Primitive Reflexes


At birth the brain structures have been formed but the brain isn't yet mature or very well linked up. As such, babies are born with a set of primitive reflexes that help them survive and respond to the sensory world during the first months of life.

Primitive reflexes are automatic, stereotyped movements that are controlled by the primitive parts of our brain. During very early development these reflexes have a vital role to play as they help the baby survive and also set the stage for later development.

For normal development to take place, they need to emerge at the right time, develop and do their job and then eventually integrate. This is achieved via movement.

In utero and over the first months of life, a babies senses are stimulated by both the movements, sounds and touch of the mother and by the in-built movement patterns released at various points by their developing brain. These movements give strong stimulation to the vestibular, proprioceptive and tactile senses.

As the brain isn't yet mature enough to interpret sensory experiences and direct voluntary responses, primitive reflexes are triggered in response to sensory stimuli. These movements further stimulate and develop the sensory systems resulting in sensory integration and the linking up of the brain.

When this process happens repeatedly the primitive reflexes mature and integrate and the postural reflexes develop, giving way to voluntary controlled movement. Rolling, rocking on hands and knees and crawling are all early developmental signs that this process is happening.

When this developmental process happens successfully, a child can learn about their bodies and the environment, which forms the foundation of academic, emotional and physical success.

If the child didn't make these early movement patterns at the appropriate stage of development, the primitive reflexes aren't able to complete their job and thus fully integrate. This interfers with ongoing development and consequently sensory integration will be delayed and the central nervous system will remain somewhat immature.

Incomplete integration can be mild to severe. Children with these difficulties will typically learn to compensate but it takes a tremendous amount of energy. The child will typically experience some of the following challenges: sensory processing issues, poor postural control, balance and coordination difficulties, emotional and behavioural challenges and struggle with academic demands. Children with a diagnosis of Autism, ADD, ADHD, Dyslexia, Sensory Processing Difficulties and Dyspraxia usually have some retained reflexes contributing to their difficulties.

Fortunately it is possible to give the brain a second chance at experiencing the early movement patterns, thus integrating the primitive reflexes and developing new brain connections, thus improving the overall efficiency of the brain. Improvement will then be seen with emotional, social, physical and academic skills.

Below is a brief description of some of the reflexes and signs that they haven’t been fully integrated. If your child presents with a cluster of symptoms an assessment would be beneficial:

The Fear Paralysis Reflex

  • If retained a person may have:
  • Moro Reflex

  • If retained, the Moro will likely prevent the integration of subsequent reflexes. Signs of a retained moro reflex include:
  • The Tonic Labyrinthine Reflex (TLR)

  • If retained, a TLR will interfere with:
  • The Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (ATNR)

  • Signs of a retained ATNR include:
  • Symmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (STNR)

  • Signs of a retained STNR include:
  • Palmar Grasp Reflex

  • Signs of a retained palmar grasp:
  • Spinal Gallant Reflex

  • This reflex plays a part in the birth process and may still present in children born via caesarean section.
  • Signs of a retained Spinal Gallant Reflex:
  • These are some of the common reflexes children retain. Please get in touch if your child experiences physical, social, emotional or cognitive difficulties. Fortunately the brain continues to change and develop throughout life and so much can be done to help a child integrate their reflexes, resulting in positive change.

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