SSP Safe and Sound Protocol

The Power of the Safe and Sound Protocol

Why does SSP sometimes cause such extreme “adverse reactions”? Why is it so transformational for other people?

Emma Ashfield of Move2Connect and Carol Ann Rowland of Halton Therapy & Neurofeedback in Georgetown, Ontario explains…

This post contains vital information for remote clients of the Safe and Sound Protocol as well as for those researching the programme.

If you are looking for information on what the SSP is, please refer to this post – https://move2connect.com/2020/05/01/introducing-the-safe-and-sound-protocol-digital/

As you probably already know, the Safe and Sound Protocol is a five-hour listening programme, based on Dr Stephen Porges’ Polyvagal Theory.

Brief overview of the polyvagal theory

When we work with the nervous system, less is always more. “More” is like stretching a perished rubber band to breaking point – you’re bound to see side effects as a person grows into their “more”, whereas with less, a person can still grow into a more settled system, but gradually.

The Safe and Sound Protocol is designed to help a person process trauma as well as improve social engagement, language and cognition. The protocol was originally intended for children with developmental trauma as well as to improve social communication for children with autism, but it is in widespread use by psychotherapists and other trauma therapists globally for complex trauma in adults, as a powerful non-talking intervention that helps people to process trauma effectively.

Your practitioner NEEDS to be trauma-informed and it is essential that they also that they understand how to work with the nervous system. This means they need to be trained in trauma and understand both trauma and the polyvagal theory in depth. This doesn’t mean simply banding the word “trauma” around or citing a couple of books they’ve read. A practitioner MUST have a thorough knowledge of how the SSP works and they must work with you to ensure that they understand exactly how much listening you need every day as well as the volume you should use, whether to complete in clinic or digitally and so-on.

Please watch before you start your SSP journey

A thorough administration of SSP involves a lot of preparation and support on the part of both you and your practitioner, and success is equally dependent on you fully engaging with what you are doing as it is on your practitioner working ethically and knowledgeably with you.

Carol Ann Rowland of Halton Therapy & Neurofeedback in Georgetown, Ontario is an esteemed colleague and valuable member of the SSP practitioner community. I asked her to encapsulate why it is so important to find the right practitioner with the right level of experience and sensitivity – rather than focussing on price:

People looking for an SSP practitioner are often tempted to go with whoever has the lowest rate. Unfortunately, practitioners who strive to offer the lowest price are often cutting corners in how much time they are investing in their clients’ processes. At best this may lead to the process being much more difficult than it needs to be.  At worst, there is the potential that, if dysregulation gets big enough, that improvements may either be reduced or sabotaged completely.  In some cases the process will end up costing even more when intially taking a budget approach as it may become necessary to then find another practitioner who is able to help repair where things went wrong.  Worst of all, someone who has a difficult experience with SSP may never be willing to repeat it again, which is heartbreaking given that SSP can be life changing for many. With SSP I often see shifts that usually would have taken decades of hard work before showing up.  It is well worth investing in a quality practitioner who will ensure that you have the best and gentlest possible experience, while maximizing the potential for signficant improvements.

Carol-Ann Rowland

Let me give you a couple of case studies – one positive, one negative, in order to illustrate my point further about the importance of being trauma-informed.

Adverse reaction to SSP in a 6 year old

William, aged 6 did SSP last year at home with his parents. He had a history of lengthy hospital stays and trauma. It is worth mentioning that our health and social care system in the UK had not identified the link between invasive early childhood hospital stays and behaviour, and hence William had been placed on a diagnostic pathway for autism and ADHD.

His practitioner advised starting with 15 minutes of listening, but unfortunately his mother decided that because he was looking relaxed and happy while listening, she would leave him to listen and play with Lego while she went to do the dinner. She forgot he was listening, and he did a full hour. She admitted this to the practitioner, who took a deep breath re ignoring instructions, and said it would be wise to give it a break the following day. Unfortunately, this advice was not heeded, and so William did a second hour-long session the following day… after which he threw a cat down the stairs, kicked a hole in a shed door and threw his mother’s mobile phone in a fish pond. When his mother asked the practitioner whether this was a normal reaction, the answer had to be very measured considering the fact that all instructions had been completely ignored.

It took William FOUR months for anyone to see any benefits. By this time, he was on a final warning at school for violent outbursts. However, once he had settled, his progress was fantastic: he was able to vocalise his anger so much better, and in the meantime, sleep settled right down too.

Since the initial round of SSP, William’s mother has also done SSP for herself and he has had a repeat of days 3-5.

In fact, the above is still a positive result, despite appearing to be an adverse reaction. In fact, William was merely responding to his environment after being overwhelmed by too much challenge to his nervous system in one hit. It is also worth mentioning that the reason why an experienced practitioner may suggest that a parent also completes SSP themselves is that it is essential for parents to connect deeply with their children during this process. Leaving them to play Lego while they listen is not going to provide the magic bullet they think they are paying for, and neither is completely disregarding carefully given instructions.

A client rescued from a bad experience with a cut-price SSP experience with a practitioner, who did not offer any support during the programme

A mum contacted Move2Connect, desperate for help with her teenage son, who had got to day 4 of a third round of SSP and was suffering from extreme sensory overwhelm.

