Neurodevelopmental Reflex Integration Therapy. You’ve probably never heard of it? Neither had I lol. We found out about it via a friend of a friend and long story short, Angel began a very gentle programme in September with remarkable results.
Before I tell our story I’d better explain, as best I can, what it is. In a nutshell, Neurodevelopmental Reflex Integration Therapy works to integrate primitive reflexes. These are the reflexes we are all born with which should have disappeared in the first two years of life as we progress through the ‘typical’ milestones like rolling, sitting, crawling, etc. If a foetus’ development is interrupted in utero or during childbirth by some kind of stress/trauma or a new-born’s development is interrupted by restricting movement or by some trauma, the next link in the chain cannot be completed, so neural connections are not as efficient as they would be without the interruption.
If we do not integrate these primitive reflexes, they remain retained in our systems, and cause emotional, behavioural and learning challenges, some noticeable and some that we can compensate for.
Integration therapy uses foetal and newborn movement patterns, which mimic primitive reflex patterns, giving a second chance to create the brain connections we should have created first time around.
I found this mind blowing as I had never heard of it and yet it felt so pertinent for adopted children.
Our therapist did an assessment which involved all sorts of strange activities like crawling on your stomach, rolling, walking on the inside and outside of your feet, balancing, timed writing (repeated very simple sentences) and a trust fall. Angel absolutely loved doing it as it was a bit like an usual game of ‘Simon Says’. They also ask parents to fill in a long assessment form about the child.
These are the reflexes which Angel had retained.
The Moro Reflex: The moro reflex is a retained primitive reflex that happens when a baby is startled by a sudden unexpected loud noise, unexpected touch, bright light, or a change in position (for example tilting of head backwards in relation to the body). When elicited, the reflex results in the baby thrusting their arms outward with their palms open accompanied by a sharp intake of breath followed by a freeze and holding of breath. This is followed by gradual flexing of the arms and fingers with release of breath (usually a cry). When elicited, this reflex results in activation of the “fight, flight, or fright response.” The purpose of this reflex in an infant is to alert/arouse the baby, summon assistance, and facilitate the first intake of breath at birth.
If the Moro reflex does not become fully integrated, a child will retain an exaggerated startle reaction with excessive release of the neurotransmitters, cortisol and adrenaline (the stress chemicals). This causes a child to experience a state of stress or “hyperarousal,” which contributes to decreased memory/ability to learn, excessive anxiety, and/or decreased immunity (with possible development of allergies, or asthma-like symptoms). It may also cause a child to become hypersensitive to different types of sensory input including: temperature, touch, movement, visual and/or sound.
A child with a retained Moro reflex demonstrates many of the following problems: difficulty focusing, distractibility, poor impulse control, emotional immaturity/sensitivity, mood swings, anxiety, easily triggered anger, difficulty performing different types of eye movements, decreased visual perception (including difficulty ignoring irrelevant visual material), tense muscle tone, difficulty reading black print on white paper, tiring under fluorescent lighting, difficulty ignoring background noise, poor auditory discrimination (understanding differences between sounds), aggressiveness or withdrawal, balance issues, dyscalculia (difficulty with math), decreased coordination (usually during ball-sports), dislike of tags in clothing/certain textures, difficulty accepting criticism, low stamina/endurance, dislike of change (poor adaptability), motion sickness, food sensitivities, different responses to drugs/medications, controlling or manipulative behaviours, low self-esteem, difficulty making decisions, and reactive hypoglycemia (hyperactivity followed by fatigue).
The Moro was 50% retained. The report stated ‘This will be contributing to Angel’s anxiety, tendency to overreact to things, difficulty with change/fear of the unknown, extreme mood swings and phobias’.
Palmar Reflex: The palmar reflex is the automatic flexing of fingers to grab an object and should integrate by six months. If the palmer reflex is retained, a child may have difficulty with fine motor skills, stick out tongue while writing and exhibit messy handwriting.
The report said the Palmar was 50% retained. ‘The retained palmar reflex will be contributing to Angel's slow writing speed as she is likely having to exert an excessive amount of cognitive effort to control the movement of her fingers in addition to focusing on the content of what she is writing.’
ATNR: Asymmetrical tonic neck reflex (ATNR) is initiated when laying babies on their back and turning their head to one side. The arm and leg of the side they are looking should extend, while the opposite side bends. This reflex serves as a precursor to hand-eye coordination and should stop by six months. This reflex is present in 90% of those diagnosed with dyslexia or dyslexic symptoms.
The ATNR was 25% retained. The report said: ‘This will be contributing (albeit marginally) to Angels's difficulty with reading and writing as the left and right sides of the brain and body are not completely integrated. This was mildly observed in Angel's writing assessment as her words started to slope down towards the right and move off the line indicating slight difficulties with spatial awareness (that can be a result of an underdeveloped vestibular system due to retained reflexes)’
STNR: Also known as the crawling reflex, symmetrical tonic neck reflex (STNR) is present briefly after birth and then reappears around six to nine months. This reflex helps the body divide in half at the midline to assist in crawling - as the head is brought towards the chest, the arms bend and legs extend. It should disappear by 11 months. Developmental delays related to poor muscle tone, tendency to slump while sitting, and inability to sit still and concentrate can result if the STNR is retained. This reflex is often found to be retained in individuals who are diagnosed with ADHD as the lack of integration between the upper and lower body can make it very difficult to sit still
The STNR was 25% retained. The report said: ‘This will be contributing to Angel's need to move a lot (albeit marginally).’
Angel met with the therapist every week and she would do the exercises with Angel and decide whether to continue with the same exercises or set new ones. We had to do them every day. It took about 15 minutes to do the exercises but with faffing around and persuasion more like 30, which was hard at times. However, for the most part we did them 4-5 times a week and over the course of three months the retained reflexes disappeared. This was most apparent to me with the moro as you can literally see that Angel doesn’t go into freeze mode anymore when feeling stressed. I’ve written about noticing this before when she froze when me and hubby both shouted when she banged on a window (we were worried it would shatter). I imagine that it was also the moro that would kick in at school when a teacher told a child off (not necessarily Angel) or basically at the slightest raising of stress levels.
I have to say, she is like a different child. It’s hard to know for certain if it was the reflex integration therapy or that Angel is back in the ‘good place’ after a very long time in ‘the cut’. However, I have witnessed the freeze frame in the past even when Angel has been in the good place and I haven’t witnessed it since the therapy. I guess the real test will be if we see it reappear if she drops back into ‘the cut’, so only time will tell.
We still do some simple rhythmic rocking exercises (see below), which are apparently like a balm for the nervous system and also help with focus and concentration. I actually really like doing them too!
For now, despite hormones kicking around and low self esteem which is still an issue whenever Angel hits something challenging (right now that is long division lol), she is in a really good place and thriving.
For more info read - The Well Balanced Child by Sally Goddard Blythe
Some rhythmic rocking exercises - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tBadglR4Miw
Link to some research - https://ir.canterbury.ac.nz/handle/10092/16565