Autum Romano on the Safe and Sound Protocol and Nervous System Regulation

gender nonconformity kids

If I told you there was a passive intervention that could help your kiddo and your family increase the window of tolerance in the way the world is received, would you believe me? Well today, I’m sharing a conversation on exactly that — it’s called the Safe and Sound Protocol, and it’s essentially a therapeutic listening program designed to support emotional regulation and neuroception. I was first introduced to SSP by a therapist our family was working with and I wanted to know more about how it works, and how it can support kids who have what Dr. Mona Delahooke refers to as a less-sturdy nervous system platform.

I reached out to educator, author, and bodyworker Autum Romano to join me for this conversation, as she is passionate about nervous system regulation as a foundation for transformative whole health. In this conversation, we talk about what neuroception is and why it’s critical to helping our kids develop a felt sense of safety, as well as what the Safe and Sound Protocol actually is. She explains how it essentially re-patterns the brain’s nervous system through listening, creates a safe space for brain and body integration, and leads to impactful, long-lasting results.

 

About Autum Romano

Autum Romano is an educator, author, and bodyworker who’s passionate about nervous system regulation as a foundation for transformative whole health. Autum holds certifications as a Neuromuscular Therapist, Licensed Massage Therapist, Safe and Sound Protocol Provider, Craniosacral Therapist, Reiki Master, and Certified Trauma Informed Care Provider with over 27 years in the field and more than 25,000 massages given. Known for her intuitive healing approach, Autum is also neurodivergent and twice-exceptional. She recently collaborated with Dr. Porges on a case study for his upcoming book on the benefits of the Safe and Sound Protocol.

In collaboration with her son, Autum has authored a children’s book titled Body Wisdom and the Polyvagal Theory. Crafted for pre-readers and individuals with dyslexia, their goal is to democratize the Polyvagal Theory, viewing it as a user manual for the body. They aim to make this valuable knowledge accessible to a diverse and inclusive audience.

 

Things you’ll learn from this episode

  • How neuroception works to detect safety or threat without conscious awareness
  • The ways in which body work can help individuals understand their neuroception
  • What the Safe and Sound Protocol (SSP) is and how it stimulates the ventral branch of the vagus nerve through music
  • The benefits of going through the SSP on our kids’ window of tolerance and nervous system
  • How Autum’s book Body Wisdom and the Polyvagal Theory introduces polyvagal theory to kids of all ages

 

Resources mentioned for Safe and Sound Protocol (SSP)

 

* To receive 10 percent of Autum’s Safe & Sound Protocol Home Program, use the code TILT *

 

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Episode Transcript

Debbie: 

Hey, Autumn, welcome to the podcast.

Autum Romano:

Thanks for having me. I’m so delighted and thrilled to be here.

Debbie: 

Awesome. Good. I love having guests on the show who are delighted and thrilled to be here. That’s a great way to start. So I would love it if you could just take a few minutes and tell us more about yourself. I’ve already read your formal bio, but give us your kind of your mission, your personal why, kind of what you’re really excited about and passionate about in the work that you do.

Autum Romano:

Thank you. Okay, well body, always the body. I started my training and then career in body work, started with massage therapy 28 years ago. So I was in high school and unsatisfied, doesn’t even quite capture it. I wanted something different. I wanted something more. And before there was concurrent enrollment, I guess I created my own concurrent enrollment and went to massage school my senior year of high school and was so in love with the body and its complexity, its intelligence, and that’s just never stopped for me. You know, you weave in my own understanding of what it means to be neurodivergent. I’m still totally trying to understand my own. I was going to say recipe. I don’t know if that makes sense, but you know, my own individual neurodivergent and where that fits in the scope of, you know, my family of origin, the family I’ve created, always learning about that. I was identified as gifted as a third grader, but then apparently took myself out of gifted and talented. So I didn’t really have that experience. And then understanding what does it mean as a parent to help support a person who the world wasn’t really built for? I never found parenting hard, but just trying to parent my son in the world was hard, the way that the world was. So now my work is a combination of my lived experience and then everything I’ve studied, everything I’ve studied as a professional, everything else, all the help I was looking for as a parent, and how does that all converge together to do this work now? You know, finding the Safe and Sound Protocol and Polyvagal Theory was really, really, really helpful because it sort of answered all these questions that I had had and didn’t have answers for. And so when I found Dr. Porges and his work in the Polyvagal Theory, I was like, oh, okay, this checks. This makes sense with them. 