When Move2Connect asked when the previous rounds had been, we were alarmed to find that this parent was sharing physical SSP equipment with another 5 families – and using SSP once every 6 weeks! Given that SSP continues to take effect for up to 8 weeks post SSP, repeating quite so often is ill-advised.

We decided to complete day 5 of SSP, but VERY slowly (5 minutes every day or two, depending on reactions), and incorporating external (bodywork) support for the vagus and facial nerves.

The mother then followed up with a course of cranial osteopathy.

The teen went from being totally shut down (eyes tightly closed, hands clasped over ears, non-verbal, distressed, sleeping all the time), to smiling, relaxed facial muscles, laughter and expressing desires in language. A fantastic transformation!

Please beware of cut-price SSP practitioners, lack of supervision and lack of titration knowledge.

A wonderful experience for an adult with PTSD

Annabelle, a 40 year-old with PTSD following survival of a terrorism incident, first did SSP in December in clinic, following many years of talking therapies, EMDR and somatic experencing.

She completed the SSP in half hour slots on a Monday and Friday over 5 weeks. Even after her first half hour, she noticed incredible gains in terms of ability to connect with strangers. After completion of day 3, she had a job interview and got the job, where she remains happy to date. She completed the five-day protocol and reported a fantastic shift in terms of anxiety. However, she decided to undertake a booster of days 3-5 remotely using the Digital SSP in April 2020 due to stress over the Covid-19 situation, which she reports to have made her feel noticeably calmer and better able to sleep through the night without 3am wake-up-and-worry sessions.

What has happened, and why was this so successful? Annabelle fully engaged in the process. She researched SSP and the Polyvagal theory thoroughly in advance and engaged with her practitioner every single day to give the required feedback so the programme could be tweaked if necessary.

So, how do we avoid having a William situation, and ensure a peaceful Annabelle situation?

  1. Research your provider.
  2. How long have they been qualified to deliver SSP?
  3. What is their background?
  4. Don’t be scared to ask how many clients they have worked with.
  5. What kind of client they specialise in?
  6. Do they specialise in SSP or are they a jack of all trades?
  7. Are they trauma-certified? Do they work with nervous systems as part of their discipline?
  8. Ask them to explain how SSP works – can they do this clearly?
  9. Ask what sort of side-effects they have seen and how they deal with them.
  10. Do they ever refuse clients? (you want them to say yes, and explain why – you would also want them to explain that they cannot deal with those stuck in a “freeze” state, and will ideally need to see them face-to-face in clinic).
  11. How do they work out how to work with clients?
  12. How will communication take place during the protocol? (you want them to say that they are on call for you all the time by email and/or telephone).
  13. What will happen post-SSP? What is their go-to follow up? Do they insist on you following their programme or do they have a network of other therapists they refer to?
  14. How will they prepare you for SSP? How do they use the SSP Connect Programme?
  15. In addition, are they strikingly cheap or strikingly expensive?
  16. Do they have a website? Have a really good look around it and research several providers.

I have been providing SSP for getting on for three years now, and have worked with over 200 clients to date, with a variety of presentations and different nervous systems.

I have a mentorship programme for anyone wishing to incorporate SSP into their practice, and regularly advise and collaborate with Unyte-iLs on training/clinical practice.

For any questions about the Safe and Sound Protocol, either as a client or a practitioner, please contact me.


How to integrate your own primitive reflexes

You have undoubtedly found this blog post because you have an interest in retained primitive reflexes.

Welcome!

Have you been thinking about doing it yourself? Either with YouTube videos, or even by purchasing an online course?

Or perhaps you have been trying a do-it-yourself approach, using books, videos and online off-the-shelf DIY training… In which case, have you seen the results you wanted over a period of time?

I remember when I first heard of primitive reflexes and how it was like bright lightbulb switching on. My son was always very slow to develop milestones, such as sitting and crawling, but once he had them, he’d do them beautifully. I always had a feeling that there MUST be a way of giving his development a little nudge and a confidence boost. The concept of retained reflexes made absolute sense.

So the first thing I did was to google. I googled like mad. I found YouTube videos and watched them avidly.

I didn’t do any of the movements/exercises that I found on youtube for myself, though – nor did I get my children to do them. I thought that if it’s that simple, why would people charging money to see people in person?

So we went to see a practitioner… and eventually, I started training myself, having seen miraculous change – you know my story already if you’ve been following my page for a while!

I have recently had a couple of prospective clients who have told me that they’ve been following YouTube videos to integrate reflexes, and I’ve been trying to find a polite way to explain why this isn’t a good idea. I’ve also seen people asking about this in various online support forums, and my response would always be to see a professional.

In once case, I noticed that someone had been doing this by themselves from books for the last three years. Apparently, things had moved very fast in the first couple of months, but thereafter, had plateaued.

It is also very important to know that if the very foundational reflexes have not been integrated, emotions and behaviour will be more than likely be negatively affected. That is why it is important to understand that when a professional assesses, we are looking at the earliest point at which development was disrupted – that is where we start.

The other thing I’ve heard people say is “oh yes, we did primitive reflexes, but he/she plateaued after a while so we didn’t think it was worth continuing”. Or people say it simply hasn’t made any difference, in which case, I would question whether they have been doing exactly as they’ve been told. And is there REALLY no change? Most of the time there is, but it can be very subtle – especially at the start. Additionally, if you are not consistent in doing the movements regularly – at least five times a week – you will not see such rapid or obvious change.

