Sonia Story is the next featured speaker in our Speaker Spotlight series. Sonia is the developer of the Brain and Sensory Foundations course. Unlike many of the other speakers that Integrative Education features, Sonia is not an occupational therapy practitioner (OTP) or physical therapy practitioner (PTP). Her diverse educational background and personal story of how she became an expert in innate rhythmic movements and targeted reflex integration offer a unique perspective on this area of work.
An Unconventional Start
Sonia began her higher education journey by obtaining her bachelor's degree in biology and psychology. Unlike many of her peers who immediately entered master's or doctoral
programs, Sonia was still unsure of what her passion was and she knew that pursuing further education at the time was not the right choice for her. Immediately after graduation, she had the opportunity to spend four months in nature studying migratory birds to support research being done by her former physiology professor. Following that experience, she spent many years in a variety of work experiences including freelance writing, all the while praying for the right opportunity where she could be of service, help others, and find joy in her work.
Driven by Motherhood
Eventually, Sonia married her husband, Rob, and together they had two children. While her children were young, Sonia put her career on hold for several years. When Sonia’s children were 6 and 13, she had a strong urge to find ways to be a better mom and to learn more tools to help her children. At the time, she was attempting to home-school her children but was facing challenges and roadblocks on many fronts. While both of her children experienced various birth and womb traumas leading to sensitivity and activity level differences, Sonia also faced emotional and health challenges of her own. This often created a chaotic homeschooling atmosphere and it led Sonia to seek out a program that would help her family. She first found a program called Non-Violent Communication which she studied and attempted to bring to her family. Unfortunately, her family was unable to find much success in this program. When they became triggered and dysregulated, they were unable to access the tools, language, and protocols that they had learned in a regulated state. Soon after, she was introduced to a book called Smart Moves: Why Learning is Not All In Your Head by Carla Hannaford. Sonia began implementing some of the calming movement strategies from the book in herself and her children and she couldn’t believe the success she was seeing. This success sparked a desire in Sonia to learn more, but unfortunately, there were limited training resources available at the time in Hawaii where she and her family resided. Later on, when the Story family moved to the Pacific Northwest, Sonia realized that many more courses of interest were now readily available to her.
Sonia began seeking out various continuing education courses. She first became certified in Brain Gym. The Brain Gym training also introduced her to the concept of primitive reflexes. Sonia was immediately enthralled by how much primitive reflexes impact our functioning and how little she knew about them despite her educational background in biology, physiology, and psychology. Through Brain Gym, Sonia knew that you could elicit huge changes in a short amount of time using movement and she was passionate about incorporating these activities with her own children, while also feeling driven to learn more about the impact of primitive reflexes.
Sonia immediately began to immerse herself in all things related to reflexes. She read all the literature she could find and took over 50 courses in primitive reflexes as well as rhythmic movement. Sonia was introduced to Rhythmic Movement Training, a movement-based primitive reflex integration program, through the work of Moira Dempsey and Dr. Harald Blomberg who, at the time, taught the course together. She describes this time of learning as “magical” as she was able to apply what she was learning not only to herself but to her husband and children as well. Their family saw huge changes and life-changing benefits from the implementation of reflex integration and rhythmic movement and Sonia soon realized her dream of helping others could become a reality through these programs.
With a wealth of training and knowledge under her belt, Sonia began seeing private clients. She faced challenges early on with successfully implementing a more traditional reflex integration approach with many of her pediatric clients due to difficulties with direction following and engagement. Sonia found herself shifting more toward using rhythmic movements to meet her clients’ needs. With this shift, she also noticed an increase in positive feedback from parents. Within a month of starting rhythmic movement, parents were reporting improvements in their children in the areas of emotional regulation, sleep, eating, and overall comfort.