All the things that sort of hadn’t made sense to me from a body standpoint and that became a new reference point for me and then went on to study more trauma -informed practices and bring all that together. So yeah, it’s body, you know, the body, body wisdom and I think of polyvagal theory as a user manual to the body. And so I always just want to introduce people’s bodies to them and be like, Oh my gosh, your body’s so cool. Like, let me help you understand it or, or heal your relationship with it or create a relationship with it. Or, you know, what are the ways that we can understand ourselves in relationship and, and use all this information for good. Because we already have it. Like we have these bodies, we have these super smart nervous systems. Let’s use it to our advantage. And so that usually looks like learning more. And it’s not just book knowledge, it’s learning about your body and again, this own unique nervous system that you have.

Debbie: 

Okay, there’s something you said when you were sharing some of your story that jumped out at me. You said that you never found parenting hard, but you found parenting in the world, in a world that wasn’t really set up for who your kid or children are that was hard for you. So can, that just piqued me. So, Can you say more about that? Like as a parent, you were like, yeah, I’ve totally got this and like where you kind of noticed that tension.

Autum Romano:

Yeah, it’s so painful, honestly, you know, and I don’t know, I only have one child, one son, he’s 20. And I don’t know how old he was when that crystallized for me. I was like, it is not hard to be his mom. It’s just the context of the world that makes it hard and just, what that meant to create a world for us first, for the three of us. And then to, you know, especially, gosh, when you think about polyvagal theory, you’re like, oh, community and people. And well, geez, when you’re raising a neurodivergent kiddo, I mean, if we’re going to talk about neuroception, you get just so many signals of shame from the world that you’re doing it wrong and your child is wrong. And so to try and create safety and connection inside of your family and then continue to be in a world that is judging you, whether they are implicitly or explicitly judging you, they are, you know it. And so it’s weird, because you’re like, you’re trying to keep this open heart, but you have to build like a moat around yourself and your family, all the while usually not even knowing that’s what you’re doing. Right? So I don’t know how old he was when I realized like, oh, hey, this isn’t him. Like it is not hard to be his parent. It’s just these expectations, these cultural expectations I was given that are wrong, that are unhelpful or that need to be recreated or need to be tweaked. And where is the, like the compassion for that experience? And I’m so glad now that there is more support for these families and these kiddos. There just wasn’t really that much 20 years ago. And I’m sure even more when you look further back in time. So yeah, it was, it’s never been hard to be his mom.

Debbie: 

Yeah, yeah, I mean, I have a 19 year old. So I think, you know, we were raising our kids and probably discovering their neurodivergence at about the same time. And there weren’t a lot of resources. Nobody was really talking about this. It was very much. It was all about fixing, you know, your kids behavior so that they could be in these environments that were so difficult for them to be who they were and to show up as they are in. So yeah, very different time, but I imagine that you were doing this work and were so kind of on this path of being more tuned in and thinking about the body experience probably primed you for, you know, much earlier, just personally than I was, you know, I think I kind of tried to fit things and fix things for a long time because I had no awareness of this other.

Autum Romano:

Well, it’s interesting. I mean, when I look back, I think that yes, in a way, I think I was like doing the behaviors, but I don’t know how much I really settled into the belief that it was right. If that makes sense, it’s like I knew intuitively I understood things weren’t working and I needed to do something different. But I think I was still probably terrified. So that was pretty hard to bridge that. It didn’t feel like I was moving from a lot of strengths, more desperation, but yeah, right. And sometimes that’s just how it goes. Now it’s different. It’s way better and easier, but yeah, I, I did, I did know, but I think again, it wasn’t super crystallized knowledge. It became more so. It became more so.

Debbie: 

Yeah. Relatable, yeah.Okay, and just one more question. I just find your story so interesting and the fact that as a high schooler, you felt driven to explore this path. And I’m just wondering what that was like. Why do you think you were so kind of interested in the body? Where did that come from?