Gill Brooksmith, an educational kinesiologist, who has been working with reflex integration for twenty years or so has worked with a client who had trawled the internet and applied everything she had garnered day in and day out to her child.

The child was completely discombobulated and struggled with proprioception – he had absolutely no idea where he was in space. By working gently with the child, she was able to rebuild her foundations”.

It took quite a while to gently integrate. We have reflexes for a purpose and they need to seamlessly slide in and out, propping one moment, integrating the next. We are perfectly created, we only need gentle tweaking with love.

Gill Brooksmith – educational kinesiologist, RMTi, Touch for health and BrainGym trainer, and owner of developing the brain

Svetlana Robertson is a neuro-developmental therapist based in Bedfordshire. Like me, she has worked extensively with her own family before qualifying in reflex integration and the Safe and Sound Protocol herself. I asked Svetlana whether it would be possible a person who has just discovered the concept of retained reflexes to identify ALL the reflexes affecting themselves or their child, using YouTube and books. This is what she says:

If you have just discovered the concept – and this is one good feature of YouTube videos and online research overall – if that made you think about the concept and start looking into it in more detail – this is where the role of YouTube ends. It is useful to wonder, observe and research, and some parts of your observations may prove correct. However, there are so many nuances within each individual reflex pattern, and there are so many reflex patterns, interrelated intricately, that YouTube is powerless to fully address and explain.

I then asked what the dangers of parents (or even other professionals, for that matter) self training, using videos from YouTube or online reflex integration training courses. Svetlana says:

At best, a lot of time will be spent with not much progress. It is, however, possible to confuse the body even further which may mean worsening of the deficits we are trying to address and creating new difficulties, having to ‘undo’ even more counterproductive movement patterns with a qualified specialist. In both cases, one would end up going to a qualified specialist to address the problem. The assessment and recommended movements may look very easy and simple in the videos – it is deceptive however; many people who come to train in reflex integration admit that they only started understanding it when they practised the process over the course of many months, sometimes years. One has to work in person with a qualified specialist to ensure the correct process is being followed

Even when we work with clients and show them movements and explain signs of overwhelm, we tend to get people thinking that the more they do, the faster it will “work” – this is NOT the case at all – it’s always a case of less is more when working with a sensitive central nervous system. In particular with the Safe and Sound Protocol, I’ve had parents simply not able to take in what I tell them, who have then massively overstimulated their child, who, surprise suprise, then has a huge meltdown or dreadful sleep disturbances because they are in overwhelm. Proof of how important it is to work with someone who knows what they are doing – and LISTEN – and ask questions… because there are NEVER any silly questions, and you can never ask the same thing too many times.

The other option is to train yourself by going on courses with RMTi or MNRI, but the caveat here is that it will take several rounds of training sessions and several years of practice to fully understand how this works enough to unravel a child’s difficulties sufficiently to make consistent, visible progress.

Additionally, an experienced neuro-developmental therapist will know their limits and when to refer to a cranial osteopath, when to use the Safe and Sound Protocol or refer for a therapeutic listening programme, or when to give a person’s system a break to allow integration.

Please, folks, just don’t try this at home!


Specific Learning Difficulties and the Plastic Brain

I have been working with a child who has all the dys- specific learning difficulties: dyslexia, dyscalculia (the maths equivalent of dyslexia), dysgraphia (extreme handwriting challenges) and dyspraxia (a lack of spatial/temporal awareness/personal organisation), as well as ADHD, both with and without hyperactivity.

Through movement and work with his Fear Paralysis and Moro reflexes, I’ve seen him shift from having extreme sensory challenges and very poor social skills to being better connected with reduced sensory meltdowns – they are still there, but dramatically reduced. Through working with his Asymmetrical Tonic Neck reflexes, I saw him suddenly start to ride a bike by himself. However, although reading has become easier – and something he wants to do voluntarily now, his maths has been completely stuck – approximately two and a half years behind his year group.

Recently we decided to do the Safe and Sound Protocol – a five-hour listening programme, which reduces anxiety by bringing a person out of their fight/flight/freeze/fawn cycle and into their social engagement system by stimulating the cranial nerves.

It sounds like a very strange approach – after all, how can a listening programme help learning? Well, essentially, if we are living in survival mode, down in our brainstem, connections to our emotional and rational/thinking brain do not work as efficiently. This will affect learning before we even get into how strongly retained reflexes are.

So, we recently did SSP together. I facilitated a session together with the mother, in person. I then allowed them to do the protocol at home with daily calls from me.

In this child’s case, fortunately the only obvious side effect while on the protocol was extreme fatigue and a couple of sulks with friends, both easily resolved through early nights and lots of cuddles and understanding from mum.

However, a week later, I received a call to say that this little guy had suddenly been put up a reading level, his handwriting has improved, and he is now able to do the “floss” rapidly. She sent me a video of him saying “hey, look at me”, wiggling in a coordinated fashion at a rate of knots! This was a child who’d had NO rhythm at all when I started working with him.

The significance of being able to perform rhythmic movements AND being able to cross the “midline” (an imaginary line from your nose to your navel, which those with specific learning difficulties often have challenges crossing with their hands/arms/legs) is enormous – it is a sign that both sides of the brain are working in together.

