Three Months of Brain Balance are now in the books, and Betty and I are very pleased with the progress the kids have made. It hasn’t been easy, but we have learned that our efforts make a difference in the lives of our children.
At Brain Balance they have taught us that people with conditions like autism tend to struggle in different areas because their brains have not taken control of their primitive reflexes. The first order of business if you want to help someone to behave better or perform better academically is to get them to let go of the primitive reflexes (the ones we have when we are babies) and let the mature brain take over those things. This is the first thing they measure in the kids, and many of the exercises we work on each day directly target the primitive reflexes.
This is what they are:
Wikipedia says this about the Rooting Reflex:
The rooting reflex is present at birth and disappears around four months of age, as it gradually comes under voluntary control. The rooting reflex assists in the act of breastfeeding. A newborn infant will turn his head toward anything that strokes his cheek or mouth, searching for the object by moving his head in steadily decreasing arcs until the object is found. After becoming used to responding in this way, (if breastfed, approximately three weeks after birth), the infant will move directly to the object without searching.
According to the Brain Balance people, if we can get the rooting reflex to disappear, we will see a decrease in obsessive sucking, licking, biting, etc. The exercise most closely associated with rooting reflex is fittingly called “Rooting Reflex,” in which we stroke from ear to lip along the kids cheeks.
In the three months that we have been in the program, Kimball has gone from level three to level one with rooting. He used to suck on his fingers all the time, but now I can’t remember the last time I had to ask him to stop doing that. The behavior simply disappeared. Anahí hasn’t fully dropped a level, she is still at level three, but she is making good progress, and the behavior (which in her was far worse) is also much better. She is just not sucking on things (her hair and her shirt were the most common victims) anymore. Before Brain Balance, the best we could do was to give her “chewelry”. It was an OK solution, but now she has actually outgrown the need for it.
Again, from Wikipedia:
This is sometimes referred to as the startle reaction, startle response, startle reflex or embrace reflex. It is more commonly known as the Moro response or Moro reflex after its discoverer, pediatrician Ernst Moro. The Moro reflex is present at birth, peaks in the first month of life, and begins to disappear around 2 months of age. It is likely to occur if the infant's head suddenly shifts position, the temperature changes abruptly, or they are startled by a sudden noise. The legs and head extend while the arms jerk up and out with the palms up and thumbs flexed. Shortly afterward the arms are brought together and the hands clench into fists, and the infant cries loudly. The reflex normally disappears by three to four months of age, though it may last up to six months. […] In human evolutionary history, the Moro reflex may have helped the infant cling to the mother while she carried them around all day. If the infant lost its balance, the reflex caused the infant to embrace its mother and regain its hold on the mother's body.
When people hold onto the Moro Reflex, they are easily startled, anxious, distracted, etc. This describes my kids pretty well. When it comes to anything they are not currently obsessed with, it has been difficult for them to stay focused on anything. But things are getting better. Kimball and Anahí have both improved from a level 4 to a level 3 on their Moro Reflexes. Their general level of anxiety has decreased significantly. They are able to go to the park and not worry about the birds and the dogs. They went to a play a didn’t have to worry about the loud clapping. Kimball went to a parade and didn’t freak out at the people in costume or the loud noises. This makes life much more enjoyable.
The exercise associated with the Moro Reflex is called “Starfish.” For this exercise the kids sit in a chair with legs and arms crossed and head down. On command they spread wide arms and legs and lift their head high for five seconds, then they close down and cross arms and legs again for five seconds, then open up again.
Palmar Grasp Reflex
The palmar grasp reflex appears at birth and persists until five or six months of age. When an object is placed in the infant's hand and strokes their palm, the fingers will close and they will grasp it with a palmar grasp. The grip is strong but unpredictable; though it may be able to support the child's weight, they may also release their grip suddenly and without warning. The reverse motion can be induced by stroking the back or side of the hand.
I believe that this has to do with fine motor skills, and the exercises are Grasp (alternately clenching and opening the hands) and Finger Game (sequentially touching pointer, middle, ring, and pinkie fingers to thumb). Kimball and Anahí both have improved from a level two to a level one on their Grasp Reflex. We can see the improvement in their fine motor skills especially in their handwriting (Kimball) and coloring (Anahí). Kimball’s handwriting used to be nearly illegible. He still has a hard time spacing his words appropriately on the page, but he can write clearly in quite a lot of volume. Writing anything used to be a real struggle. Anahí is coloring much better, staying close to the lines and putting thought into what she is doing. I am excited to see how she does with handwriting when we start academic work again in the fall.
Asymmetric Tonic Neck Reflex (ATNR)
The tonic neck reflex, also known as asymmetric tonic neck reflex or 'fencing posture' is present at one month of age and disappears at around four months. When the child's head is turned to the side, the arm on that side will straighten and the opposite arm will bend (sometimes the motion will be very subtle or slight). If the infant is unable to move out of this position or the reflex continues to be triggered past six months of age, the child may have a disorder of the upper motor neurons. According to researchers, the tonic neck reflex is a precursor to the hand/eye coordination of the infant. It also prepares the infant for voluntary reaching.
So kids who hold onto the ATNR have poor hand-eye coordination (obvious in our kids). Kimball began at a level two and Anahí at level four, and they are still both on the same level they started on, but their hand-eye coordination has improved greatly. They are both much more aware of their bodies and able to make them do what they want. Anahí has gotten really good on her balance bike and hopefully within the next couple of months we’ll get the pedals back on it. Kimball has started to jump rope and he is actually a pretty good little athlete now.
The exercises associated with ATNR are Lizard and Reverse Lizard. They are a bit tricky to explain, but you can see them here in these videos.