Autum Romano:

Yeah, I don’t know. I don’t know, honestly. It was, hmm. I loved chemistry in school and band. Band was the only like actual class I really loved ongoing. I loved math. I mean, my first love was like environmental science, I really wanted to like work for Greenpeace. And honestly, to me, it’s the same, which that probably doesn’t make sense. But I mean, we are nature. Like, it’s so interesting when we’re like, oh, I need to go be in nature. I mean, yes, but like we are like we are the natural world. We are not separate from it. Right. So it’s like plants are amazing. Like, our bodies are so incredibly cool. So when I think now about like, you know, my fourth grader self who really loved the ocean and whales and wanted to work for Greenpeace. It’s like the same like this is it’s still the natural world and it’s still this. There’s some Einstein quote that it’s like, there’s two ways of operating one that like everything is a miracle or nothing is. You know, it’s like, there’s just so much more to understand. So, you know, when I found Massage Therapy, it was definitely like a download moment. I mean, I remember where I was. I was driving in this beautiful, you know, open place at South Park, right? We know the show South Park of Colorado, which there is no actual town called South Park. There is a, you know, a geographical region called South Park. So I was driving through South Park and I was like, I’m going to massage school. And I just knew, I just knew that’s what I was supposed to do. And so I just put the wheels in motion for that. And I was 16 at the time and it was hard to do, but I knew without a doubt that that’s what I was supposed to do and that I would find other things later.

And so I did go back and do more training. Like I trained to be an EMT. Um, but I was like, yeah, the shifts are too long and they are, they’re 12 hours. I was like, no, I wanted to be a midwife, but I didn’t want to be on call because I like to be in the mountains. Um, and not have to answer if I don’t want to, or, you know, be without a cell reception. And I just kept coming back to it. So I think I probably could have found, you know, 20 different careers in the natural sciences and been satisfied because. There’s such a huge depth of known slash unknown information. Right? Like, when I think about science and mystery, like, one day it’s mystery and then the next day somebody, you know, publishes a paper now at science. And I love that whole threshold. Like, I’m just as comfortable with mystery as I am science. And if it’s, you know, mystery yesterday and science today, okay. And I can, I can use whatever terms it’s, you know, a felt understanding, a download of intuition or data, you know, I love whatever kind of data you can get from the body, all of it. So to me, I probably, yeah, would have been happy in any of those. There’s so much cool stuff in the world.

Debbie: 

Yeah. There really is. That’s awesome. Well, thanks for sharing that. I’m just, I get so curious. So I would love to pivot then, and I want to start by talking about neuroception. So earlier, when you were first talking about your work, you used the term neuroception. And so I would love it if you could explain what neuroception is. And yeah, just kind of so we’re at level playing field here and we even know what we’re talking about.

Autum Romano:

So neuroception is a term coined by Dr. Porges. So Dr. Porges is the creator of polyvagal theory. He first published in the mid -90s and he realized that there was this physiological process happening called neuroception. Well, okay, it wasn’t called that. There was a physiological process happening. He understood it in his research and he named it. So he coined the term neuroception. The definition is detection without awareness. So we all know neuroception and we use it. We just don’t call it that. So like if you think of your spidey sense or, oh, they gave me a bad feeling or I got a good feeling about that. Your gut, like I had a gut. You know, my gut says no, my gut says yes. So that’s all neuroception. So neuroception. When we think about it physiologically, it’s our, our vagus nerve is the largest cranial nerve in our body. Um, the Latin meaning is wanderer, uh, Resmaa Menaka in his book, my grandmother’s hands, he calls it the soul nerve. And it’s this, I mean, really remarkable nerve and that it goes everywhere. So the vagus is in our face. The vagus is helping determine the pitch of my voice. It’s helping determine how my ears are functioning, my heart. We have a vagal break in our heart. It innervates the diaphragm and then a lot of our sub diaphragmatic organs. So 80 % of the vagus is afferent, meaning it is sensing the environment and giving that information to the brain. So a lot of times we think nerves, all the information starts in the brain and then that’s going to the body.

Well, no, there’s also a whole lot of information that starts in the body goes to the brain. So 80 % of the vagus is the body is getting information, giving it to the brain and then the brain responds. So a whole lot of our vagus nerve is deciding all the time. The main question is, am I safe or not? Am I getting cues of threat? Am I getting cues of safety? And the really interesting thing is that it’s subjective. So you could have 10 people in a room, in your room right now, and they’re going to be neurocepting the exact same external stimuli differently. You know, neurodivergence really comes into this. Maybe somebody has more sensitive hearing and they’re going to really pick up, maybe there’s a hum from electronics or maybe there’s something in the neighborhood, you know, a trash truck or whatever. And that sound might be giving their nervous system a sign of danger or a sign of threat. So it’s really fascinating how our neuroception is very individual, but yet it influences. I mean, everything is a strong word, but a lot. It influences a lot because none of our nervous system is operating from this place of I’m safe or I’m under threat. This is literally like how our sensory integration system is working. If our brain is able to kind of take that information and learn, right, we have to be safe to be curious and to learn and to gather new information. Again, how our heart is beating. So our actual well -being, are we resting and digesting? Are we digesting our food at the moment, or are we not? Is our blood shunted to our core? So all of these things are influenced by our neuroception and we don’t have a choice because neuroception is always happening and we can’t really influence it because it’s detection without awareness. So it’s powerful.