Backpack Boy, inventor of the “Floss”

I’m writing this piece because I’m astounded at the shift – I was expecting a shift in anxiety and social awareness – but not in “dys”s. I’m waiting for further updates, but was so excited that I wanted to get this down in writing.


Handwriting, child development and neuroscience

The ultimate reason why I have ended up working to help struggling children (and adults) is because my own child was finding school such a challenge.

My youngest child doesn’t have quite the same challenges: he was teaching himself to read aged 2, could count into the thousands by the time he started pre-school and understood exactly what times tables are and how to apply them from before reception ages.

However, his handwriting…

Last year, before lockdown, at Parents’ Evening the teacher told me very subtly that he was almost, but not quite, cause for concern.

So when “lockdown” started, I decided that we should focus closely on handwriting – but from a developmental perspective rather than repetition.

Before you can expect a child to form letters correctly, they need to have solid neurodevelopmental foundations in place.

This was his starting point, back in April. I know, it’s not bad, but it isn’t automatic or effortless by any stretch of the imagination.

What did I do?

There was also a degree of reluctance to write: he’d seen the beautiful handwriting of the swotty girlies in his class, and had already started developing rather poor self esteem as a result. That is sadly a bit of an unavoidable by-product of being in a class of 30 and being a quiet child who just gets on with it rather than demanding attention.

The first thing we did, as soon as we had stopped going to school, was listen to the Safe and Sound Protocol. We played games and used clay to make little pots while listening. Because the situation was a little unusual, in terms of not being at school, we slowed down to half an hour per day, and just did days 3-5 as this was a repeat.

How does the Safe and Sound Protocol help handwriting? Well, in my child’s case, I know that he has quite deep-rooted anxiety and always benefits from an SSP booster. However, the incredible thing that I, and my osteopath colleagues, have noticed is how SSP can help strengthen the midline. We have noticed this on numerous occasions, so given that writing is so multidimensional and involves a lot of cross-hemisphere activity, it seemed like a good starting place.

The next thing I concentrated on was a few pivotal primitive reflexes that help develop a better relationship between intellect and body awareness. I say “pivotal” because these HAVE to be in place for a person to be able to master writing as an automatic skill, rather than something they have to labour over.

We concentrated on Babkin, TLR, STNR and ATNR. Yes, my child has all these. So many children and adults do.

Sometimes, people concentrate purely on hand reflexes for handwriting, but given that I know my child’s history intimately, I chose to start elsewhere. Handwriting is not ALWAYS about hand reflexes.

The next thing we did was some midline crossing movements, in time to music. He loves dancing, so it was pretty easy to build these movements into a dance. The dance moves became noticeably more precise and coordinated throughout the course of a few days.

Next, we progressed onto lazy 8s. This is a very important exercise for motor memory. We started lazy 8s on a large blackboard that we have nailed to the side of the playhouse, and progressed to a small old-school slate, before progressing to paper and pencil.

Here is a video showing the lazy 8 concept.

It was at this point that my child, six and a half, got his first ever wobbly tooth! I was probably more excited than he was.

Why am I mentioning wobbly teeth? If you look into Steiner education, which is 100% based on child development, children are not expected to start writing until they start to loose their teeth. This milestone is linked to brain development and myelination of the Corpus Callosum. If those connections between left and right hemisphere are not strong enough, it is pointless trying to get a child to sit and write letters because they are not developmentally ready to do so.

Next, we were ready to go onto lined paper. Lines are very important, because they show a child where the writing needs to go. This may seem obvious, but some schools hand out blank paper and expect 5 and 6 year-olds to figure this out for themselves.

The books have red guidelines to separate the very top and very bottom of letters. The next line up is for the body of the letters to go on, the next line is to set the size of the body of the letters and the top red line is to set the height of the tall letters. The bottom line is to set the length of the letters with “tails”.

A handwriting practice book

I bought these books from Amazon.

At this stage, we are finally ready to start looking at letter formation. As you have now seen, skipping the earlier steps only frustrates children and can cause low self esteem.

In the UK, the majority of schools seem to learn print first and then progress to cursive. However, if your child has dyspraxia or is likely to have dyslexia, this is a very short-sighted approach, as corroborated by my Level 5 BDA Dyslexia training. Learning cursive from the start is so much easier for children. This way, they can apply the motor memory formed using the lazy 8 letters and you will see letters consistently the right way around rather than muddled bs and ds.

I split the letters into similar motor pattern groups and learn those together, followed by how to join between letter groups.

And this was the result…

Handwriting sample taken on 15th May 2020

If you would like to help your child with their handwriting, please do contact me for further information.


Dyslexia, Dyscalculia, Dyspraxia, Dysgraphia and the Plastic Brain

I have been working with a child who has all the dys- specific learning difficulties: dyslexia, dyscalculia (the maths equivalent of dyslexia), dysgraphia (extreme handwriting challenges) and dyspraxia (a lack of spatial/temporal awareness/personal organisation).

Through movement and work with his Fear Paralysis and Moro reflexes, I’ve seen him shift from having extreme sensory challenges and very poor social skills to being better connected with reduced sensory meltdowns – they are still there, but dramatically reduced. Through working with his Asymmetrical Tonic Neck reflexes, I saw him suddenly start to ride a bike by himself. However, although reading has become easier – and something he wants to do voluntarily now, his maths has been completely stuck – approximately two and a half years behind his year group.

