Reflex Integration

Svetlana Masgutova PhD, renowned reflex integration specialist, describes a reflex as an “automatic response of the nervous system as a result of a trigger from a stimulus”, (i.e., touch, movement, etc.) Her life’s work is the Masgutova Method of Neuro-Sensory-Motor and Reflex Integration (MNRI).

In her research, Dr. Masgutova has seen over 3,000 children ranging from one month to 18 years of age and correlated the poor reflex integration patterns to the developmental delays she observed. Consequently, she developed her own sensorimotor and reflex integration program.

Primitive Reflexes

All babies have primitive reflexes which develop naturally as a means of protection and survival. The more commonly known primitive reflexes are:

  • Moro
  • Rooting
  • Palmer
  • Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (ATNR)
  • Spinal galant reflex
  • Tonic Labyrinthine Reflex (TLR)
  • Landau
  • Symmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (STNR)

Each primitive reflex has a specific and positive role in the first few years of life but should typically disappear or be “inhibited” as the child develops. They generally are replaced by postural reflexes which are more mature reflexes needed for balance, coordination and sensorimotor development.

Sometimes primitive reflexes are retained for a variety of reasons such as:

  • Trauma
  • Difficult pregnancy
  • Difficult birth
  • Illness
  • Injury
  • Emotional trauma
  • Chronic stress

All of these insults can lead to learning disabilities, vision problems and developmental delays in areas such as:

  • Coordination
  • Balance
  • Sensory perceptions
  • Fine motor skills
  • Sleep
  • Immunity
  • Energy levels
  • Impulse control
  • Concentration
  • Social learning
  • Emotional learning
  • Intellectual learning

These poorly integrated reflex patterns can be found in children with:

Dr. Masgutova views the integrated reflex system as a three-part circuit, and each reflex must integrate all three sensory- brain- motor responses. When reflexes don’t integrate well, there is a breakdown somewhere in this three part circuit:

  • Sensory organs fail to communicate with the brain
  • The brain fails to communicate with the muscles, tendons and ligaments
  • The brain-body system confuses the sensory information and the motor response

The Masgutova Method incorporates a variety of gentle body work techniques and simple easy movements to awaken these neuro-sensorimotor connections for proper primitive reflex integration. The Masgutova techniques emphasize stimulating neuro-motor and sensorimotor points on the body by:

  • Releasing congestion and muscular tension throughout the body
  • Stimulating the proprioceptive system
  • Opening up communication among the muscles, tendons and ligaments
  • Adjusting receptors of deep touch and pressure
  • Stretching the trunk and limbs
  • Rotating the joints

Other Methods of Reflex Integration

Besides the Masgutova Method, there are other methods of reflex integration such as:

Parents should know that most pediatric occupational therapists are not trained in reflex integration and do not use it in their practices. In our opinion, it is best to work on reflex integration before having more traditional sensory integration occupational therapy done for your child. However, it can be difficult to find a therapist who does reflex integration in your area, so you might need to attend a special clinic in another location for your child.

Sources & References

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Grigg, T.M., et al. Retained primitive reflexes: Perceptions of parents who have used Rhythmic Movement Training with their children. J Child Health Care. 2018 Sep;22(3):406-418.

Hardy, M.W., et al. Rhythm, movement, and autism: using rhythmic rehabilitation research as a model for autism. Front Integr Neurosci. 2013 Mar 28;7:19.

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