Integrating Reflexes

I am a Manual Therapist on the roster of complimentary care providers for one of the largest private elementary and high schools in San Francisco.  The schools embody an academic tradition which de-emphasizes fact memorization before the permanent teeth emerge, and integrates movement as an essential quality of child development. Additionally, as expensive private schools in San Francisco, the average student has access to extraordinary resources and is of above average intelligence. The academic tradition of these schools recognizes that restrictions in movement or posture will resonate both emotionally and cognitively in a child, and therefore have established relationships with local therapists that can address these issues. In my practice I see children with structural, emotional or cognitive issues.


The structural issues I encounter relate to posture and balance, challenges with movements or actions such as catching a ball, car sickness, and visual issues with tracking and convergence. Common emotional issues are oppositional behavior,  shyness, phobias, low tolerance for stress and aggression. Cognitive issues often relate to attention and either over focusing or inability to focus, difficulty with math or language arts, speech issues, fidgeting and poor personal boundaries. As a MNRI trained therapist, I always look for an underlying theme that can tie the structural, emotional and cognitive symptoms together with the level of maturation of a developmental or lifelong reflex or automaticity. The beauty of MNRI lies in being able to test a hypothesis by checking the functional attributes of the automaticity, and then validate the hypothesis by working to develop function in the automaticity and checking for structural or behavioral changes. This process can be quickly adjusted to work with the context of what is presented in a session as a child develops.


My general sense of the children I work with, and the adults that they eventually become, it that they are essentially too smart for the good of the full maturation of the automatic sensory motor functions which underly all conscious awareness. A common example of this is an infant that figures out how to walk before the cross lateral motor dynamics which they cultivate by crawling have fully established and integrated with their vision and balance. They figure out how to walk, but do so in a more conscious, less automatic manner, that is inherently less robust and adaptable, and therefore more stressful. When this observation is viewed from the cultural norm of industrialized societies, which emphasizes that the more quickly one builds skills, the more successful (safer) one will be, it makes sense that the automaticities with which we interface with the physical world may be riddled with adaptations and compensations. The trillions of dollars spent on pharmaceutical and recreational drugs (including alcohol) to alter the regulation of our emotional and cognitive functions, suggests a widespread issue of incomplete maturation of our innate self regulatory mechanisms. MNRI views these self regulatory mechanisms as the functional expression of the link between structure and function which are reflexes.


Coaching the full maturation of children’s developmental and lifelong automaticities is inspiring, in that as these automaticities are strengthened, and their structural, emotional and cognitive capacities increase, a therapist can experience that he has contributed to the wellbeing of that individual over the course of their life, and to the lives of others in that individuals community.


For example, I have recently worked with a boy who has been struggling with math. Although he was still at the level of learning mathematical fundamentals, he had already reached a point where he had decided that he “hated math”, and additionally had established an oppositional relationship with his math teacher that reinforced his perception that math was “useless”. It has been established that incomplete maturation of the Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (ATNR) will challenge the type of associative cognition called upon to make sense of relationships between objects which we call mathematics. It was a simple matter to check how comfortable he was with homolateral movements with the head turned to the side, which employs ATNR. He disliked being tested in this way almost as much as he disliked math. However, he was simply disinterested, when other automaticities such as those related to cross lateral movement were checked. I worked with him in over several sessions to build capacity in sensory motor dynamics where stress had been identified. Additionally I gave him homework from MNRI Archetype movements, which his mother became very invested in doing with him, especially before sitting down to doing math homework.


Within a few weeks his mother came in beaming to say that he was knocking out his math homework without any struggle. This led to a rather amusing conversation with the boy as to why he would hate something that was easy for him. The current challenge is to rebuild his relationship with his math teacher, where the idea that he could suddenly become teachable, is possibly beyond the scope of her experience. Another challenge is to integrate the Archetype movements into the boy’s awareness as a resource he can call upon whenever he notices he is challenged in associative cognition.


This type of story is common both in my practice, and in MNRI in general, which has specialized in the needs of developmentally challenged children. My interest is in furthering the reach of these tools into the community of high functioning and gifted children and adults, to enhance their capacity for self regulation and access to their potential. It is interesting to me that a privileged lifestyle, high intelligence, and a sensitive caring academic and home environment will not on their own guarantee that a child will express their full potential. However, when fuller maturation of a child’s sensory motor automaticities is added to the mix, in my experience, the blossoming of that child’s potential appears more likely.

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