Recently we decided to do the Safe and Sound Protocol – a five-hour listening programme, which reduces anxiety by bringing a person out of their fight/flight/freeze/fawn cycle and into their social engagement system by stimulating the cranial nerves.

It sounds like a very strange approach – after all, how can a listening programme help learning? Well, essentially, if we are living in survival mode, down in our brainstem, connections to our emotional and rational/thinking brain do not work as efficiently. This will affect learning before we even get into how strongly retained reflexes are.

So, we recently did SSP together. I facilitated a session together with the mother, in person. I then allowed them to do the protocol at home with daily calls from me.

In this child’s case, fortunately the only obvious side effect while on the protocol was extreme fatigue and a couple of sulks with friends, both easily resolved through early nights and lots of cuddles and understanding from mum.

However, a week later, I received a call to say that this little guy had suddenly been put up a reading level, his handwriting has improved, and he is now able to do the “floss” rapidly. She sent me a video of him saying “hey, look at me”, wiggling in a coordinated fashion at a rate of knots! This was a child who’d had NO rhythm at all when I started working with him.

The significance of being able to perform rhythmic movements AND being able to cross the “midline” (an imaginary line from your nose to your navel, which those with specific learning difficulties often have challenges crossing with their hands/arms/legs) is enormous – it is a sign that both sides of the brain are working in together.

Backpack Boy, inventor of the “Floss”

I’m writing this piece because I’m astounded at the shift – I was expecting a shift in anxiety and social awareness – but not in “dys”s. I’m waiting for further updates, but was so excited that I wanted to get this down in writing.



Primitive reflexes: emotional and mental health and highly sensitive people

In this article, I’m going to look at the basics of some of the primitive reflexes that I test for. This post looks at the Fear Paralysis Reflex (FPR), Moro Reflex and Babkin reflex, and how these impact on our emotional and mental health.

Highly Sensitive People” tend to have ALL these reflexes active, as do those with autism spectrum conditions, ADHD/ADD, anxiety, depression and dyspraxia. It is important to mention at this point that I do not even look at a person’s medical diagnosis – I purely look at their combination of reflexes and how this affects behaviour and emotions.

These particular reflexes must be matured and integrated for a person to feel safe in the world. They are completely involuntary, governed by the brainstem. When babies are born, their little movements are not random… they are all reflexive, not voluntary, controlled movement.

In order for a baby to develop and move to the next little milestone, they involuntarily repeat these movement patterns over and over again until neural pathways are myelinated, at which point, the reflex matures and they move onto the next set of movement patterns.

Fear Paralysis Reflex (FPR)

As soon as we are conceived, dividing cells react to stress by shrinking and tensing. This cellular reaction goes on to become the fear paralysis reflex at around five weeks post conception. The fear paralysis reflex is at its peak at around nine weeks post conception and should merge with the emerging Moro reflex and integrate before thirty-two weeks.

If the fear paralysis reflex does not integrate fully, it will prevent other primitive and postural reflexes from emerging and integrating effectively.

Someone with an active FPR will not feel safe outside their close, familiar surroundings.

Characteristics of a retained FPR reflex are:

  • Finds it hard to express opinions
  • Does not like to draw attention to self
  • Issues with eye contact – either can’t make appropriate eye contact, or will stare inappropriately
  • Prefers to withdraw from social situations
  • Tactile defensiveness
  • Selective mutism
  • Panic attacks and anxiety
  • Phobias
  • Hypochondria
  • Inflexible outlook
  • Cannot take criticism
  • Has to always be right
  • Demand avoidance

If you think you or your child has an active FPR reflex, it is well worth seeking the help of a professional reflex integration therapist, as it may block later primitive and postural reflexes from emerging and integrating properly, so it is wise to have some help to unravel the puzzle,

It is worth mentioning that some people need to work with FPR, Babkin and Moro for many months or even years in order to integrate them.

Further reading on the FPR reflex

If you would like to read more about FPR and anxiety, I’ve written the blog post Why baby reflexes may be at the root of your anxiety. For how FPR affects sleep, you might find Sleep, anxiety, night terrors – and neuroscience useful. For opinion on social media and working in isolation, you might find Connection, isolation, social media, mental health and primitive reflexes useful.

Moro Reflex

At around nine weeks of age, the Moro reflex starts to emerge. It is responsible for filling a baby’s lungs with air when it is first born. It should mature and become the Strauss (startle) reflex at around 4-6 months post birth.

If a baby requires artificial resuscitation at birth, the Moro reflex will not have a chance to emerge properly.

If the Moro reflex remains in the system. a person will not have a well-modulated fight or flight response.

Characteristics of a retained Moro reflex are:

  • Sensory processing difficulties, shutting off sensory input that they cannot handle (overwhelm)
  • Problems socialising with peers
  • Over-reactions, anxiety and emotional outbursts
  • Easily tired
  • Finds it hard to switch off
  • Argumentative and has to have the last word

If you think you may have an active Moro and/or FPR reflex, it is well worth going for an assessment if you can, as a qualified therapist will be able to help you work through a programme and learn movements that will help you manage yourself for life.

It is also worth mentioning that in order to develop and mature postural reflexes effectively, you will need to work with FPR and Moro first if they are present. This is because a person needs well-functioning connections between the brainstem and higher brain levels in order to progress with the postural reflexes.

