It appears as if you are doing the work “TO” the child. Is this the case?
Goddard Blythe’s and Masgutova’s protocols (and Moshe Feldenkrais’s work from what I can tell) rest on 140 years of clinical research into innate sensory-motor mechanisms. These protocols are best thought of as coaching for non-conscious cognition, using the bodies response to stimuli as a guide to a more efficient pattern. The golden rule is that “stress and learning are incompatible”, and if a child has a negative reaction to any protocol, it is being applied inappropriately, and may possibly even be traumatizing. This does not mean that the child shouldn’t process the emotional content linked to their compensatory and adaptive patterns, and is rather related to trust that what is occurring in the protocol is OK. Consequently with small children, I often offer more in the way of guidelines to parents for ways to more efficiently orient their child’s responses, than to train children in the foreign environment of a therapeutic setting. However, I am continually surprised by how quickly kids get that this work is beneficial, and just let me “do my thing”.
I have heard that primary reflexes integrate at specific developmental milestones. How can you integrate something that has already been integrated?
Primary reflexes are the building blocks of locomotion, stability and higher cognition. Obviously, they have function if you can stand, walk around and respond to stimuli. However it is common for these primary patterns to have not fully matured before they are called upon to perform in more complex movements. Once they are embedded into complex behaviors, they essentially freeze in their maturation, as the complex behavior would have to be relearned if the primary reflex changed. When we talk about adaptations and compensations, we are talking about this process of an enabled complex function such as walking, adapted to whatever the level of primary reflex development existed at the time when the complex behavior was adopted. As we develop, we continue to build ever more complex behaviors on top of what may be a somewhat unstable primary reflex foundation. This can lead to a host of emotional and cognitive issues ranging from a general feeling of uneasiness, to anxiety, phobias and the spectrum of learning challenges children encounter.
By working with the primary reflex elements disengaged from the circuits in which they normally function, we can continue their maturation. As these reflexes mature, our bodies having an uncanny ability to adopt the most efficient means of performing a task, we will naturally embody any new abilities. Usually this change happens naturally and without even being noticed.
Do Reflex Integration Exercises Work?
There is a lot of research correlating the relationship between reflex integration and behavior. Sally Goddard Blythe is widely known, and I have received most of my training in working with reflexes under the tutelage of Dr Svetlana Masgutova (www.masgutovamethod.com). She has worked personally with more than 28,000 children. If you add in the number of children therapists she has trained have worked with, it is likely double this number. My own experience is with less than 500 children, but I seem to be pretty efficient at identifying at least some salient points. Much of this work has been with children with developmental challenges. This cohort is especially helpful for identifying specific protocols for specific issues. I highly encourage you to give reflex integration exercises a try!