Rhythmic Movement Therapy (RMTi)
Movements working with the primitive reflexes to support delayed and missed developmental processes
What is Rhythmic Movement Therapy (RMT)?
RMT is a reflex integration programme based on movements and other activities that replicate our earliest movement patterns that establish, strengthen or retain the foundations of our posture, central nervous system (CNS) maturity, vestibular function, sensory processing, memory, learning, emotions and behaviour.
The movements used by trained and accredited Rhythmic Movement Therapy International (RMTi) Consultants are based on those first devised by Kerstin Linde, a Swedish self-taught Therapist who used her observation skills she had developed as a photographer to devise a series of movements based on what infants naturally do in the first months after birth. Kirsten Linde's method was originally called 'Rhythmic Movement Pedogogy' and later became "Harmony Doctrine.'
These movements start as unco-ordinated activities and transition to co-ordinated smooth movements that are rhythmic in nature and are believed to support the development of our neurology, posture and movements from head to toe.
During the mid-1980s, a Swedish Psychiatrist, Dr Harald Blomberg, who had contracted Polio as a child, visited Kerstin Linde to get assistance in overcoming the long term effects of this in his coordination and stability. Dr Blomberg experienced profound benefits from using the movements for himself. He studied the role of infant reflexes and movement play in neurological and behaviour development and used them with his psychiatric patients with good results.
In 2003, a teacher and kinesiologist, Moira Dempsey, met Dr Blomberg at a camp for children with special needs conducted by Svetlana Masgutova PhD. Moira had noticed how movements could be integrated into the work she was doing and had been studying movements and reflexes since the early 1990s.
Moira's belief (and mine, as you will know if you've already read other pages of my website) is that we all have challenges and that these do not have to define us or remain as challenges. We all have the potential to change how we do things and how our body responds when we are given the opportunity to learn how. She believes that the core of change has to include the physical because this is the first learning of the infant, and lays the resources we have throughout life to learn.
Autism and learning difficulties are not illnesses, they are labels and we need to go beyond the labels and investigate the neurological maturity and the degree a person feels safe in the world and create the opportunities to strengthen these foundations, support further development and change a person's learning trajectory and life outcome.
Moira Dempsey established a framework to continue this powerful work by founding Rhythmic Movement Training International.
What are Primitive Reflexes?
Movement and rhythm is life. Without movement, life cannot exist. From the sperm swimming to the egg quickening and the foetus developing in the womb.
Responses to the environment occur at a cellular level, in the womb from the moment of conception onwards. These cellular responses can have life-long effects on the emergence and development of the primitive reflexes which are needed to develop our nervous system, focus, organisation, comprehension, emotions, memory, behaviour, posture, movement and learning. Stress causes the cell to retract or 'freeze'. This response is understood as the start of the development of the fight, flight freeze response that keeps us safe and protects life until we sense safety again.
As we develop, the reflexes should integrate into the brain stem where they only become active and respond when we need them. However, if this integration doesn't happen for a majority of reasons including a disruption in the typical development process or they integrate and then stressful experiences or trauma and become active and stay active (which can happen when a person experiences PTSD), this causes many physical, mental and emotional problems for the person.
Different primitive reflexes support different stages of our development and when their emergence, or development are interrupted, those particular stages of development are also interrupted causing developmental challenges for the child in those areas. Often children may then go on to develop coping strategies to overcome these challenges and manage to compensate for these interruptions. However, theses compensations are what can cause stress on the body in other areas, learning difficulties and sometimes when severe enough, may result in diagnoses such as autism, ADHD, dyspraxia, dyslexia and others.
By using the rhythmic movements that originally create the emergence and development of the specific primitive reflexes, we can re-integrate those that are active (or retained) and often re-establish the developmental area that was affected and the challenges that were once presenting.
The movements are simple and often described as calming, are only needed to be done for a few a minute or so a day on a less is more basis, meaning they are not to be forced upon the child or person as this only causes stress and defeats the whole object of even attempting doing them. There are movements that are passive (the parent or care giver facilitates them with their child) and active the person learns them and does them for them self.
RMT can help many children and adults with a variety of 'labels' including, Autism, ADHD, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia and others.