Things you can do for an active Moro reflex:

  • Snow angel movements
  • Balance on a Bosu ball/air cushion
  • Row, row, row your boat
  • Kneel on a skateboard and scoot around

Further reading on the Moro reflex

For an insight into the Moro reflex, you may enjoy reading my article Why are some people just so ANGRY? You may also find my blog post on Sensory Processing Disorder useful. Although it does not specifically mention Moro, as I have explained it is the Moro reflex that is at the root of sensory modulation.

Babkin Reflex

The Babkin reflex emerges at around 13 weeks in utero and should mature and integrate to become the Bonding reflex by around four months post birth. It plays a major role in bonding and attachment.

In order for the Babkin to integrate, the clinging part of the Moro reflex must integrate too. Skin contact and cuddles with the mother, eye contact, movement (being carried and rocked) and proper nourishment are all essential to help a Babkin reflex integrate in a timely manner in an infant.

Characteristics of a retained Babkin reflex are:

  • Speech difficulties (articulation)
  • Makes movements with mouth when concentrating or drawing
  • Prone to dribbling
  • Cannot read body language effectively
  • Problems with pencil grip (too firm/too slack)
  • May appear to be thick skinned when talking to others, but over-sensitive when people are talking about them
  • Does not like being cuddled/unaffectionate
  • Eye contact issues
  • Difficulty with peer relationships
  • Hoarders/compulsive collectors/kleptomaniacs
  • Lies about the obvious
  • Appears detached, cold and unfeeling
  • Trust issues with self and others

Things you can do for an active Babkin reflex:

  • Press-ups against a wall
  • Winding wool around fingers
  • Picking marbles out of Theraputty
  • Scrunching paper as fast as possible

Further reading on the Babkin reflex

My review of Rocketman entitled Rocketman: alcoholism, drug addiction and eating disorders is about the Babkin reflex.

Be patient when attempting to integrate these reflexes with a therapist.

Reflexes can take a while to integrate, and you may see “regressive” behaviours as this starts to happen. Or you may see nothing at all, and question whether your hard work is doing anything.

One problem that I see is that people with various combinations of these reflexes tend to think it’s not going to work, and therefore avoid doing the movements I give them, making every excuse under the sun. I’ve even known of people who see a neuro-developmental therapist, don’t do the movements consistently and then tell everyone it doesn’t work…

Typical Moro!

If you would like to book an appointment in Horsham, Cranleigh or Dorking, please send me an e-mail.


Safe remote trauma therapy: the Safe and Sound Protocol Digital

In response to desperate pleas by SSP providers around the globe, Unyte iLs pushed through a Beta release of the Safe and Sound Protocol in digital format somewhat earlier than planned back in May, in order to address concerns about providing the physical product due to social distancing and hygiene measures.

The full version of SSP Digital, available imminently, offers much better control, and will require greater training and controls for practitioners to access.

The Safe and Sound Protocol, in case you do not already know, is a revolutionary five-hour programme, based on Dr Stephen Porges’ Polyvagal Theory, which uses filtered music to train the stapaedius, while stimulating the facial and vagus nerves. The effect is softened facial muscles, a better “tuned” autonomic nervous system and a better ability to tune into the human voice and filter out irrelevant background noise.

The Safe and Sound Protocol is unlike any of the other longer-lasting auditory integration therapies on the market because it addresses the autonomic nervous system and “fear” at a cellular level, while the other well-known programmes tend to deal more with hemispheric integration.

How does the Safe and Sound Protocol work?

The Safe and Sound Protocol promotes vastly improved social engagement: As your facial muscles soften, you become more engaging as your face becomes more expressive. You are better able to focus on conversation, rather than feeling on alert from high and low frequency background noise, and your breathing, heart rate and digestion will head more towards a rest and digest state than fight/flight/freeze.

ils unyte app

The digital release of the Safe and Sound Protocol is better designed to be delivered remotely, especially during the COVID19 period.

This does not mean that EVERYONE should access SSP remotely: for adults with trauma, SSP is not always suitable for remote delivery.

From a practitioner point of view, the digital version is a huge blessing, for the following reasons:

  • we do not need to charge a deposit for physical equipment (but practitioners may charge a booking fee in order to organise their diaries).
  • we do not need to ship our expensive equipment or worry about loss or damage
  • we can track your progress from a console, so we can check that you have ONLY completed the listening that we have told you to do.
  • clients cannot exceed the prescribed listening programme
  • we do not need to worry about hygiene or sterilisation of the equipment, which may over time damage it, as you use YOUR equipment

I almost always recommend that a parent completes SSP first before completing with their child. This is because co-regulation is extremely important for the best possible results. If you would like to understand this concept from a polyvagal theory point of view, please read the book Grounded by Claire Wilson, or watch her TED talk about neuroception and co-regulation.

You will be required to return an agreement and consent form in advance, as well as screening questionnaires and full payment.

I have used the Safe and Sound Protocol with over 200 different clients over the last two years, almost all of whom have reported reduced anxiety, vastly improved social communication in children on the spectrum, better self-regulation, reductions in misophonia and tinnitus, better sleep, improvements in the digestive system and even a reduction in appetite.

Occasionally, someone reports back that they have seen little or no progress with SSP. This will be because they have not felt safe during the programme and have not co-regulated effectively. This is why it is important to ensure that we adapt the programme to suit the individual, which may mean we complete the protocol 100% via Zoom, or it may mean training you and your co-regulator up and ensuring regular check-ins. It may also mean that you or your child is not yet ready for the SSP, or that you would benefit from in-clinic supervision rather than remote.