Tonic Labyrinthine Reflex (TLR)
The tonic labyrinthine reflex (TLR) is a primitive reflex found in newborn humans. With this reflex, tilting the head back while lying on the back causes the back to stiffen and even arch backwards, the legs to straighten, stiffen, and push together, the toes to point, the arms to bend at the elbows and wrists, and the hands to become fisted or the fingers to curl. The presence of this reflex beyond the newborn stage is also referred to as abnormal extension pattern or extensor tone. The presence of the TLR as well as other primitive reflexes such as the asymmetrical tonic neck reflex (ATNR) beyond the first six months of life may indicate that the child has developmental delays and/or neurological abnormalities. For example, in people with cerebral palsy, the reflexes may persist and even be more pronounced. As abnormal reflexes, both the tonic labyrinthine reflex and the asymmetrical tonic neck reflex can cause problems for the growing child. The TLR and ATNR both hinder functional activities such as rolling, bringing the hands together, or even bringing the hands to the mouth. Over time, both the TLR and ATNR can cause serious damage to the growing child's joints and bones, causing the head of the thighbone to partially slip out of the hip socket (subluxation) or completely move out of the hip socket (dislocation).
Basically, TLR is the reflex that makes babies with underdeveloped muscles able to hold their head up and do “Superman” when you hold them over your head, and
TLR is one of the most critical primitive reflexes associated with autism. According to this expert, people who hold onto TLR have poor muscle tone and poor posture (check both for our kids). They can have poor balance (Anahí used to trip and fall all the time, sometimes down the stairs). They can also have a hard time alternating their visual focus between things that are close and things that are far away which makes taking notes in class very difficult. They have poor spatial awareness, so they bump into people, they don’t understand personal space, they have a hard time spacing the words on a page or poster. They can also struggle with sequencing (putting things in order) so they often struggle with reading and math. Some people who retain the TLR struggle with concepts of time, so they will have a hard time planning or with the days of the week.
As children let go of the TLR, they are more aware of themselves and more coordinated because they have a better idea of where they are in space. This also has huge social implications because when children are more aware of themselves, they can better understand other people. They can improve in their academics (especially reading and writing). They will have a better concept of time.
The exercise associated with TLR is called Cannonball. To do Cannonball, the child lies on their back while hugging the knees close to the chest. Then they lift their head to the knees (like kissing or licking chocolate off of them) for fifteen seconds and then relaxing. This is repeated several times.
Kimball has improved from a level two to a level four on his TLR. This is clearly demonstrated in his improved spacial awareness and coordination. His writing has improved a lot, and his social interactions are more appropriate. Anahí is still on level four, but she has also improved tremendously in the areas associated with TLR. She used to have no understanding of time or the days of the week. Now she knows what day it is, and what things happen on what day. Her spatial awareness has allowed her to start dressing herself. It is pretty awesome.
Symmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (STNR)
Here is a great description of this reflex, which isn't exactly primitive (the reflex, not the video), since it shows up at about six months and disappears after about 18 months. When you put a baby on his knees, his bum goes down and his head goes up, like a crawling position. But if the head goes down, the bum goes up in the air. If it isn't integrated, you will see poor posture, or an odd "ape-like" walk. You will also see kids sit in a "W" position (on their knees with their bum on the floor). Again we have poor hand-eye coordination and the messy eating that goes along with it (check all of these with my kids). Big vision problems with things like tracking (moving your eyes but not your head to follow an object), converging (going cross-eyed and back out). Also problems with attention.
The exercise associated with this is called Cat. The kids start on their hands and knees with a flat back. Keeping the back straight they alternate between looking down between their knees and straight ahead of them -- repeating several times up, down, up, down.
Kimball began Brain Balance at a level two on STNR, and he is still there, but improving. Anahí began at level four and has dropped to level three. They both still struggle with the "W" sitting, but their gate and hand-eye coordination have really improved. I hadn't thought about it until now, but I think they are both eating with better manners. Anahí used to have a really distinctive and odd walk, but she swings her arms more naturally now.
The best description of the Landau Reflex is here. Basically, if you hold an infant in the palm of your hand on its tummy, the baby will lift both head and feet out straight. If you push the head down, the feet will follow. As far as I can tell, this reflex is associated with general motor functionality, and the exercise associated with its integration is called Superman. The kids start lying flat on their tummy, then they lift their arms and trunk off the ground, arms straight out in front of them like Superman flying. The feet stay on the ground. Kimball began at a level four and has progressed to level one. Anahí started at level three and is at level one. I've already outlined their motor skills improvement.
This reflex is where kids are very ticklish on their backs and sides. It is associated with fidgeting, bedwetting, poor concentration, and poor short-term memory. Another key one for our kids associated with this are the sensory integration problems like aversion to certain sounds, smells, textures, etc. The exercise associated with this reflex is Snow Angels, which is exactly what it sounds like. The kids lie on the ground and do snow angels in the carpet.
When we started, Kimball was at a level three and has improved to level one. Anahí started at level four and has improved to level three. They are both generally calmer. Kimball, who struggled with sensory processing, has really come a long way. I used to not be able to take him to games, concerts, parades, or around animals or in the water because of his struggles processing loud noises or water on his face. Now he does much better.
To be continued …
This thing is now over 2,000 words, so I'm going to take a break (and give you all one) and finish talking about this later.
As always, if you like this post, please comment on and share it with your friends and family. We hope our story helps other people working with children and adults with autism. Feel free, as well, to click on the thermometer and donate to help us pay for the Brain Balance program that has done so much for us. Every little bit helps!