The reflexes and some possible long term effects when they are unintegrated/retained/active:
Fear Paralysis Reflex (FPR): is a withdrawal reflex that emerges in the embryonic stage. It is a total body withdrawal away from stimulus that is normal in utero. The baby in utero reacts to this stimulus by withdrawing inward and freezing. As the foetus’ tactile awareness develops, withdrawal upon contact gradually lessens. It is thought that this reflex is the first step in learning to cope with stress. Ideally, FPR merges into the Moro reflex and has become inactive before birth. If the FPR is not fully integrated at birth, it may contribute to life-long challenges related to fear. People with the FPR active may often be very anxious and tend to veer towards negativity, which can prevent them from easily moving forward to living a meaningful, interactive life. An active FPR often goes hand-in-hand with an un-integrated Moro reflex. Possible effects of the FPR being unintegrated include:
- Shallow, difficult breathing
- Underlying anxiety or negativity
- Insecure, low self-esteem
- Constant feelings of overwhelm
- Extreme shyness, fear in groups
- Excessive fear of embarrassment
- Fear of separation from a loved one, clinging
- Sleep & eating disorders
- Feeling stuck
- Elective mutism
- Withdrawal from touch
- Extreme fear of failure, perfectionism
- Aggressive or controlling behaviour, craves attention
- Low tolerance to stress
The Moro Reflex: also called the infant startle reflex. It is an automatic response to sudden change in sensory stimuli and/or a sudden change of any kind such as bright light, a change in body position, temperature, loud noise, intense touch, etc. Effects of this being unintegrated include:
- Easily triggered, reacts in anger or emotional outburst
- Poor balance and coordination
- Poor stamina
- Poor digestion, tendency towards hypoglycaemia
- Weak immune system, asthma, allergies and infections
- Hypersensitivity to light, movement, sound, touch & smell
- Vision/reading/writing difficulties
- Difficulty adapting to change
- Cycles of hyperactivity and extreme fatigue
Tonic Labyrinthine Reflex (TLR): provides the baby with a means of learning about gravity and mastering neck and head control outside the womb. This reflex is important for giving the baby the opportunity to practice balance, increase muscle tone, and develop the proprioceptive and balance senses. The TLR interacts with other reflexes to help the infant start developing coordination, posture and correct head alignment.
It is vital for the TLR to do its job because correct alignment of the head with the rest of the body is necessary for balance, eye tracking, auditory processing, muscle tone and organised movements – all of which are essential for the development of our ability to focus and pay attention. Possible effects of an unintegrated TLR inlcude:
- Balance and coordination difficulties
- Hunched posture
- Easily fatigued
- Poor muscle tone
- Difficulty judging distance, depth, space and speed
- Visual, speech, auditory difficulties
- Stiff jerky movement
- Toe walking
- Difficulty walking up and down stairs
Asymmetric Tonic Reflex (ATNR): is important for developing homolateral one-sided movements. When the infant turns his head to one side, the arm and leg of that side automatically extend. In utero the ATNR provides the necessary stimulation for developing muscle tone and the vestibular system. It assists with the birth process, providing one of the means for the baby to “corkscrew” down the birth canal. The ATNR also provides training in hand - eye coordination. By six months of age, this reflex should evolve into more complex movement patterns. If the ATNR remains active it plays a significant contribution to academic problems at school and may be possible reasons for:
- Reading, listening, hand writing and spelling difficulties
- Difficulty with maths
- Confused handedness
Symmetric Tonic Reflex (STNR): is not a primitive reflex. It is transitional. It's an important developmental stage that transitions the baby from lying on the floor up to being able to crawl. At this stage in development, movement of the head is automatically linked to movement of the arms and legs. If the STNR remains active, it is another main cause of inability to function in school. This is because up and down head movements remain linked to arm and leg movements, making school work effortful and difficult.
- Poor, hunched posture
- Headaches from muscle tension in the neck
- Difficulty writing and reading
- Difficulty sitting still
- “W" sitting
- Difficulty copying from blackboard
- Ape-like walking
- Vision disorders
- Find it difficult to stay on task
Spinal Galant reflex: The Spinal Galant & Spinal Pereze Reflexes work in conjunction with the ATNR to help the baby’s journey down the birth canal. It is also thought to help babies balance and coordinate the body for belly crawling and creeping. It is thought to be connected to bladder function because a high percentage of children who are bedwetting past the age of five have an active Spinal Galant reflex. Possible long term effects of these refelexes being active/retained/unintegrated are:
- Poor endurance
- Attention difficulties
- Hip rotation to one side/scoliosis
- Poor concentration
- Poor coordination
- Poor posture
- Poor short-term memory
RMTi Consultants also look at the following foot, hand and oral reflexes - the Babinski, Plantar, Palmar, Hands Pulling, Grasp, Amphibian, Rooting, Suck and Babkin reflexes and their role in learning and development especially for coordination, writing and language development
Some possible long term effects of an unintegrated/retained/active foot, hand and oral reflexes are:
- Speech delay or difficulties
- Swallowing problems
- Poor social behaviour
- Dribbling and drooling
- Poor manual dexterity
- Poor pencil grip
- Handwriting difficulties
- Loose, easily sprained ankles
- Toe walking
- Flatfooted or walking on sides of feet/hip rotation
- Difficulty expressing written ideas
You may be able to identify some of these effects of unintegrated/retained/active reflexes in yourself or your child? Consulting with a RMTi Consultant and working with them to use rhythmic movement therapy to support reflex integration (or reintegration of primitive reflexes that have become active and remained so in the case of later life trauma or PTSD) may alleviate these effects, support neuro-development, improve sensory processing and improve access to learning and ability.
Caroline is a fully trained, accredited and licensed Rhythmic Movement Training international Consultant and can be found on the RMTi website here.
If you would like to learn more, please feel free to contact me for a free 30 minute consultation.
You can also learn more from the RMTi International website here.
Dr Blomberg and Moira Dempsey have written two books that are easy to read:
Movements that Heal by Harald Blomberg and Moira Dempsey
Beyond the Seasquirt by Moira Dempsey
References: Rhythmic Movement Training International