My golden rule is that it is essential to get to know and understand each client individually: the SSP involves five hours of listening, but this five hours will look different for every single person, and it’s working out how to deliver it that makes the difference between success, almighty failure or the perception that nothing at all has changed.

Let me tell you know that it is IMPOSSIBLE that nothing at all has changed. This is a fast track to your autonomic nervous system, so the Safe and Sound Protocol will always make shifts, but it may be that a person is too stuck in a freeze state to notice change.

The greatest success with the Safe and Sound Protocol comes when a client fully understands the process and engages with it. The other success factor is the degree to which the programme is customised for you. Recently I came across a service that advertises the SSP as “thirty minute bursts” of music. Some people – children and adults alike – cannot cope with half an hour of SSP at a time. It is essential to keep in close contact with your practitioner, so that listening can be adjusted throughout the programme, depending on how the subject is feeling. Believe it or not, feeling anything can also be an indication of overwhelm for some people!

In order to fully understand SSP myself, I have completed multiple rounds of the programme. The first time around, completing the programme in five days, as was previously recommended, I did not notice a lot of change to be honest – but this was because five hours over five days is actually too fast for most people to be able to process traumas and microtraumas.

Last year, I conducted what I consider to have been an essential self experiment. This was due to witnessing extreme overwhelm in a child whose parents inadvertently overwhelmed him by listening to a full hour rather than the fifteen minutes I had recommended: the child became violent and nobody could work out why. I decided to do all five hours of listening over a weekend. The result was very disturbed sleep, Handmaid’s Tale type dreams, a feeling of the world rushing at me while I struggled with brainfog, and a horrible feeling of tumbling forward. The SSP had clearly brought up hidden traumas and affected my vestibular system. The most concerning thing to note was that I did not notice that I had over-listened at the time, hence my enormous degree of control and boundary setting when I go through the SSP process with my clients: many of my clients simply cannot recognise how their physiological state relates to the polyvagal ladder at first.

The result was very disturbed sleep, Handmaid’s Tale type dreams, a feeling of the world rushing at me while I struggled with brainfog, and a horrible feeling of tumbling forward. The SSP had clearly brought up hidden traumas and affected my vestibular system.

The Safe and Sound Protocol is available via my clinic, or from iLs accredited providers. Please always look for experienced, trauma-informed providers, and check that they understand the individual nature of the Safe and Sound Protocol before signing your life away! Expect to be screened for trauma history, developmental history and current autonomic state.

As I have been using the Safe and Sound Protocol for over two years now, I and a team of talented international, multi-disciplinary therapists have been feeding back experiences, best practice and training recommendations to Unyte-iLs. Because working with clients remotely requires far more skill and sensitivity than it would first appear is necessary, practitioners are now encouraged to complete Remote Facilitation Certification, which incorporates a polyvagal-informed approach to working with clients.

Move2Connect is passionate about ensuring best practice of SSP delivery in the United Kingdom. We have access to deliver a powerful intervention to our clients, and we do not want the Safe and Sound Protocol to gain a tarnished reputation because of a law suit with someone who has not taken due care with their clients.

We are also keen to work with adoptive parents, and can offer help with securing funding from your local authority for work with your adopted children.

We also offer mentoring for new SSP practitioners, as well as advice on how to incorporate into your practice.

Please contact me for further information.


The Safe and Sound Protocol for Parents

Here you are, walking your parenting tightrope.

You are considering therapy for your struggling child.

The Safe and Sound Protocol is still not so widely known about in the United Kingdom, so it may not be your first port of call.

The Safe and Sound Protocol (SSP) is a five-hour auditory therapy based on the Polyvagal Theory, which trains the middle ear to filter out low and high frequencies, to focus on the prosody of the human voice – mid-range frequencies.

It should, hopefully, one day be the go-to therapy for attachment disorders, anxiety and trauma. This is because, unlike most other auditory interventions, it is based on more than four decades of solid science.

The Safe and Sound Protocol was originally marketed to help those with ASD with auditory processing disorders and anxiety, but as the Polyvagal Theory grows in fame, and is introduced into Psychology degrees and trauma therapies, people are starting to talk.

However, it is not just a question of giving a practitioner a call, ordering the SSP and doing it by yourself. Any practitioner prepared to allow unsupervised, unmonitored listening should be avoided, as should anyone who tells you this is a five day intervention, that it’s non-invasive or that it is suitable for anyone.

A person who does not feel safe cannot access their emotions or executive functions. You might find this simplified explanation of the way the brain deals with threat by Dan Siegel useful:

In order for a child to use the Safe and Sound Protocol, practitioners should be assessing parents as much as the child they are working with.

Let me give you an example of what we’ve seen repeatedly:

Parents who want a quick fix their child.

It is natural. We all want to do the best for our children!

Guess what: the Safe and Sound Protocol *may* be able to help. However, the key to SSP is understanding the concept of Neuroception, and how a child’s environment needs to be SAFE and GROUNDED in order for them to benefit.

You see, children will pick up on their children’s anxieties and reflect them back, and then some. I fell into this trap too – we threw money at our child, but not at ourselves.

