Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Right Brain, Left Brain...Part 2

Reflexes are very important!

Have you ever been drifting off to sleep, only to suddenly jerk awake, slightly flailing your arms out, having a sudden, though brief, sensation of falling? That was your Moro reflex at work. Your brain for whatever reason felt that you needed to use it, so even though it's sort of been "dormant" in your system for a long time, it's still available in an emergency.

We are all born with reflexes, and as we grow these reflexes become integrated into our nervous system. In a way, they lay dormant until our body has a need for them again. This is normal, and vital to growth and balance of our complex body systems.

In some individuals, and very prevalent in those on the Autism spectrum, these reflexes do not properly integrate. They may however change their appearance and how they manifest throughout the body. This leads to a whole host of body systems that are getting mixed and messed up messages. It's not unlike trying to climb a ladder with entire sections of rungs missing or weak or running sideways! Makes it very hard to accomplish even basic tasks.

These un-integrated reflexes can be relaxed, however, and the brain and body can be taught how to properly integrate them and respond accordingly. We manually manipulate Kit's hands, feet, spine, and joints in order to physically make the brain and body feel what the normal response is. Eventually the brain begins to register these movements as preferable and safe, and the muscle memory of her body starts to work in harmony with the new information.

The result is a relaxation and integration of these reflexes so that the body can now move forward into the next needed sequence of reflexes and growth. New reflexes cannot emerge properly until the preceding ones have integrated.

We are using the Masgutova Method primarily to address Kit's sensory and reflex issues. Kit has a lot of reflex issues and these directly contribute to problems with other sensory systems, problems with emotional regulation, difficulty complying and following directions, play skills, and speech. In short, they are related to basically everything.

I will give you an example of how essential integrating these reflexes can be.

I have written before about Kit's excessive need to chew and mouth things well beyond the teething stage.

Turns out this tendency occurs in relation to an improperly integrated Babkin reflex. When this reflex is properly integrated, it allows the hands to relax and spread wide instead of wrapping into a fist like a baby's hand does. But this reflex affects more than just the hand. When integrated it allows everything from the fingers and palm, up the wrist, through the elbow and shoulder, following the neck line directly to the jaw, to be fluid and relaxed and allows each individual part to perform optimally.

When this reflex is not properly integrated it results in the storing of tension in the hands (think tight, clenched fists), the wrist (contributing to poor handwriting), the elbow (resulting in more jerky, less coordinated movements), and can be especially interrupting to proper use of the jaw, specifically in the areas of chewing, and speech. Symptoms can include excessive mouthing and chewing of non food objects, clenched or tight jaw, teeth grinding, and speech difficulties, among others. These symptoms become more profound when one is under emotional distress.

The way we work to integrate this reflex in Kit is to put direct pressure with a thumb in the middle of her palm, firm, but not squeezing, for seven seconds. Then we manually stretch the muscles in her hands in five different directions, holding each stretch for seven seconds.

The earlier in the day that we do this, the more effective it is, and this is one that needs to be performed a minimum of three times a week, but she could really benefit from it daily.

For a while it was unclear to me if it was really helping her or not. The changes happened gradually so they weren't super noticeable. In fact, it wasn't until I stopped all her protocols, unintentionally, back in December that we started to see how much they really had been helping her. They didn't stop working right away either. It took about three weeks not doing them to start to see old behaviors and tendencies returning.

Then the storm hit. Over the course of the last three weeks, Kit has literally fallen apart. Even though I actively restarted our OT routine over a week ago, she continues to regress. She is doing things again we hadn't even realized she had stopped doing until it was smacking us in the face again. Quite literally some days. Her aggressive tendencies have returned, she's hitting, biting, pinching, kicking, and pulling hair again. Her seeking behaviors have intensified. Lots of jumping, spinning and running in circles again. She HATES to be touched more than ever before, especially on her head and legs. She is pushing on everything again, wants to nurse all the time again, has difficulty feeding herself, is back to chewing on her hand intensely, and will go through a pack of gum a day easily. And the worst parts of all, her sleep is a disaster, her eye contact is more fleeting than ever, and she is far less verbal than she was just a month ago.

Do I believe OT was working? I believed it did before. But I am now 1000% positive that it is essential to her being well regulated and able to stay our relatively calm, but very happy girl.

Why do I have difficulty performing these protocols with her everyday?

1.) Because four other people live here and need major portions of my attention and energies as well.

2.) Because she is not always a willing participant, and they won't work if she won't comply.

3.) To do just the daily essentials requires a minimum of 45-60 minutes daily ( 2-3 hours for all of them, not to mention all the other sensory diet activities we constantly work in all day!). That is a long time to keep Kit cooperative, and the only way to really do it is to buy her attention via electronics. I'm still really struggling to put together a daily routine, but this is on the top priority list of daily events. I am determined to make a routine that benefits us all, but is as smooth as possible!

4.) A good portion of it takes a physical toll on me. Many of the protocols require odd positioning for me, mainly because she is a toddler and cannot help me more by following more directions. It can be exhausting to administer these to her when she is cooperative, when she is not, it can be...much harder.

Nevertheless, we are getting back on track, and now I feel like I have seen the jewels that make all this worth it. Her smile, her songs, her glittering eyes, and her "I love you, Mommy", are worth every minute and drop of sweat I put in!

Stay tuned for Part 3...it gets even more brainy!

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