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Diane Sawyer’s “American Heart”: Cincinnati Grandmother Founds School for Children with Motor Difficulties

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“Impossible situations can become possible miracles.” - Robert H. Schuller

Donna Speigel is a young and attractive, 60-year-old grandmother, who owns a successful chain of consignment shops called The Snooty Fox in Cincinnati. She is raising her grandson, Dayton, and was told by doctors when he was less than two years old that he would never walk or talk because of a motor challenge syndrome that mimics cerebral palsy. Donna’s initial reaction was one of disbelief; however, her strong faith and invincible spirit kept her going. She has never been one to give up easily.

“You will find as you look back upon your life that the moments when you have truly lived are the moments when you have done things in the spirit of love.”

Henry Drummond

She began searching for a program that might make a difference in Dayton’s life. Her research soon led her to The Peto Institute in Budapest, Hungary. Their innovative method, Conductive Education, is based on the principle that the nervous system has the capacity to form new connections. By repeating basic motor skills, in some cases for four to eight hours a day, the brain manages to send new messages to the muscles to create a desired movement. Five days a week, the child works with “conductors,” or specially trained teachers. The program is used in a group setting because that way the child is motivated by his peers to complete certain assigned tasks. This environment also helps to promote the growth of positive self-esteem and confidence.

Donna Speigel believed Conductive Education could help Dayton, but no schools offered it in the Greater Cincinnati area. For 12 months, beginning when Dayton was only 22 months old, Donna would drive her grandson back and forth to a conductive learning center in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She saw a tremendous amount of progress. Dayton went from being unable to move, to rolling over and sitting up. Soon, she decided to open her own center in Cincinnati, to help Dayton and other children with motor-related challenges.

Donna contracted with the Conductive Learning Center in Grand Rapids to help with the start-up, and acknowledges that they were instrumental in helping her get things off the ground.

She also consulted with Patti Herbst, the Executive Director of the Center for Independence, a successful conductive learning center in Chicago. Herbst was instrumental during the undertaking and on a continuous basis, she provided Speigel with support, information, advice, and encouragement.

In 2006, The Conductive Learning Center of Greater Cincinnati opened. Today, the center has 10 students enrolled and one of them is Dayton, now age seven. Because of this program, Dayton is now walking and becoming increasingly vocal.

Donna Speigel’s new mission is to help educate parents, educators, and caregivers about Conductive Education. Presently, there are only 32 schools across the United States and just 22 in other countries.

The word is getting out in part because Diane Sawyer recently highlighted Speigel on an ABC World News report. Sawyer described Speigel’s journey as “the power of one grandmother and her love—giving children a new lease on life.”

Sawyer went on to say that because of this grandmother’s powerful love, Donna Speigel is “The American Heart.”

A very fitting description during the week of Valentine’s Day!

For more information on Conductive Education, please visit the Conductive Learning Center of Greater Cincinnati website.

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About Luanne Stevenson

Published Ghost Writer; Freelance Writer
  • http://thecoffeeklatch.com/ Marianne Russo

    Beautiful story by a beautiful writer.

  • Luanne Stevenson

    Thanks so much!