Infant reflexes are protective stereotypical motor responses by the brainstem to internal or external stimuli. It is widely accepted that these movement patterns exist up until about age three and then disappear or become “inhibited” through normal maturation. Dr. Svetlana Masgutova has a different understanding and way of thinking about the role of reflexes in healthy development. Dr. Masgutova believes that reflexes serve a “dual purpose”. In the first role, reflexes act as an automatic involuntary unconscious response to stress and danger and serve a protective or survival function. Equally important, reflexes also serve as fundamental neurological building blocks for motor and cognitive development. Given these very important roles, reflexes therefore are believed to integrate to support healthy optimal development, not simply disappear or become inhibited.
Given the critical role of reflexes in typical as well as challenged development, we consider both “positive” and “negative” protection as referred to by Dr. Masgutova. When reflexes have matured neurologically and sensory perception functions well, the brain stem “recognizes” stimuli and organizes protective motor responses with no disturbance to reasoning ability and overall development. The reflex system thus functions in a “positive way”. However, negative protection is present when a reflex fails to mature and a dysfunctional reflex response continues beyond the time when it is necessary or useful. A lack of integration leads to inefficient or dysfunctional reflex responses and/or compensations that not only drain energy away from learning but also impede healthy development. Negative protection manifests as muscle tension, impulsivity, and primitive reactions that block self-regulation and skill formation. Development is arrested and reasoning processes in the neo-cortex are bypassed as the reflex system, driven by the brainstem, takes control of behavior.
Integration of the reflex system is important for optimal motor, cognitive, and social development. This is especially relevant for building the control, motivation, abstract thinking, creativity, and skillful intentional behavior necessary for academic achievement. Delays in reflex development or skipping any phase of the developmental process affects the formation of future skills. Achievement reaches a plateau because nerve networks necessary for progress have not developed. Sometimes this is not as obvious until the expectations for the individual’s development reaches a tipping point where compensations are rendered unreliable in situations of stress or unexpected transition.
The Masgutova Method of Neuro-Sensory-Motor Reflex Integration program (MNRI) is based on the work of famous Russian physiologists (I. Pavlov and I. Stechenov), neurophysiologists (A. Uhtomsky, N. Berstein, and P. Anokhim), and psychologists (L. Voygotsky). These scientists/researchers placed reflexes in the frame of both higher and lower nervous system activity. They saw infant reflexes not only as protective or survival responses to stress or danger but also the neuro-physiological foundation for physical, emotional, and cognitive development. Dr. Masgutova has conducted her own research on over 3,000 children from Russia, Poland, Canada, and the United States over the past 20 years. She combines this information with her expansive clinical experience with more than 27,000 clients worldwide to continue to expand and improve the MNRI Method.
(Information quoted directly from Rentschler (2008) as well as Magutova (2010); Full article and references available upon request).