Debbie: 

Wow. Yeah. Yeah, I’ve never heard it explained that way. And even the way you described the vagus nerve, that’s just so helpful. I’ve dived into Deb Dana’s work and have explored this, obviously, quite a lot through TILT parenting and the guests I’ve had on the show. And it’s still something I’m trying to wrap my head around. Yeah. And I know today, we are going to spend some time talking about the safe and sound protocol because that’s why I initially reached out to you. But before we go into that specifically, I know that this body work is what you do and you probably do it in a lot of different ways. So you just said that it’s, it’s something that we can’t change, but we can understand our individual neuroception process. So can you talk then about when you are working with people or, you know, neurodivergent adults, kids are supporting nervous systems, what are we trying to do? How are we trying to do that work to help them feel safer?

Autum Romano:

Mm -hmm. Simple question, simple answer, right? So it depends on if it’s remote or in person. So I love in -person work because it’s body work, right? I get to use my hands instead of my voice. So say I have, I love it when young people come into my office and I will give them as many choices as I can think of to help. First of all, just sort of manipulate the environment, little things like my therapy dog, Banksy always says, hi, I’m like, oh, this is my therapy dog Banksy. Would you like him in the room or not? Do you want him to jump on the table with you or shall I put him in the crate? So I think first by just sort of naming that, wow, we’re all a little bit different and let’s just take a couple of moments to customize the environment. You know what I mean? And sometimes too many questions are like a bad plan.

So I’m gonna also be reading into that. Do they want the aromatherapy diffuser on or off? Do they like the music? Can I turn it up? Should I turn it down? I’m always gonna have, well typically I’ll have some sort of table warmer on. Do they like that temperature? Do they want it higher or lower? So those are kind of simple ways that don’t seem, nobody would think about nervous system. So it’s kind of like you start on these more common practices that don’t seem weird. And then you get a little bit farther in, you get a little bit closer and a little bit more intimate and individual for that person. So like if I have a person who I notice they’re not making a lot of eye contact with me, I will not offer unblinking eye contact with them because that is not helpful. So I will, you know, I’ll look near them and then maybe I’ll glance at them. And so I’m already sort of, I’m influencing their nervous system by responding with like actual things that I am in charge of. So if we think about neuroception, that neuroception is detection without awareness, well, now we have our interoceptive ability, right? So our ability to, understand our body from the inside. So we can understand what we’re neurocepting like after it’s happened, right? So say you walk into a room and you’re immediately just feeling one of the easiest ways to understand a body is is it an opening or is it tightening? Right? So if you walk into a situation and it’s like you’re feeling a tightness, then I will know, oh, like, I’m, you know, my body is neurocepting and I’m having some neuroception of danger. What can I do to resource myself? So that’s just self -regulation. Maybe I need to take a couple of deep breaths. Maybe I need to go near a window. I like natural light. Maybe that will help me. Something like that. You could get a drink of water. Swallowing really helps the ventral branch, the sort of safety branch. So, you know, I am going to, when I’m working with someone, I’m also going to offer as many cues of safety as I can think of. So again, kind of maybe changing my eye contact quality, right? So if they’re wanting to look at me, you can kind of tell if somebody wants to make eye contact with you. And so it’s sort of like, don’t boss them around, right? Like, don’t try and get them to offer you more eye contact than their nervous system wants to offer.

And then, you know, really, I think in a lot of ways with younger people, it’s like, I think of sovereignty. I think of just, you know, following their lead. This is a huge one, not trained to get them over to me, but I’m going to go to them. So I’m going to go to them and I’m going to try and create as much safety as possible where they are. So that’s again, kind of implicit and explicit. You know, I’ll ask some questions if I, if I, again, if I have someone who’s coming in for body work with, along with the safe and sound protocol, I’ll be like, Oh, you know, do you want to undress and hop under the sheets? Do you want to stay dressed and be on top? Do you want to cover up with a blanket or do you want to be on top of the blanket? Little things like that are, um, you know, ways to, it’s this dance of like, I understand you’re a sovereign being and I want to accommodate and support that. Does that make sense?

