The big, hungry, mean bear and autism

Let’s just say you are walking through the woods. You see a big, hungry, mean bear. He doesn’t see you. What’s the first thing you do? Freeze. You stop everything with a wide eyed, deer in the head lights look on your face. Your senses are heightened. You hear more, you see more clearly, your heart pounds fast.

Let’s just say that the big, hungry, mean bear looks at you. Right at you, and he starts licking his lips. What do you do now? I bet you run. You run for your life. Fly your body through the woods as fast as you can. You run very fast, maybe faster than you imagined you could. Your body is filled with adrenalin as you run from that bear.

So now let’s just say that the big, hungry, mean bear is also quite fast. He catches up to you. His paw is swiping at your sneaker. You trip over a log. The bear is right there. What do you do now? You curl up into the fetal position. You make yourself as small as you can. All your muscles and tendons are pulling you inward. You are in protection. Let’s just say now that the big, hungry, mean bear’s wife calls him to dinner and he walks away. You have survived. You feel exhausted, dizzy, relieved, and weak in the knees. You stumble to your car and decide to go to the beach for your next adventure.

I am using this story to illustrate the purpose of reflexes. They serve you well when you need them. You pull upon those reflexes in times of crisis. They are automatic. You don’t have to think about them often. They serve to heighten your senses, move your body to escape and freeze your body for protection. Fear, fight and flight.

So what does this have to do with autism? I believe most, if not all, people who have autism have some primitive reflexes that are not serving them well. Sometimes the fear, fight and flight reflexes are in overdrive and occurring in circumstances that most of us deem safe. If your fear, fight and flight reflexes are turned on in circumstances that are new, changing, unfamiliar (dynamic), you would want to avoid those feelings. It is not a great feeling to have cortisol and adrenalin coursing through your veins all the time. It feels scary. Scary enough to want to avoid feeling them. Scary enough to make you sense things too much. Scary enough to make you want to control things. Scary enough to make you want to do things repetitively.

When I talk to people about their children with autism, rarely do they tell me that they are concerned about their child’s reflexes. I have never had a Pediatrician send a child to me to integrate Primitive Reflexes. Why? My feeling is that people are not aware of the implications of having Primitive Reflexes active.

Primitive Reflexes are present in babies at birth. They naturally integrate based on the baby’s movements. When they integrate naturally, the reflexes only reappear for protection and in the case of serious illness or injury. This is well documented. However, if they do not naturally integrate, if they are retained long past the age of typical integration, inevitably we see differences in that person’s thinking. This being the case, and often it is the case, what can parents do? My answer is A LOT. Dr. Svetlana Masgutova’s work, the founder of the MNRI Programs are top in the world for the integration of reflexes. I admire her work immensely. I am amazed almost daily with the progress parents are making implementing her techniques. I strongly encourage you to check out her work at

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