My personal journey with MNRI® started about eight years ago. After helping to diagnose my four-year-old nephew, Jacob, with Selective Mutism (SM) and a possible sensory processing disorder, I spent five months searching high and low with his family for a professional that could understand SM and would treat his sensory issues as well. SM’s main symptom is a communication challenge manifested when anxiety inhibits both verbal and non-verbal self expression and is most often triggered in various social spheres such as school or other contexts (ex a holiday party at home) while the person communicates normally when feeling comfortable at home or other familiar settings. SM is often perceived as extreme shyness, but in reality, people who suffer from this challenge can be bubbly, extroverted and enjoy communicating when feeling comfortable and secure. It is estimated that seven per cent of the population suffers from this condition.

I finally found Héloise Allard, a wonderful occupational therapist. She was not a specialist in Selective Mutism, but her style of work and personality was perfect for Jacob. After an evaluation session with Héloise, his mother and I heard a few laughs from Jacob in her presence. He was jumping, running around, and having fun during her evaluation! Clearly, my nephew felt comfortable at that point and the evaluation alone had changed him from the ‘frozen’ child we knew (not being able to move a muscle in social settings, staring at the floor, and rolling his tongue in every direction) to this.

The following week, we went back to visit Héloise to get the evaluation results. When we entered the small waiting room crowded with other parents and children with challenges, the secretary greeted Jacob and tried to engage him in conversation but it was too much for him. He was already glued to his mother’s leg as she attempted to manage a work-related crisis through a cell phone conversation.

When Héloise, with her radiant smile and gentle enthusiasm, came in to greet Jacob, he was reluctant and yet eager to go ‘play’ again. Héloise addressed us right there, saying, “I’ve just come back from a class this weekend. Is it OK for me to try some new techniques with Jacob?” She took him by the hand to a room on the other side of the corridor to work with him. His mother was still talking on her phone, busy with her office crisis, and didn’t realize that this was the first time she ever left her son out of her sight with an adult she hardly knew.

Ten minutes later, the previously frozen little boy opened the door all bubbly, speaking, and bouncy – skipping in front of me, the other kids, parents, and staff. He was jumping, he was loud, he was smiling and he was SPEAKING in front of other people. “What is this?” we asked ourselves, in complete surprise. We went into the room where Jacob and Héloise had spent the last ten minutes and asked her to explain what she did for Jacob. She explained that she did a reflex integration exercise and showed it to us, pressing inside my hand on an extended arm. Héloise handed me the book on MNRI® and I saw that this was an exercise for Hands Supporting. This was my first contact with MNRI®.

I was in shock! My eyes filled with tears as Jacob was now completely alive for the first time in front of other kids and adults. WOW! I had so many emotions running through my heart at that very moment. My mind was trying to grasp, intellectually, the miracle that had just happened. My soul was jumping to the clouds with absolute joy. At the same time, my stomach squeezed as I felt so guilty that I, as his aunt, being a therapist and communication consultant, was not able achieve the same result that was achieved in ten minutes by another therapist.

I held ‘the book’ and I sat in silence in the therapy room for next two hours while Jacob had a fantastic, regular OT treatment. While Jacob’s mother watched the treatment in awe, I read this book, trying to very quickly absorb the text. The book was called, MNRI®: Masgutova Neurosensorimotor Reflex Integration, Dynamic and Postural Reflexes.

As an ex-police instructor and Communication Consultant for the Quebec Police Academy, I was fascinated with how the ‘fight or flight’ response influenced communication strategies, specifically the choice of using force by experienced officers. They often seemed to repeat the same poor methods in intervention. I tried to help them to understand what was really motivating them to act or react beyond the symptom in another, more strategic way. I often thought they did not have the appropriate response to a specific situation and tried my best to train them to change to a more analytical response. When I read about reflexes, I understood then, that this reality transcended their culture, their excellent education, and repetitive training (with professional actors), their personality, and especially their own INTENTION. It was something the vast majority of them could not control; this invisible reality was controlling them.

Even just by reading the title of this book, I was sold. That’s it! The reflexes! The neuro-physiological part of the communication phenomenon IS the bottom of the proverbial iceberg. As I was reading, I realized right there that what I was holding in my hand was ‘the missing link’ I had been seeking as a police trainer. It’s all about survival. I realized the potential of MNRI® for victims of trauma because, not only was I holding the key of knowledge and understanding, I was holding the key to repattern the reflexes. To INTEGRATE them? How is this possible?

As my eyes travelled between the book and Jacob, I still could not figure out how and why Héloise’s MNRI® intervention had resulted in Jacob speaking in just 10 minutes. I left his session with a new mission, a new vision, and the beginning of a new comprehension. My whole world just shifted right then and there. It was the birth of my MNRI® journey. My new life mission became to understand the scientific miracle I had just witnessed and share it with whomever would listen.

A week or two later, I entered my first MNRI® course in Montreal and encountered one of the most amazing beings I have ever met in my life – Christine Poulin. She was the MNRI® Instructor and welcomed me with strength and grace. I tried my best during the following four days (sitting in the first row right in front of her) to sponge up the information my slightly Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) brain could retain so that I could understand why my nephew expressed himself with such joy in front of strangers after just ten short minutes of reflex integration.