Debbie: 

Yeah. Yeah. And I love the word sovereign. Like, I don’t know how long have I been doing the show for almost eight years. I don’t know if it’s ever come up in a conversation on this show. And it’s such a powerful word when you think about our kids. So many interesting things you said, also, I love that idea of noticing if you’re opening or tightening, I think of this idea if something feels shackles on or shackles off. Like that’s how I respond. And it’s super clear when you start thinking about it that way. And I also love neurocepting as a verb. So that’s really interesting to think about. So, the goal then, I mean, I don’t even know if goal’s the right word. Um, but in the work that you’re doing with people, it is to help them understand the way that they experience neuroception so that they can support themselves as they move through the world, so they can have a deeper awareness of what’s happening and so that they have tools and resources to feel safer. Am I getting that right?

Autum Romano:

Well, right, and it’s co -regulation. So co -regulation is using, you know, hopefully I can find enough safety. It doesn’t have to be this binary safe, not safe. I’m gonna hopefully have enough safety in my nervous system that I can then offer that to them. So that is co -regulation. And so hopefully I’m offering them enough safety through my nervous system that then they are getting enough safety so then what’s happening together is co -regulation. So for me, what’s interesting is that I am not going to like top-load my sessions with a whole lot of psychoeducation unless they specifically want that and then I will go for it. But otherwise most people are not super regulated when they walk in and that is not the time to give them a lot of science. Again, sovereign, right? They are sovereign beings. They have the ability to regulate and to, to, police is the wrong word, govern, right? The definition I use of sovereignty is the ability to govern oneself. So, you know, I will answer the questions when they ask. So typically I’m giving like, a lot of science and like very small coded kind of words because really I just want to start with the hands on portion or the listening portion or if we’re doing that together because then they’re going to be more regulated. They’re going to have more safety. They’re going to have more of this central branch of their vagus and then they’re going to go like why did that feel different? Why is this if they ask or I’ll give them a couple of little things to take home with. So the interesting thing about my work is yes, I use words, but mostly it’s just body stuff. It’s just felt experience so that their body has time to be in this ventral place, supported, supported hopefully through touch. If they’re going to be listening at home, then maybe with a parent or caregiver, or if they’re in my room, just, it’s such a, I mean, co -regulation through touch is so, so, so powerful. So if I have someone who’s coming in and they don’t really like massage and they are not pumped about this portion, I’ll start somewhere small, like, how do you feel about a foot rub? And if they’re like, meh, it’s okay. Great, I started the feet. Because, and then I can just, I mean, I’ll be watching their face, but you know, give them about three or four minutes. Is this okay? And they’re like, yeah, because I’m also teaching them safe touch. I can’t really talk about it. I mean, you can, but you know, first you just have to, you know, just, is this okay? You just start in the edge. You just start in the very, it’s this Venn diagram of like, they just have to be okay enough to begin sometimes, you know, and sometimes, and that’s, I’m talking about, you know, like a twice exceptional young person. Some people, they just can’t wait. They’re like, oh my gosh, yes, I’m so ready. And it’s, you know, I don’t have to start on the edge. You just hop right in and they’re ready and you’re ready and it’s fine.

Debbie: 

Yeah, so cool. Okay, thank you. Okay, so when I first reached out to you, it was because I know you do a lot of work with the Safe and Sound Protocol. And this is something that I had been introduced to through a therapist who was working with our family several months ago. And that was my first experience with it. And then it’s come up in different places and conversations in my community. And so I want to learn more about it. And I thought listeners might want to know more about it. So can you explain as a starting point, what is the Safe and Sound Protocol?

Autum Romano:

