A neurodevelopmental therapy program with a focus on reflex integration is an intervention that was developed by observing the role of infantile movements during various stages of development. It is a treatment style that uses the replication of movement patterns that infants innately use in the first year of life to grow their neurological connections and develop their central nervous systems. These movements are imperative for laying the foundation of the central nervous system and for the integration of primitive reflexes (SEE BELOW). As an infant uses these movement patterns during floor play and tummy time, they begin to integrate these reflexes, promoting the "linking up" of neurological nets, resulting in WHOLE BRAIN function. When whole brain function is present, you typically see children who have age appropriate fine and gross motor skills, articulate and well thought out speech, and the ability to learn and retain with novelty in activities. These children will also be emotionally stable, may demonstrate good awareness of their body in space and have good attention to preferred and non-preferred activities.
For many reasons a child may not integrate their primitive reflexes, which can lead to dysfunction throughout the central nervous system and how it responds to every day environmental stimuli. Reasons for this system immaturity can be from a lack of opportunity for a child to use these rhythmic movements as an infant (ex: Today's society uses more containment of children via car seats, swings, exersaucers, jumpers, and activity centers) or trauma that has been experienced neurologically.
Trauma, although a strong word, in this case, can be defined as "anything that the nervous system could not cope with," or considered to be too stressful for the maturity level of the system to process at the time of occurrence. The central nervous system's response to the immaturity of the child's neurological nets or to the "trauma" experienced creates the engagement of defensive muscle posturing, which in turn keeps the brain in a primitive state (SURVIVAL MODE). In the survival mode, the higher-level centers of the brain that allow for learning, emotional stability, force control, and good judgement, are not accessible. This inaccessibility to higher level brain function, produces hyper-vigilance and poor emotional control in children. The repetitive firing of these reflexes results in chronic tension patterns that affect a child's ability to move in the way they need to in order to learn and explore their environments confidently.
What Are Primitive Reflexes
Primitive reflexes are involuntary movement patterns that are used by infants in-utero, during the birth process, as well as, during their first year of life outside the womb. They are used to assist infants in the learning process of how to move their bodies and explore their environments. The use of them is initially important, as a child learns to breast/bottle feed, roll, establish head control, sit, crawl, cruise and walk. They set the framework for the development of balance, vision, hearing, speech, learning, and social skills etc. As a child begins to move in and out of different positions with these reflexes, the nervous system with whole-brain function will start to integrate and allow the child choice in how they move their body.
If these reflexes are not integrated, over time, they can contribute to anxiety, low self-esteem, behavioral challenges and excessive shyness. They may also contribute to ADHD, behaviors and delays associated with Autism, learning disorders, sensory integration disorders, clumsiness, vision and hearing difficulties, and poor academic success.
When a child is observed to have these patterns, therapy focused on movement and reflex integration can be used to treat and/or repair the central nervous system immaturity. Through the use of specific movements and exercises to integrate neural net systems, your child will be able to link up the integral pieces of the brain (brain stem, cerebellum, limbic system, and prefrontal cortex) to facilitate whole brain function. A child who has whole brain function can access learned material, store novel material, and problem solve how to generalize all the material to use across all contexts. Whole brain function is the key to academic success and confident learners.
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