The longer I sat there, the more questions came to my mind. A lot of information, new concepts, and the reflexes were such a novelty! New terms were ‘sensory stimulation’, ‘neurological pathway’, ‘circuit of response’, the ‘TLR’, ‘STNR’, ‘Babinski’, ‘Babkin Palmomental’, ‘The Foot Tendon Guard’, ‘Moro,’ and ‘Fear Paralysis’.
The Fear Paralysis Reflex caught my interest, especially as this was an explanation for the freezing and dissociation response in children with SM. Being the last resort for survival and protection when the fight or flight response becomes impossible, it brings survival by making a child freeze, even when there is clearly nothing to fear.

This reflex, programmed into our phylogenetic memory, is for surviving in two specific situations: when we drown and when we are surviving in extreme cold weather. When we are drowning, the respiratory system shuts down, the vocal cords stretch for a last attempt to scream and seek attention, then the mouth closes, the throat closes, and the sinuses, too. Our blood travels to our brain, lungs, and heart to deliver its last oxygen reserve until we are rescued or die. That is the FREEZING response. Freezing was the response Jacob had around people other than his immediate family and he was showing this in a completely safe surrounding, which meant that the perception in his subconscious mind of the situation was extremely stressful, though he communicated with joy and happiness when interpreting the social context or people as secure and safe. It was his freezing response that had been ‘rescuing’ him all this time, and the moment it was addressed and worked out in play and with a new technique, its overprotective state changed!

At that first MNRI® introductory course, I learned more about my nephew than I thought possible. I learned how his sensory hypersensitivity could trigger the freezing response causing his body to paralyze in social settings. It wasn’t the social setting itself, it was his sensory system interpreting the environment as too loud, too bright, too crowded, too tactile, too strong smelling, or just too much sensory information, which caused his body to crash under this overload of stimuli.

I remember listening to Christine, our MNRI® Instructor, with my sunglasses on, sitting in front to avoid distractions, being annoyed by the computer fan and the person breathing five rows behind me. My brain hurt from the daylight and that was perfectly normal for me, thus the sunglasses. I remember realizing right there that even after reading the book, The Out of Sync Child by Carol Stock Kranowitz, it never occurred to me that I could have this sensory hypersensitivity as well. I thought everybody perceived the world like this.

I then realized I was far from being ‘normal’ or ‘typical’. I had suffered from mild ADD all my life but refused to take medication for it. I managed (compensated) well in school. My thirst for learning and curiosity always overshadowed my learning challenges. As I raised my hand for the twentieth time, I gathered my courage and asked, “Is there any link between ADD and the freezing response?” The instructor explained that when the reflexes are not well integrated, the dominant survival response will take over: it can be fight, or it can be flight and freezing. She then said, “ADD is often a combination of the flight and freezing responses acting at the same time.”

Here I was, completely blown away. Interestingly, it was time for her to demonstrate Babinski patterning and she offered to demonstrate it with me on the (massage) table. She said this would help my nephew a lot. After getting the sensory stimulation on my right foot, I felt that my vision and my auditory system were affected. It felt like the eternal cloud around my head was slightly clearing up. I was awakening right in front of my own internal ‘eyes.’ Meanwhile, the other people there just stared at my feet while all the changes were happening inside my body and brain.

This was the moment when I really started understanding that a sensory stimulus was an awakening of the reflex pattern, its sensory circuit, and how powerful reflex integration was. I left this class in absolute awe! While my body felt physical chaos from trying to respond to the stimulus, my mind was trying to think of which exercises to choose for myself to support my own developmental needs. I had a million more questions. I was determined to apply these techniques with my nephew with all I learned at the course. I called Héloise’s superior at that time, Kathleen Sirard, and asked her if she would work with ME, an adult who needed to integrate her reflexes also. After some time and discussion, she agreed.

That was September 10th, 2009. In December of that same year, my nephew was able to express himself with his teacher, some of his peers, to eat and go to bathroom at school. He participated for the first time at the school Christmas presentation in front of several hundred people. At the end of presentation instead of the typical question, “Did you see me?”, Jacob asked his mother, “Did you HEAR me, Mom?”

This is how I found MNRI® and MNRI® found me. Kathleen Sirard from EDME worked with me, an adult, and this is how my journey of healing with MNRI® continued.

On Our Way to Inner Peace
While other Selectively Mute children and families are unfortunately still struggling, Jacob is doing better. He still demonstrates freezing responses from time to time in social situations when people speak a different language – it’s not perfect, but he is usually communicating normally at school and many other places. We continue to work on his focus, concentration, fine motor coordination, and memory organization. He is growing into a joyful child, full of curiosity and talents, maturing emotionally, and is loving and lovable.

Jacob already knows that when he grows up, he wants to help other kids like him by doing reflex integration. He is determined to share the gift that gave him the freedom to express himself and contribute to his various social spheres and say, “I AM”. He looks forward to every MNRI® session as they give him quantum leaps to facilitate inner peace, academic performance, kinesthetic freedom for movement, and postural control.

On my end, I have been pursuing that mission ever since I was struck by the MNRI® lightening bolt – the first time I laid eyes on the MNRI® book. MNRI® is one of the most enlightening gifts I have received thanks to being part of Jacob’s healing journey with Selective Mutism and Sensory Processing Disorder. It’s now time to share it with the families of Laval!