We also see parents who want to race their child through SSP in the week before school starts. They get annoyed when we say no, because why would we not want to help? We are saying no precisely because we DO want to help, and because we want your children to make progress with the SSP.

We sometimes have parents ask why they need supervision and monitoring through SSP, mistaking it for programmes such as Tomatis or Johansen, which do not need any supervision.

We see parents totally unprepared for their appointments with us – they haven’t even looked at my preparation page, for example, let alone signed their agreement. People who have not done any background reading or preparation will more than likely not benefit long term from SSP.

Additionally, we have enquiries from parents whose children are on programmes with other practitioners, who use other modalities. We tend to turn these people away too, because we respect our colleagues and do not want to interfere with their programmes. If you are on another programme, please clear it with your practitioner and get them to contact me to confirm BEFORE you request SSP with me.

On the other hand, we sometimes see parents who are desperate to go through the process themselves first! This really is music to our ears – literally. By first working with a parent, a child will have a supportive role model to work with. A parent who can engage with the process and recognise and regulate their own autonomic state is absolute gold, and a sign that SSP will bring positive change, removing those barriers to social engagement and learning.

If you would like to know more about why it is so important to be in tune with your own nervous system before you can work with your child, please watch the following TED talk by the author of Grounded, Claire Wilson:

For support with your neuroplasticity journey from other parents, moderated by professionals, please join this Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/739754809477939/

Our Facebook page for the Safe and Sound Protocol is at https://www.facebook.com/SafeandSoundProtocolSSPUK/ and website www.safeandsoundprotocol.co.uk


Back to school anxiety – a polyvagal approach for parents and children

School is back again any second after the longest break from routine that our children have ever had.

I don’t know about you, but I have mixed feelings about this: We have enjoyed home educating, and have had a lovely, unstructured summer holiday, full of play and camping trips. I’ve had a few days back in clinic, and, as I always do over summer holidays, I have noticed a huge change in some of my school-age clients as well as my own children. This time it’s even more apparent.

On the other hand, six months is a LONG time without school, and I’ve been with my children day in, day out, so I’d quite like to return to normality now, please.

In fact, the summer holidays are always the time of year when I see the most change in my own children. They seem to have a massive growth and development spurt. Last summer, for example, having made no effort to force my youngest to ride a pedal bike by himself, he rode off on it all by himself – we didn’t have to run along holding the bike or watch him fall off multiple times – he was just ready to do it by himself.

So suddenly, from six months of “feeling safe” and personal growth, children are forced back into an institutionalised atmosphere with a whole host of bizarre social distancing changes in place, in their rather pointless year-group bubbles. Pointless because each class of 30 has a few teachers, nurses, careworkers, ambulance staff, pilots, etc, as well as siblings in other yeargroups with similar dynamics. A bubble of 30 quickly becomes a bubble of several hundred – and a 200-strong yeargroup becomes a bubble of several thousand. Even the thought of going back to school normally is sometimes enough to cause sleep or digestive disturbances, low immunity, meltdowns or even aggressive behaviour. And that’s not just children!

In the case of my children, they’ve been asking when school starts ALL holiday – but I know that once they go back to their new teachers, new place to sit, new view, new environment, they will go through some of the above. Why? Because they don’t feel “safe” straight away – that takes a while, and in the meantime, it’s a great idea to have a few tricks up your sleeve to help a child feel safe in their VERY-different-from-last-term world.

Feeling “safe” is key to combating anxiety. That is why people with a severe case of anxiety sometimes do not want to leave the house, or why some people feel the need to stay in bed for hours to rest in the morning. It’s also why children – ALL children – thrive on routine of some kind. This concept needs to be better understood by some of those who work with children – including some teachers and paediatricians. Just because a child shuts down in unfamiliar circumstances, it doesn’t mean they are “autistic”, for example.

However, extreme anxiety LOOKS LIKE autism.

In fact, the excellent book Reframe your Thinking Around Autism explains that autism is anxiety that a person cannot regulate themselves, and is due to developmental trauma.

When someone doesn’t feel safe, their senses are bombarded and they get quickly overwhelmed. They may, for example, suddenly develop awkward eye contact and tunnel vision, and not be able to process sound as normal.

The Polyvagal Theory

Some practical ways to help a child to self regulate when suffering from short-term anxiety

During a short period of adjustment for a few days or a couple of weeks, there are few things you can do to help a child feel safe in the world by toning the vagus nerve.

  • Practice deep breathing: in to a slow count to four through the nose, out to a slow count to eight through the mouth
  • Encourage humming
  • Encourage singing
  • Baroque music – in particular a Vivaldi lute concerto and Mozart’s Sonata for Two Pianos K448
  • Brain Gym Hook-ups

Cat arches are a wonderful yoga movement for calming an anxious child (or adult!) and helping them focus, especially accompanied by some lovely breathing – not to be confused with RMTi cat arches, however!

Stanley Rosenberg’s Basic Exercise is also fantastic:

Additional activities you can try for dealing with meltdowns, sleep and digestive disturbances are:

  • snow angels
  • star jumps
  • get your child to lie like a star and slowly fold right up into a ball, like an anenome, then back to a star – repeat several times
  • roll a ball up and down a wall with the back
  • doing silly walks – have a competition
  • play row, row, row your boat with another child or you
  • do push ups against a wall

We’ll soon all be back into a term-time routine!