So it’s the Safe and Sound Protocol, or we sometimes call it SSP. It’s a five hour auditory intervention created by Dr. Porges in his lab. So it’s interesting because it’s music, but it’s literally made in a lab. So that’s pretty fun. It’s also an acoustic vagal stimulator. So I’ve talked a little bit about this ventral branch. this is not, you know, neuroplasticity where you’re working hard to create new neural pathways. No, no, no. This is, we have three main autonomic nervous system states. And one of them is this, this ventral state. And so you’re like literally plugging it in. You’re saying, okay, perhaps this is offline. We are plugging it in. We’re getting it online. So sometimes Dr. Porges says you’re picking up your train and you’re putting it on a different track. All of the track is already there. So sometimes because of our neurodivergence or because of our trauma history or both, it’s easy for the ventral branch to get offline, you know, for a whole host of different reasons. And so what’s pretty phenomenal about the Safe and Sound Protocol is it’s a passive intervention. All you do is if headphones are tolerated, then you listen to music and there’s several different playlists. There’s a children’s playlist that has Disney songs. There’s an adult playlist that’s like a lot of songs, you know, kind of from the radio that you’d recognize sort of like a playlist or a mixtape. There’s classical and there’s a new one that’s a little bit more like ambient spa music. And you know, ideally you’re with someone you’re supported like I listened this morning to prepare. I was home alone so I listened with my dog. He is a mammal. He has a Vagus nerve and we can co-regulate by just sort of snuggling on the couch and I can pet him and our nervous systems are supporting each other during the listening. When I first did the SS, I found SSP as a parent as a desperate parent and so I first did the intervention, you know, just facilitating it for my son and my husband and myself. And then later I had an opportunity to train. And when I did the training, the main, um, you know, the sort of foundation of the training is to provide co -regulation. So after I read the whole polyvagal theory and you know, the unabridged book and understood physiologically what co -regulation is, I was like, Oh, this is therapeutic touch, this is massage therapy at its very best, the entire thing is co -regulation. So to me, I was like, well, this makes sense. If I’m supposed to be co -regulating with them, I want to use touch. So I started putting them together, which was sort of a brand new thing. There’s more people doing it now, which is good, just because I really believe it’s just so impactful. And it’s, I don’t know if easy is the right word, but gosh, you know what? Sometimes it is easy. It really is. Sometimes it’s just straightforward to do it that way. So that’s when folks are coming and listening with me in person. I also do like remote listening for folks who can’t come into my office. And so it’s five hours. So, you know, every now and then you have someone who can complete it in the original way of one hour, five days in a row. It’s pretty rare. Sometimes you’ll do 30 minutes for 10 days in a row. Sometimes you’ll do 15 minutes. It just depends. I mean, that’s why you need a provider is you need someone to help you track the nervous system. I always tell people like, you’re not in charge, I’m not in charge. Your nervous system is like our wonderful wise guide. And I can kind of tell them like, you know, we’re just looking for, Are you feeling like you’re checked out or are you irritable while they’re listening to understand if the nervous system has had too much? But really it’s, um, you’re either getting the ventral branch kind of back online or maybe it’s kind of a brand new thing and you’re teaching the body how to, to, sometimes it’s tolerating safety. If you have an intense trauma history, the safety won’t feel peaceful. So sometimes you have to learn how to do that. And sometimes it’s really straightforward. It just depends.

Debbie: 

So yeah, it’s fascinating. And you know, I did it this morning for 30 minutes with my cat. Haskell was co regulating with me, but you describe it as passive intervention. And it is in that, you know, you can, you know, be working on a puzzle or you can do drawing, you know, or coloring something and while you’re doing while you’re listening to it. And as I’m listening, of course, my mind’s like, well, what’s happening right now? I’m very curious about what’s going on as I’m listening. Could you talk more about what is actually happening? You started to explain it at the end of your last comment. Sometimes it’s just learning to tolerate safety. But how does it work. But what is actually happening? What’s happening inside your brain as a result? And then what does the protocol look like ongoing?

Autum Romano:

So it really is, you’re using the auditory system first to get to the ventral branch of the vagus nerve. So it’s fascinating how truly, I mean, I just went to a nerve lecture by a colleague and friend, Gil Headley, who had just dissected out the entire nervous system and hearing him, the peripheral nerves also, and hearing him talk about the vagus is wonderful because he’s like, oh, well, here’s the vagus, but then here’s this nerve. Are they separate or are they not? The interesting thing is that when you’re talking about actual gross anatomy, it’s like if you have a braid of hair, it’s like, when is this strand separate from this strand? And so, when you, what’s happening with what Dr. Porges has created in his lab is music that is an actual workout for the neural system and an actual workout for the auditory system. So he has chosen songs that will kind of survive all the low frequency sounds and the high frequency sounds being removed from the get go. So you’re only going to have the sounds, the envelope of the human voice. So these mid range frequency sounds and then he’s going to kind of tease them away and then bring them back. So the volume changes quite a bit. And what’s happening is the stapedius muscle of the middle ear is getting, it’s just doing push ups over and over and over again. And so when that muscle works better, then we can bring in sounds of human voice, which are sounds of safety, and we can deflect low frequency sounds, which are sounds of danger.

