Our senses provide us information about ourselves and our environment. We learn about our surroundings through our senses. In school we learned about the 5 senses: taste, touch sight, smell and hearing. But did you know we actually have 10 senses. Yes, that's correct, we have 10. In addition to the aforementioned 5, we also have our vestibular sense. This is how we know where our bodies are in space without the use of our sight or touch. Think about how a gymnast knows exactly when to open up for a landing. Proprioception is the sense of how much pressure or force we need to employ to perform any desired task. This might be opening up a bag a chips or writing with the appropriate amount of pressure not to break the pencil tip. Number 8 is our sense of interoception. This is how we sense our internal bodies, like that we need to use the bathroom or that we are hungry. Next we have our interpersonal sense. This is a sense we get from other people, think of a first impression. Our last sense is our intuition. This is one of our senses that often gets overlooked in lieu of more rational thinking, but it is just as powerful as our sense of touch, sight or hearing. All of these senses help us learn how to safely negotiate our bodies within our environment.
Now there are two ways these senses can give us faulty infomation about our environment. One way is to have an actual problem in the way that our sense organ works; think about someone who is blind or deaf. The other way is for our brain to interpret the signals as something that is dangerous or harmful even when they aren't. When this type of glitch in the system happens, a non-noxious stimulus is interpreted as a danger. There can be issues with people not feeling the stimulus at all or unable to modulate the information well. All of this falls under the umbrella of sensory processing disorder. But have you ever thought about why this is happening or if there was actually an underlying cause for these sensory impairments?
Consider this. What if every morning you woke up and got out of bed, and tripped on the rug in front of your bed. You do this every single morning. Once you trip over the rug, you move on with your day, but tomorrow when you wake up, you do it all over again. How do you stop tripping over this rug? You need to move the rug! Children (and adults) with sensory processing issues will not just grow out of them until the root is identified. That root, I believe, is reflex integration. These infant reflexes (some of which develop at 14 weeks in utero) are meant to be protective for the newborn through the 2nd year of life, but after this, if the reflex is not well integrated into a mature motor, cognitive or emotional plan the child will continue to trip over the rug (perhaps litterally and figuratively). That's because the sensory infomation is getting stuck at the reflex level and the brain is not able to interpret the information appropriately. For some children, espcially those with genetic changes, these reflexes never existed. When a infant reflex never exists, there is nothing to integrate and again this impacts the overall sensory processing as well.
In your mind, imagine a clumsy child or imagine a picky eater. There is no actual reason in a cognitive sense why the child who is able to walk, run etc, but continues to trip and fall. It is not a matter of strength alone. It is not a matter of balance alone. (I know because these kids don't get better just by doing leg exercises or "core strengthening".) It is a matter of integrating an underlying reflex that is stopping the child from learning from his 10 senses. We may refer to the child as "quirky" or parents may question, "I wonder why my child does that?" Teachers may say, "She just can't seem to sit still no matter how many times I ask."
This is because whatever sensory stimulus is coming in, at least one of them is getting caught up in a relfex pattern for the child does not yet have control over. No amount of talking, convining or bribing is going to be able to override the reflex.
So what can help integrate primitive reflex(es)? Stimulating the reflex at an appropriate degree. This is something that I do with the children I work with everyday. With developmental delays (motor, emotional, language, play skills, learning), it is generally not about a lack of strength, but rather poorly integrated reflexes that inhibit the child from performing the skill as desired. And where do these are stem from? Well, that is a multi-facteted answer. Genetics, trauma, injury, stress, illness to name a few. And these reflexes, when poorly integrated alter the way our brains interpret the sensory input from within our own bodies and from the environment. I am just beginning to dive into the world of primitive reflex integration, but as the statistcs rise with children bearing labels of ASD, SPD, ADHD etc, I will not capitualte to the disgnoses and say that there is nothing that we can do. Or even worse yet, convince parents and families that the only way back to a "normal" child is through long-term use of medications. I will formally begin my PRI training here in Denver at the end of November and I can't wait to see how much more of an imapct I can have on my own three children and of course with all of the children I work with as a physical therapist.