I used to read young adult mysteries. My favorites were Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, and Phyllis A. Whitney’s young adult collection of mysteries with strong heroines and evocative titles like “Mystery at the Isle of Skye” and “Secret of Haunted Mesa”. Oh, yeah, and I used to love to read Agatha Christie. Sometimes I feel like I’m in a mystery story as I hunt for information regarding selective mutism and sensory processing disorders now that my preschooler has been diagnosed with. I search the internet, visiting message boards and blogs searching for clues to help me understand. I talk to parents of special needs children, to hear how they navigate the school systems to get an IEP. Something has been on my mind ever since the neuropsychologist suggested that my daughter’s issues of selective mutism has a lot to do with hypersensitivity and that she has something a retained primitive reflex. I know what infant reflexes are, at least the most common ones. The rooting reflex is one of the more obvious ones that a newborn has. You stroke the cheek, and the head turns toward that sensation. In nursing newborns, this phenomenon lasts for quite some time before it fades away. Then there is the Moro reflex. You probably have heard of that one. It’s the one that makes the infant startle when it hears a loud noise. But then I found a very interesting link on a selective mutism message boardI was on (it’s no longer in use due to spam/trolling issues). One of the mothers provided a link to a pdf file regarding primitive reflexes. (let me know if this ends up being a dead link because I have a copy of the pdf I could email you if interested. What they have to say about the Moro Reflex
If the Moro reflex persists beyond three to six months of age it becomes an automatic therefore uncontrollable overreaction, overriding the newly acquired higher centre decision making. The child (or adult) may be hypersensitive to any of the senses, which turn the reflex on (e.g. light, sound, touch or any stress) and so may withdraw from situations, have difficulty with new or stimulating experiences which the normal child would find exciting, have difficulty in socialising, accepting or giving affection. Because the reflex stimulates fight or flight responses, these responses may happen inappropriately from anything in the person’s environment. Fight or flight responses prepare the body for fighting or for running, so the child (or adult) may be an aggressive, over reactive, highly excitable person, unable to turn off and relax. These responses are for pure survival, for very focused fighting or running, not for being perceptive, sensitive or noting the subtleties of circumstances, thus the person may have difficulty functioning socially (which includes the schoolroom, playground, workplace etc.). The child (or adult) may be very difficult to understand, they may be loving, perceptive and imaginative but at the same time immature, over reactive and aggressive. As the fight or flight adrenalin response may be inappropriately turned on many times a day and is on standby most of the time, there is a constant demand on the adrenal glands which may become fatigued. These glands are very important for the immune system, and if they are fatigued allergy and chronic illness may be experienced.
There is something called the Fear Paralysis Reflex, and according to that website
The Fear Paralysis Reflex begins to function very early after conception and should normally be integrated before birth. It can be seen in the womb as movement of the head, neck and body in response to threat. It is sometimes classified as a Withdrawal reflex rather than a Primitive reflex. If this reflex is retained after birth, it can be characterised by withdrawal, reticence at being involved in anything new, fear of different circumstances, the ” ‘fraidy cat ” child who bears the brunt of teasing by normally adventurous children. “Withdrawal” does not necessarily mean quiet withdrawal . The child may scream loud and long when faced with a new situation or perceived threat. A colleague reported one child who stood and screamed until he paled and passed out simply because he was transferred to an unfamiliar schoolroom. This behaviour appears to be due to the reflex’s involvement with the parasympathetic nervous system. Most of us are familiar with the “fight or flight” adrenalin rush sympathetic nervous system, fear paralysis reflex involves the opposite “eat and stay” parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system is intimately involved with the vagus nerve. This nerve may be mechanically trapped in the chest, abdomen or neck. Release of the vagus nerve entrapment corrects one physical factor that contributes to retained fear paralysis reflex. Inappropriate retention of the fear paralysis reflex can contribute to such conditions as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, [s]elective mutism, hypersensitivity to sensory information and may result in physical and psychological conditions such as Panic Disorders. As it begins first and is normally integrated first, retained fear paralysis reflex may effect the integration of any other primitive reflex.
Yep, I guess that would be my daughter. That explains a lot. She has separation anxiety/generalized anxiety, hypersensitivity to sensory information, and selective mutism (though this website calls it elective mutism – that is an outdated term, there is plenty of current information out there saying this condition is not voluntary at all). I’m starting to see how the pieces fit together. As I gather bits of information, I really do feel like I’m a bit of a sleuth myself. Yeah, I know how corny that sounds. Sometimes you got to find ways to keep you sane even if it’s by being silly. (and anyway I was a real life crime fighter when I used to work in forensics, so it’s not too far out of the realm of reality for me). Ultimately, if the doctor is right about this link between primitive reflexes, sensory processing difficulties and selective mutism, if I work on the reduce the sensory overload, help her get with anxiety reducing strategies, then maybe we can get this worked out without medication and sooner rather than later. Additional reading: Books by Sally Goddard Blythe The Well Balanced Child: Movement and Learning Reflexes, Learning And Behavior: A Window into the Child’s Mind : A Non-Invasive Approach to Solving Learning & Behavior Problems NeuroDevelopmental Therapy – Inhibition of Primitive Reflexes – nice article about what problems can be attributed to retained primitive reflexes.
The Moro Reflex – emerges at 9 weeks in utero and is the earliest form of “fight or flight” (reaction to stress) which is fully present at birth – is usually inhibited between 2-4 months of life – when retained has an overall effect on the emotional profile of a child because he/she is caught in a vicious circle in which reflex activity stimulates the production of adrenalin and cortisol (stress hormones) – presents as a paradox – the child is acutely sensitive, perceptive, imaginative on the one hand, but immature and over reactive on the other. -results in coping in one of two ways- withdrawing from difficult situations, difficulty socialising and neither accepting or demonstrating affection or becoming aggressive, highly excitable, over-reactive and dominating – forms the corner-stone in the foundation for life and living and its effects are profound if it is not inhibited at the correct time and transformed into an adult startle response. – occasionally the Moro Reflex is retained to adulthood. This being the case, adults present with free-floating anxiety; excessive reaction to stimuli ( mood swings – labile emotions; difficulty accepting criticism; tense muscle tone); difficulty making decisions; weak ego, low self-esteem ( insecurity/depedency, need to control/manipulate events).
**** Okay I hate dead links, so here’s a new link about the problems can be attributed to retained primitive reflexes from Sue Hyland.