So the really simple way to think about this is if you and I were going to meet at a busy coffee shop and I’m talking to you, how well are your ears going to be able to hear me? Or are they hearing someone talking to the barista 10 feet behind me ordering? So it’s really fascinating how our ear function has a lot to do with mechanics, just straight up mechanics. Maybe somebody had an ear injury because of burst eardrums or repeated ear infections when they were a child. All of that is going to influence the mechanics of the ear. And so this, you know, the Safe and Sound Protocol helps the stapedius muscle do its job better, basically. So when it can do its job better, then the ear becomes more dynamic, and then that helps support a nervous system that’s more dynamic. So kind of another simple way that your audience will, has probably heard about this window of tolerance, right? And so what happens is SSP widens our window of tolerance. And I don’t really, you know, it’s not good practice to use always and never, but GZO, it kind of always widens the window of tolerance to some capacity for every person. And so we all look a little bit, you know, we have different windows of tolerance for different things, but that’s what SSP does, is it widens your window of tolerance. So it kind of changes the way that the world is landing on you, if that makes sense. You know, we think about stress, stress isn’t good or bad. What we want to know, and when we talk about heart rate variability, that’s a measure of how is your body responding to stress. You know, is it able to be dynamic and be flexible, or is it not? And a lot of that has to do with how our Vegas is functioning. And so SSP is just, it’s a huge support for the nervous system through the auditory system. Does that make sense? 

Debbie: 

That’s so helpful. Yeah, absolutely. Thank you for explaining that. So for a listener who’s interested in exploring SSP, how would they go about using this approach? And it’s a two -parter, sorry. I hate asking two -part questions. But the second part of the question is, how do we get our kids bought into it, if you have any thoughts on that?

Autum Romano:

So if they want to, there are, you know, several practitioners out there. I think there’s maybe between two and 3000 of us worldwide. So, um, you know, I always think that we just need to look at what works for us, what works for our people. You know, sometimes it’s best to find someone, you know, maybe it’s possible to do it in person locally. A lot of times with families. It’s best for the parent to be the facilitator because they’re already going to have co -regulation. And sometimes these kiddos, the last thing they want is a brand new provider in their life. That’s not helpful for anybody. So a lot of times what I do when I’m supporting people and they can, they can always listen with me through the home program is a month long. And I just coach the parents for it. And so we meet every week to kind of what’s so cool about parents and caregivers is they are so good at understanding their kids even if they don’t know the science and I don’t need them to know the science. I can explain the science. I just want to know what are the sticky parts of your day? You know, is it getting to school? Is it brushing your teeth? Is it you know, whatever and then we’ll just say, okay, let’s let’s follow that. Let’s do SSP and then just tell me, are the sticky spots getting worse or better? Are you noticing anything else? So we can kind of just watch this factor that seems to be the tricky thing and see if we’re getting any ease, if we’re widening the window of tolerance. So, and when it comes back to getting buy -in, you don’t really need buy-in, you need just enough compliance, honestly, to get them to say yes. They don’t have to be excited, they don’t have to believe in it. And so I think I usually am coaching parents as to like, I think you either, depending on your kiddo, have to add something, an incentive, or remove something that’s already hard. So for example, and usually during the intake process, we can already discover this. It’s like, is there something that they would really love to have more of? And you never know. Sometimes this kiddo’s like, oh, they would love to have one -on -one time with me. Maybe they have a busy family. It’s like, okay, how are we gonna find 15, 30 minutes a day for just the two of you. What would they like to do? Ah, they would love it if I played Legos with them. Great. They want to snuggle in my bed. Great. You know, we’re going to get a paint by numbers kit and we’re going to take it out and we’re only going to listen or we’re only going to color during SSP and then we’ll put it away. So it becomes this SSP only activity that we complete together. For maybe a kiddo that has more PDA tendencies, you really, again, respect and understand their sovereignty and maybe try, because it is a demand, to remove a demand. Like, okay, for instance, maybe brushing teeth is really hard. Well, what’s really gonna happen if you don’t brush your teeth twice a day? Maybe it’s like, hey, you can skip brushing your teeth at night if you listen to this, you know? Or it’s whatever that parent’s comfortable with. Money, if money works, like, you know, like after completion. I’ll take you to this thing or I’ll buy you that expensive Lego set or I’ll just straight up hand you cash or you can get ice cream every night after you finish it or you know, I think that I really try to just help each parent find something that already works within their family culture and within you know their integrity and what works for them. But I think simply saying I want you to do this is unfair and yet not respectful of their sovereignty. It’s a big ask. And so I think we have to make it worth their time, you know, by either being like, oh, yeah, I know that you hate emptying the litter box. Guess what? For the entire time you’re doing the safe and sound protocol, I will empty the litter box. Whatever. Like I will make your breakfast or, you know, just because you’re asking something difficult or maybe they love it or you pay them.

