, educated and accomplished. Hopefully, he would help them walk. In 2006 he started The Gainesville Conductive Education Academy. With a program modeled after the world famous Peto method, James Klausner took on a second day job without pay. He never turned a child away and as the head of The Jordan Klausner Foundation created in his son’s memory he tried with all his might to balance his need to help the local community with ever limiting funding to keep the facility running. Conductive Education is a method very little known in America, but quite popular worldwide, especially in the 1980′s. It doesn’t enjoy the financial support of insurance or the recognition of the US medical community. Conductive Education was developed in Hungary in the 1940′s. The theory behind was that people with neuromuscular disabilities can learn and improve through routines, movement and repetition. James wanted for the parents in Gainesville to have it as an option, to have the information and then make choices. He created an Academy that was free for most, affordable for the rest and he persuaded a Hungarian conductor, Kata to join his cause.
25 years ago I was just like the kids James Klausner has helped in Gainesville. I know what it did for me. I know what it’s like to fight with limitations of your own body only to raise above it and get better. Today I’m an attorney. Cerebral Palsy never goes away, of course I can see, but you can limit the way it affects you. That’s what James Klausner tried to do, against the odds, by bringing the approach that helped countless kids to Gainesville. To give them the gift of mobility. And also to start the discussion about the education and therapy choices in America and how we view Cerebral Palsy today. He didn’t make CE widespread, but he got his foot through the door.
This is our last chance to honor Dr Klausner’s efforts. After years of struggles the school has shut down this year. I know it was not an easy decision for him. It’s not that Cerebral Palsy is no longer a concern in Gainesville, but the logistics, the finances, the economic crisis we all live in, finally became too much for this one person, who tried to make a difference. He sacrificed a lot of personal time, energy and money. He thought of others first.
Last year I was nominated for the Spirit of Gainesville award, for my work with the school. But James is the true champion of Conductive Education. I’m just a success story. He has inspired me to help others like me. At the school little miracles happened daily. Yet, the media mostly ignored him. This is our chance to correct it. The school has closed but his efforts were not a failure. Not to his students, his other students, those who now walk, speak and move. Not to me, as I build by career around disability law issues and all the others he has touched. The school has closed, but the Foundation will continue, James assured me. For Jordan and for other kids in Gainesville.
By day, James Klausner plays the role of what many people would call a rocket scientist. A professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the University of Florida, his research in thermal fluid sciences has landed him positions on panels for NASA and the National Science Foundation, and resulted in numerous awards and recognitions for his theoretical and experimental work on heat flow transfer. But the rest of the time, Klausner is focused on improving the lives of children with neuromuscular disabilities in Gainesville and surrounding areas.
In 1999, he established the Jordan Klausner Foundation in memory of his son, Jordan, who was afflicted with cerebral palsy. The foundation is a 501c3 nonprofit run primarily by volunteers that offers a range of services to the disabled community in North Central Florida, including educational opportunities for children, advocacy and legal services. It is mainly supported by parents and relies on grants, donations and McKay scholarships for funding. In 2006, Klausner opened the Gainesville Conductive Education Academy, a Florida charter school that combines rehabilitation and education to help children become more functional and independent. The key to Conductive Education is having children follow carefully designed scripts of exercises to make them stand, move and walk with the use of specially designed furniture that also serve as rehabilitation tools. The facility applies the therapy method developed in Hungary in the 1940s by Andras Peto. Over the decades, Peto’s Institute in Budapest has become a popular destination for Cerebral Palsy parents from all around the world, with many witnessing great progress in their children’s walking, talking and other functionality skills. The Gainesville Conductive Education Academy’s instructor, Katalin Szcoboda, received training for this method in Hungary. The school’s goal – unlike the outcome of many public schools, which results in disabled children becoming dependent on wheelchairs and classroom aides – is for children to become as independent and as functional as they can be. The Jordan Klausner Foundation’s motto states: “Helping special children help themselves.” The school operates year-round, providing otherwise unavailable educational options for North Central Florida’s population of children with disabilities and their families, with the ultimate goal of incorporating students into the public school system. Students have commuted from Orlando and as far north as Georgia to participate in the academy’s summer camp, as there are no other Conductive Education facilities available in the area.
Cerebral Palsy is an umbrella term for a number of neuro-motor disorders involving brain injury at birth or during pregnancy. An estimated two-to-three live births per thousand are diagnosed with the condition, with some studies suggesting raised rates in recent years. It affects children in all countries and all social groups. The condition mostly affects walking, control over limbs, balance and speech and in most cases, renders the body spastic. James Klauser has devoted an immeasurable amount of time and personal sacrifice to get the foundation and school off the ground, organizing fundraising events, applying for Federal grants and ensuring the students have a safe, welcoming facility to attend. He is committed to helping kids in the community and building a sustainable organization that will be able to help generations of families. For more information, please visit www.jordanklausnerfoundation.org.