As Sonia continued to learn from both her clients and additional continuing education courses she began to delve deeper into educating others. Her start in teaching came first through becoming certified in teaching both Brain Gym and Rhythmic Movement Training. Eventually, Sonia began to compile her wealth of knowledge and experience to create her very own curriculum: Brain and Sensory Foundations.
Brain and Sensory Foundations
While Sonia continued to teach a variety of courses over the next decade, eventually her work shifted to focusing more solely on her Brain and Sensory Foundations curriculum. She found great value in the curriculum’s emphasis on play along with the human and heart connections. She also found that while focusing on these pieces, she was able to elicit feelings of safety, joy, and playfulness in her clients. Furthermore, by eliciting those feelings, she noticed an enhancement of the integration due to clients being more relaxed, receptive, and able to take in the movements.
Sonia first focused on sharing her curriculum primarily with parents. However, over her many years of attending continuing education courses, she also saw a need for sharing her curriculum with other professionals. She noticed a pattern while connecting with OTPs and PTPs. The vast majority shared that they had learned about primitive reflexes in their schooling, but not about how to integrate them. OTPs and PTPs began showing an interest in her curriculum and eventually other professionals followed suit including vision therapists, chiropractors, yoga instructors, pain specialists, and mental health therapists. Sonia emphasizes that “because the work is so foundational to the nervous system, it is applicable to so many professions.” Brain and Sensory Foundations focuses on establishing the basic stability in the nervous system and the ability to focus, attend, communicate, emotionally regulate, and access executive function. Humans are rhythmic by nature and rhythm is a core feature of human development. Brain and Sensory Foundations use innate rhythmic movement to help mature the brainstem, cerebellum, basal ganglia, and sensory functions. Sonia offers more information and evidence in this helpful article.
Part of the reason that Sonia is so passionate about her work is that she has personally benefited from the use of the techniques. Through participating in these movements and interventions, Sonia shared that she was able to overcome the anxiety that she had been experiencing her whole life. The quality of her life changed dramatically. Finally, she was able to function so much better in so many ways. When interacting with her family she found herself being much more calm and far less controlling. She also marveled at the fact that joy and positivity spontaneously became a part of her daily life and were no longer things she had to actively work towards achieving.
Not only has Sonia found great benefit from the program in herself, but she also continues to find joy in the success of the program in others. To date, there are over 1,600 case studies shared by students of the Brain and Sensory Foundations curriculum. Professionals from across the spectrum have shared their success stories including school-based occupational therapist, Courtney Ng, MS, OTR/L who shared that Brain and Sensory Foundations “has truly revolutionized the way I conduct my therapy sessions, and even the way I look at therapy more broadly. It has shown me the ‘why’ for the dysfunction I see in my students and given me a way to work on basic sensory motor skills in addition to top-down skills that I think have been very beneficial for my students.”
When asked what she envisions for the future of her work and Brain and Sensory Functions, Sonia states that she would love for the program to become more well-known and eventually become a standard of care in mental health therapy and trauma-informed care. She would also like to see the program applied more broadly to the entire age span. While it is most commonly utilized in pediatrics, there are case studies supporting success with teens, adults, and older adult populations targeting areas such as pain relief, orthopedic rehabilitation, trauma, and addiction. She also noted her desire for more community-based programs utilizing both parents and professionals to implement group programming. Finally, Sonia expressed a desire for more physical education teachers to become trained in her program to implement the foundational movements with students in the general education setting. While many students appear to be functioning typically, frequently they are experiencing symptoms such as stress, tension, and anxiety which are often rooted in unintegrated reflexes.
Sonia is also currently enrolled in a master’s program in movement science. Through that program, she has been able to expand her research on her field of interest and build a stronger evidence base for her program. She looks forward to eventually directing more research and funding toward this important work.
To benefit from Brain and Sensory Foundations tools, be sure to check out this on-demand offering of the course. In the meantime, also feel free to read and be inspired by the many case studies available on the Move, Play, Thrive website. You’re sure to find one that speaks to you and your work!