Debbie: 

Before we wrap up, I would love it if you could tell us a little bit about the book that you wrote, Body Wisdom and the Polyvagal Theory. You shared this with me when it first came out, which I think was during COVID, if I recall correctly. So…

Autum Romano:

Right at the beginning. Yeah, I wrote it right before 2019 and then kind of got it out in the world 2020. 

Debbie: 

Okay, so tell us a little bit about that and who the intended audience is for that.

Autum Romano:

Yeah, thanks Debbie. I wrote it for everybody. I put it in the form of a children’s book because, you know, my son’s super dyslexic. And so again, kind of thinking about like, what’s a good trauma -informed, polyvagal -informed approach to books? So I was honestly trying to make it friendly and inviting. And so a children’s book seemed that way. So it’s not just for children. I just formatted it that way to hopefully let it slide into the radar of just all the reasons, all the reasons that books are hard or science is hard or something new is hard. Maybe, you know, it’s, well, a lot of shame-based reasons, honestly. So I decided to just kind of format it in like the friendliest way I could think of. I used the open dyslexic font and my son Foster illustrated it. And what’s really cool is I knew that illustrations really, really mattered, but again, it was more intuitive. It wasn’t a concrete thing. And now it’s used in a local preschool that my sister is an early childhood education special education director and she uses it in her program and the pre readers love it like they love it, especially the kiddos that have kind of like big behavior that have a lot of fight or flight behavior. They love it. They’ll like carry it around because there’s this red angry like exploding robot and they’ll just kind of like carried around like a little wubby. So it’s turned out that it’s also great for pre readers. I think and non readers just because the. The message carries through without text, but does have text. And yeah, it’s an introduction to polyvagal theory. So it’s for everybody, but through the form of story and connection, it’s a simple short read. But I do have, at the beginning, I go into a little more science and a little more like a user guide for either parents, caregivers, teachers.

Debbie: 

Mm -hmm. It’s great. It’s great, again, because as I mentioned earlier, Polyvagal can be a complicated topic, and really, your book really does kind of make it accessible and breaks it down in a way that, people of all ages can really get it. Yeah, it’s great.

Autum Romano:

Yeah, I would so much rather everybody understand a tiny bit than a few people knowing all of it. It’s I mean, this is our bodies like this isn’t, you know, this isn’t like secret information for a few.

Debbie: 

Yeah, exactly. It’s great. Well, I know we’ve gone over, but I really appreciate getting into all of this. I think it’s fascinating. And I do think this is really more and more of my conversations on the show. And more and more of the books that I’m reading are centered around this idea of interoception and neuroception, polyvagal and the nervous system. And it’s exciting to me. So I’m really happy to have gotten to go deep with you today. Can you let listeners know where they can connect with you and how they might work with you even if they aren’t local to where you do your body work?

Autum Romano:

Thanks, Debbie. I have a website. So Autumn Romano, there’s no one on Autumn. So A -U -T -U -M -R -O -M -A -N -O dot com. I have a lot of free videos there. Pretty soon I will have some on demand videos for parenting for connection, like a parenting course. They can learn more information about how to sign up for Safe and Sound Protocol with me, the remote program at home. They can contact me through email. I do have an Instagram page. I’m on there a little bit. I try to offer some, you know, free support and a lot of like follow along videos. So that’s my favorite is teaching hands-on practices because again, I only get to see a few people a week in person. But you know, there are some pretty simple ways to. for us to use touch in our own lives to help support our body. And that’s really my favorite.

Debbie: 

Yeah, that’s great. Well, thank you. And listeners, as always, I will have links in the show notes page to all the resources. And yeah, there’s a lot of resources on your website, a lot of videos, and it’s a great place. If this conversation has sparked you and you’re curious and are more, definitely check out Autumn’s website. So thank you. Thanks so much for everything, for breaking this down, for answering my many questions all over the place and explaining SSP to us. Super fascinating. So thank you, Autumn.

Autum Romano:

Yeah, it’s it’s a real dream come true. I mean, Debbie, I remember exactly where I was standing in my house the first time I heard you and I found differently wired and tilt parenting. And it was like a real moment of like, oh my God, it’s not just me. I thought I was like, you know, the only person in the whole world doing that, you know, trying to find a new, better way. So this is a real full circle moment for me, so thank you.

Debbie: 

Oh, that’s very sweet. I love hearing that. 

THANKS SO MUCH FOR LISTENING!

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