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Wriggly Boys and Dreamy Girls

As a neurodevelopment therapist, the most frequent issue I am asked to help with is when children struggle with focus and attention. At the risk of sounding discriminatory boys tend to be fidgety and restless and unable to sit still and girls tend to be fidgety but day dreamy. Obviously either and both are applicable.

When I then carry out an assessment to check for retained primitive reflexes (the innate movements a baby has to help with keeping safe, being born, finding food and moving) and processing problems, I invariable find that there is an issue with a particular reflex called the spinal galant. This reflex runs either side of the spine of the lower back and its job is to assist with the birthing process by causing the hip to push out on the side of the spine that pressure is applied to, ideally along the birth canal. During assessment I find that the reflex is often active on one or both sides.

The spinal galant reflex can remain active for a number of reasons but usually due to intervention in the birthing process, so a cesarean delivery, a very rapid delivery, a very protracted delivery or an assisted delivery using forceps or ventouse can cause this reflex to remain active. Obviously not all babies who are born with any of the above will have this but a high proportion will.

The implications of this reflex remaining active are many. Due to the position of the reflex and connections to the bladder it is often the cause of persistent bed wetting in children, when the child is sleeping and they turn so that their bedcovers or mattress touches their back and stimulates the reflex, it will trigger the bladder to release. Children who may have unexplained issues with needing the toilet frequently during the day could also have this issue.

It is active in children who don’t like waistbands around their waist and push trousers, pants or skirts down to hip level. Pressure on the lower spine is uncomfortable. They may also have difficulty sitting up with their backs against the chair, preferring to sit with bottoms on the edge of the seat and their upper backs against the back of the chair, the slump that so infuriates teachers as they see the child disappearing under the desk.

However, there are more serious implications than poor posture. An active spinal galant can cause problems with listening, in the womb the spine is responsible for conduction noise vibrations to the brain. When this reflex remains then the spine continues to try to send sound to the brain so the child becomes confused when trying to listen, or simply stops listening as there is too much information from both the ears and the spine. This can also make a child very jumpy to loud noises form behind or when people stand behind. A retained spinal galant can make the back feel unstable, this may cause the muscles to lock to provide stability and this can cause lower back problems, digestive problems and if the reflex is only retained and active on one side, this can cause the spine to twist and develop scoliosis.

The link with restlessness is caused by the active reflex preventing proper connection of an area in the brain called the basal ganglia. This is a group of specialised neurons in the brain that are involved with controlling and fine tuning movement. One of their jobs is to allow the child to be still. A retained spinal galant will interfere with this process and the child will need to move constantly, much like a toddler does, often needing to move so that they are able to concentrate on more complicated processes like reading or writing. It is the area of the brain that is soothed by fiddle toys that have recently been popular and this is why. By fiddling the basal ganglia is kept occupied so that the child can concentrate and learn. However, a good focussed and repeated movement program will allow the reflex to integrate, allow the child to sit still and concentrate and remove the need for fiddle toys or wobble cushions.

As the reflex is located along the spine, movements that involve the spine are the most useful. As a neurodevelopment therapist, I check for a number of primitive reflexes and brain processing functions within a screening, then I look at the most suitable movement program for each individual. Within Rhythmic Movement Training, my preferred system of neurodevelopment, I find that rocking movements on the back or to the back will encourage the reflex to integrate efficiently, allowing the child to concentrate, learn and ultimately fulfil their potential.

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