The Safe and Sound Protocol for neurodivergent families

Why parents NEED the Safe and Sound Protocol first

You have probably found this blog post because you’re researching the SSP (Safe and Sound Protocol) for your child.

The Safe and Sound Protocol (in its standard format) is a five-hour listening therapy, which works directly with the autonomic nervous system to make the a person feel safe in the world by tuning up their autonomic function, which in turn improves social engagement. It does this by passively stimulating the vagus nerve by means of specially filtered music. It is the only auditory programme to work directly with the autonomic nervous system, and is now used widely by all sorts of healthcare and mental health professionals with a variety of conditions caused by mis-firing autonomic nervous systems.

The Safe and Sound Protocol was first launched as a way to help autistic children improve social engagement. It has been acknowledged since that the reason this is so effective is because it’s working with the trauma inherent in autism – in other words, the stress caused by being forced to function in an environment that is not accepting of autism.

For context, I have been working with the SSP pretty much since it was first available in the UK, and have probably worked with more clients than anyone else here – with a myriad of presentations and a beautiful rainbow of different nervous systems.

The Safe and Sound Protocol

The Safe and Sound Protocol used to be provided by means of an MP3 player, which I would use in-clinic. I would also sometimes rent these MP3 players out to clients once they had been through a rigorous screening session in clinic. There were huge challenges in using physical equipment, in that either clients had to attend scheduled sessions, OR schedule a rental period. Most of the time, this worked well, but occasionally, more sensitive clients needed more time or needed to miss scheduled sessions. This made providing the SSP – and using the SSP as a client – costly and a logistical nightmare.

However, from March 2020, SSP providers had to adopt a different way of working due to lockdowns and our lack of understanding of COVID19 at the time.

The licensing organisation, Unyte, released a digital version of the SSP via an app. This enabled discussion on the safest way to work with clients remotely with the SSP.

It is important to recognise that the Safe and Sound Protocol in itself is not a therapy – it is a TOOL used by therapists, and we all do it slightly differently. Some hand-hold, some budget providers only give access to the tool and let their clients get on with it – not really advisable, but it happens – caveat emptor.

My opinion, having run a clinic for neurodivergent children and adults for the last 8 years, is that it is important to engage with the Safe and Sound Protocol (and my other work) in an environment that feels safe. For most people, home is a safe space – so this makes engaging with the SSP in the comfort of your own home appealing, convenient and most effective.

Even more effective is ensuring that a child’s needs during the SSP are fully met – and the best way to do this is for a parent to go through the process themselves first.

My approach is to train parents first. They then go through the Safe and Sound Protocol themselves, and learn to understand their bodies’ cues and their own nervous systems. After that, they take their own children through the SSP, as those who understand their children better than anyone else, as well as through the eyes of someone who has completed the Safe and Sound Protocol in their own way.

When I first started working with primitive reflexes with my own child, over a decade ago, I remember our therapist telling me that parents of children with retained reflexes always benefit from going through the process themselves too. At first, I thought this was a potential money-spinner and ignored the advice. However, the more I read about primitive reflexes and the more fascinated I became, the more I realised that it was something I needed to experience – if only to understand the changes we were seeing on a daily basis in my child. So I took that time out for myself – I went along, was fully assessed and did exercises daily in order to experience what my child experienced. And I changed – enormously – for the better. The experience dramatically improved my social anxiety, as well as my ability to connect so much better with my child, which is completely key to seeing positive results. A prescriptive “working on” approach when working with neuroplasticity therapies is not as effective as a “working with” approach.

The same happened when I trained in the SSP. Of course, I used it on myself before using with my children. And of course, I had the same excitement and impatience as my clients often have when they first approach me! At first, all I noticed was calm and spontaneous joy – and later came the realisation that my connection with my children, patience and ability to co-regulate effectively had all improved so dramatically that my children had CHANGED without even going through the SSP themselves. By the time it was their turn, the outcome was so noticeable that I remember being stopped at school pick-up time by the teacher, who wanted to know what we had done as there was such a marked change in my child’s focus and attention.

For example, if a parent’s motive for using the SSP is to “fix” their child, it’s unlikely they’ll notice as much of a benefit as if they work with themselves first and then with their child. When children have undesirable “reactions” to the Safe and Sound Protocol, it is because a child’s primitive brain is feeling under attack – the SSP can make this more sensitive.

Working with the Safe and Sound Protocol is like buying a beautiful piece of well-loved antique furniture – a table, for example, complete with blobs of paint and scratches, applying paint stripper and giving it a good rub down. If you then nurture and look after that piece of furniture, perhaps applying a coat of varnish or wax and protecting it with coasters when you put a mug of tea down on it, it will gleam in it’s new setting. If you, however, don’t look after it and stick hot mugs of tea down, or allow the children to draw on it with sharp, scratchy pencils, it’s going to return to the way it was before you did all that work fairly quickly.

I specialise in working with the Safe and Sound Protocol with neurodivergent families. For this reason, my pricing includes a parent and child and full coaching in polyvagal theory and how to use the Safe and Sound Protocol for YOUR FAMILY. This looks completely different for each family. For example, the SSP for PDA involves ensuring that a child understands that this is going to work for them on THEIR terms – not mine. Another good reason for parents to go first!

If you would like to understand how the SSP could work for your family, please book a FREE discovery call.

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