Join me at the Educational Kinesiology Conference in Fort Collins, CO on Sunday, July 27 (or hang out with me for the whole conference!) I’ll be teaching a workshop on reflex integration: From Fight, Flight, Freeze! to Breathe, Smile, Move!
Watching some videos of the late Jon Bredal (see Movement Matters, 7/4/14 – Play it Forward: Remembering Jon Bredal, got me thinking about animal movements. Jon describes how allowing children to choose an animal to act out can be a powerful way to access the exact movements the child needs to fill in some important developmental gaps.
Jon describes an autistic boy who started out the session as a chipmunk – and then, at the end, decided to be a tiger! I guess he got in touch with his personal power. Another girl with speech difficulties tried to be a lizard, but couldn’t do the cross lateral belly crawl a lizard does. By the end of the session, she was lizard-crawling – and speaking clearly.
Like many animal movements, that lizard crawl is a universal, instinctual pattern that is an essential building block of human development. Like most infant reflexes, this one has a name: Bauer Crawling. Its benefits include toning core muscles for support and posture, and arm and leg muscles for carrying weight and locomotion. The cross-lateral pattern sends signals across both sides of the brain, strengthening neural the pathways across the corpus callosum that are necessary for cognitive development. In my book/CD set, Rappin’ on the Reflexes, there are pictures of this lizard crawl and a CD of a song to go with it.
When children act out animals, they are likely to feel the freedom to access their instinctual movement patterns – the reflexes. And these are exactly the movements they need to do to reinforce – or even insert- some wiring that got frayed or left out at the appropriate developmental time.
The big win of these movements is that our body/brain systems always find them useful. If they are not needed as remediation, they become enhancement – helping to myelinate (make automatic) positive patterns of thought, coordination, and behavior.
Children, left to their own devices, tend to repeat the same comfortable (or uncomfortable movements) over and over. They don’t always move into the new movement territory that will help them integrate the reflexes, and fill in developmental gaps. As adults, we can give prompts that inspire children to move in new directions – and often, once they’ve begun this process, the kids take it from there.
The easiest kind of prompt is a movement suggestion. Kids love to mimic, and if you do the movement you are looking for in the context of play, you’ll usually see that movement ripple through the classroom – or just across the air to the single child you are playing with. Stuffed animals are also helpful. Songs that include animal noises and movements are gold, and there are so many of them! Old MacDonald is a good start – just extend the time you spend with each animal, making sounds and doing the movements as well.
Once you know an infant reflex pattern, you can easily imagine animals that will naturally inspire it. Here is one suggestion.
The Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (ATNR) is stimulated by turning the head to one side. How about an owl? You can begin the reflex pattern by looking and turning the neck to one side, then the other. Make up a story – the owl is looking for? (you decide!)
The next stage of the ATNR is the shoulder and arm moving in the same direction as the arm. Once the owl looks to one side, it spreads out its wing – and then folds it back in. Now it looks to the other side, spreads out its wing – and folds it back in. You can do this a few times.
The next stage of the ATNR the leg on the same side stretching out. Now, the owl looks to one side, spreads out its wing, and stretches out its leg on that side, getting ready to jump off its perch. And then it looks to the other side, and does the same thing.
Now the system is warmed up for full body movement to integrate that ATNR. Jump off the perch and fly! At this point, you don’t worry about any specific movements you want the child to do. You just watch. You’ve primed the reflex pump; now the the body/mind system will continue with the personal repertoire of movements the child needs to grow.
What is the ATNR for? Lots of stuff. Hand-eye coordination. Auditory processing. Memory and cogntion. Reading comprehension. Gait. Falling asleep. There’s hardly anything we need to do that doesn’t involve the ATNR.
As you learn more about specific reflexes, you can find the animals to spark those necessary movements. But if you aren’t confident of your reflex recognition skills, don’t worry! Like the children, you instinctually possess those innate reflexive movement patterns, and as you start to play like the animals, you’ll naturally gravitate toward movements you – and the children – need to integrate. You can learn the reflexes from the inside-out!