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What are retained reflexes?

I’m writing this blog as a result of some of the recent media reports I’ve seen, following Chris Evans’ enthusiasm about how reflex integration, “a miracle treatment”, has helped his son with his reading, writing, attention and anxiety.

The way these reports have been worded in the tabloid newspapers demonstrates a lack of understanding of the subject matter and may convey the wrong message to readers. For this reason, I wanted to dispel a few myths, explain what retained reflexes really mean and who reflex integration can help.

Since Chris mentioned “retained reflexes”, those of us working in this field have taken on dozens of new clients.

One of the things I keep hearing is “my child has been DIAGNOSED with retained reflexes”. Retained reflexes is NOT a condition, and it’s not a “diagnosis”: either you have active primitive reflexes/lack adult postural reflexes or you don’t!

Journalists for our tabloid press described Chris Evans’ son as “having a condition”, even a “syndrome” at one point – I was so incensed by this inaccurate description that I contacted a press agency that supplies to the tabloids myself to try to explain, but the journalist I spoke to didn’t really understand what I was explaining – probably due to her own retained reflexes, ironically!

The above is one of the better-written articles – still laden with inaccuracies. (Also, what the flamingo is “joint-up writing”?)

So what is a primitive reflex?

Primitive reflexes are the reflexive, uncontrolled movements that a foetus and newborn baby makes. The most well known of these is the moro reflex, which is what fills a baby’s lungs with air when they take their first breath.

If our primitive reflexes do not disappear at the appropriate time (within the first year, as our developmental milestones emerge and we learn to control our bodies consciously), we “retain” these primitive reflexes, which leads to poor postural control and emotional and learning challenges.

As for whether reflex integration is a “miracle treatment”, I would argue that it isn’t a “miracle”. It is indeed wonderful to see people transform before your eyes, especially when it’s your own family – or indeed to feel the change yourself as I have. However, when you begin to understand how the brain and central nervous system work, the fact that we can give the system a second chance to develop appropriately makes so much sense that it’s not a miracle – it’s just exciting to witness.

You might be reading this post because you are worried about your child… but what I want you to understand, as you are an avid researcher of these matters, is that pretty much ALL of us have a few retained primitive reflexes. Do you, for example, get seasick? fear heights? jump out of your skin at unexpected loud bangs, and then have an adrenaline rush? find social situations difficult? find that you can’t pay attention in a lecture without fiddling/doodling? find it hard to sit still for long periods of time, slouch or wrap your legs around your chair? Do you jerk yourself awake, thinking you’re falling off a cliff?

This is what the Moro reflex looks like in a newborn

ALL of the above are signs that you may have retained primitive reflexes. And yet, do you have a diagnosis? You may have, or perhaps not. Some people sail through life with the odd retained reflex – but have they REALLY sailed through life? Possibly not.

In fact, around a third of my clients are parents, who have started seeing me via their children.

Brief intro to retained reflexes

As someone who has been through the reflex integration thing myself, I have a strange story to tell:

I used to commute to Canary Wharf every day from Winchester. The commute involved enormous descents on escalators, and yet this didn’t ever bother me.

After my first child was born, I suddenly developed an irrational fear of escalators. I could not ever step on one. In fact, a couple of years ago, I was in tears watching my family head happily down an escalator at Waterloo station while I stood there, frozen to the spot. I had to walk miles to find stairs to take me to the same platform. Fortunately, I no longer commute into London, so it’s not a huge problem really, and actually, walking IS better really… but it can be inconvenient to be separated from the family because of an irrational phobia.

So, why did I suddenly fear escalators? Well, my firstborn had an extremely horrible birth: he was induced with a drip. My active labour was about half an hour before I needed to push, but the poor little guy got stuck and after two hours of pushing, he was delivered by ventouse in theatre, with me totally powerless due to a spinal block. While I was training in reflex integration, I processed this trauma by going into extreme fear paralysis for a while, which was extremely unpleasant. I have dealt with this extreme fear paralysis using the Safe and Sound Protocol, which has helped me to feel safe to the extent that I no longer feel like crying when I pass the Royal Surrey County Hospital.

Going back to my fear of escalators, the lasting effect of being pulled and manipulated and pushing as hard as I could in theatre under a spinal block (zero sensation) is that my Tonic Labyrinthine Reflex (TLR) appears to have re-emerged at that time, which gave me a fear that I might tumble forwards down a steep escalator.

Using my own programme every day, I’ve managed to help my TLR to integrate. I generally feel a lot more stable, have zero shoulder pain these days – and the best part is that I managed to descend on an escalator at Gatwick airport the other day – what a wonderful surprise!

Equally, if you or your child has a diagnosis, please understand that a diagnosis is a checklist of a set of symptoms/presentations/behaviours. If you work with reflex integration, you may get rid of those behaviours, but the diagnosis will still be in place unless you go back to a doctor and ask to be re-assessed. I know of people who have done this – it’s well worth having an accurate medical record… but just don’t expect a doctor to know what “retained reflexes” are, because you’ll just get a look – been there, done that, got the retained reflexes t-shirt.

Our reflexes make us who we are. If you have irrational fears or find it hard to stick to plans, that will be your reflexes telling your brain to give you irrational fears or change your plans – you don’t need a diagnosis to explain that behaviour away. However, to change habits of a lifetime that are causing you issues and stopping you from enjoying your time on this planet, you can remove these challenges completely through reflex integration.

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