Primitive reflexes are a set of programmes in the brain which are present in all humans for survival. They are integrated and switched off when an infant starts to have conscious control of his/her movements. They have a limited time span and are switched off or integrated through normal childhood activities. If the reflexes are retained they can lead to neuro-developmental delay and poor sensory integration e.g. they can impair balance which will cause a child difficulty in judging space, distance, depth and speed. Balance is vital for everyone, for example, when astronauts lose their sense of balance in space they start to write from right to left, reverse numbers and letters and produce mirror writing. The following reflexes are the ones that are most often retained.
- Tonic Labyrinthine Reflex: affects balance, visual tracking and often leads to reading problems
- Tonic Neck-Righting Reflex: prevents the child from achieving good posture and balance.
- Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Righting Reflex: can lead to poor pencil grip leading to difficulty copying off the board and poor recording skills as well as an aversion to writing. It is the reflex most often involved in poor academic performance.
- Moro Reflex: causes children to be hypersensitive to sound,light and touch and therefore causes concentration and attention problems. It also contributes to emotional problems and is involved poor and irrational behaviour.
The Fear Paralysis begins to function very early after conception and should normally be integrated before birth. It can be characterised by withdrawal, reluctance at being involved in anything new, fear of different circumstances, clinginess, timidity etc.
The Fear Paralysis Reflex may present in any of the following symptoms;
- Anxiety and low stress tolerance
- Temper tantrums
- Increased sensory sensitivity
- Inability to cope with any change
- Breath holding
- Insecure and overly clingy
- Obsessive traits
- Stress paralysis, can’t think and move simultaneous
- Sleep issues
This reflex holds the child in a flight and fight response. The reflex has to cover all eventualities so the child’s sympathetic hormonal and neurological response is activated, preparing the body to protect itself. It is the reflex that allows the body to take the first breath of life automatically.
The Moro Reflex should be integrated between 4 – 5 months and my present as any of the following symptoms;
- Extreme sensitivity to sudden movement, noise or light
- Difficulty getting to or staying asleep
- Impulsive or distractive behaviour
- Inappropriate response to a situation
- Food sensitivities
- Emotional and social immaturity
- Unable to relax
If the Moro reflex persists beyond three to six months of age it becomes an automatic therefore uncontrollable overreaction, overriding the newly acquired higher centre decision making.
This reflex is there in preparation for suckling. The combination of rooting and suck reflexes ensures that a baby’s head turns toward a source of food and the mouth opens wide enough to accommodate a nipple.
The Rooting Reflex should be integrated between 3 – 4 months, retention may present as any of the following symptoms;
- Increased sensitivity around the lips and mouth
- Speech and articulation problems
- Dribbling, difficulty swallowing and chewing
- They may be fussy eaters, particularly with texture and are often thumb suckers
- Poor manual dexterity
Associated with this reflex is a response known as the Babkin response, which is a neurological link between the hand and the mouth. This can be seen as kneading movements of the hand associated with suckling. This is a two way response; hand movements can affect speech and speech my affect hand movement and dexterity.
If a Suck Reflex is not adequately integrated, the tongue projects forwards before moving backward in the normal swallow action. This tongue thrust continually pushes the front teeth forwards, altering the shape of the maxillary arch.
The Suck Reflex should be integrated between 3 – 4 months, retention may present as any of the following symptoms;
- Speech delay
- Articulation and pronunciation difficulties
- Swallowing and chewing problems
- Overbite of the upper jaw
- Involuntary tongue movements when writing or drawing
- A lisp
- Problems with breast feeding
The reflex continues after birth and plays an important part in the development of hand eye coordination, object and distance perception.
If the ATNR is retained, difficulty may be experienced with tasks which involve both left and right sides of the body including eyes, ears, limbs etc. Establishment of dominant hand, foot, ear or eye may be difficult. Turning the head may cause a visual image to momentarily disappear or parts of the visual field to be missed. Visual tracking and judgement of distance may be therefore be affected.
The Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex should be integrated between 6 – 7 months, retention may present as any of the following symptoms;
- Difficulty catching a ball
- Poor handwriting, abnormal pencil grip
- Handwriting problems, does not like cursive writing
- Difficulty establishing right and left body dominance
- Poor distance judgement
- Shoulder and neck problems
The Palmar Reflex and the Plantar reflex should integrate at about the same time, between 4 – 6 months. The Palmar and Plantar reflexes are part of a group of reflexes that develop in the uterus and whose common characteristic is to grasp.
The Palmar and Plantar reflexes should be integrated between 5 – 6 months, retention may present as any of the following symptoms;
- Poor fine motor skills;
- Poor pen-grip and handwriting;
- Slumped posture when writing or working over desk;
- Doesn’t enjoy writing;
- Poor spelling.
- Balance and walking is affected
- Delayed walking beyond 14 months
- Awkward running style and poor balance
- Toes curl under when putting on shoes;
Both the Palmar and Plantar reflexes are thought to be a continuation of an earlier stage of human evolution, when it was necessary for the baby to cling to its mother for safety. If retained beyond the first few months, these reflexes can impede independent finger and toe movement, affecting fine motor skills such as writing.
This reflexes wriggling motion appears to take an active role in the birth process, with movements of the hip helping the baby to work its way down the birth canal.
The Spinal Galant Reflex should be integrated between 12 – 13 months, retention may present as any of the following symptoms:
- Inability to sit still
- Attention and concentration problems
- Bedwetting and poor bladder control
- Clumsiness, often falling over
- Possible development of scoliosis
- Irritated by tight waistbands around this area or tucking shirt in
- May have auditory processing issues
The Spinal Galant reflex may be activated by light pressure in the lower back. In the classroom, just leaning back against the chair may activate the reflex and wriggling in bed whilst asleep may cause bed wetting.
The TLR involves the vestibular system and the sense of balance and position in space and the vestibular interaction with other senses. The reflex should be fully integrated by the end of the first year of life.
The Tonic Labyrinthine Reflex may present itself in the following:
- Poor balance and co ordination
- Motion sickness
- Orientation difficulties, judging space, distance and depth
- Auditory processing difficulties
- Slouchy tension in body
- Dislike of heights and fairground rides
If the Tonic Labyrinthine reflex is not integrated it will constantly disturb the sense of balance and the integration with other sensory systems. This has an effect on reading skills and can cause car sickness.
The STNR is helps the baby with the action of crawling and to start tracking, as well as establishing contralateral movement.
The Symmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex should be integrated between 12 – 13 months, and may present as any of the following symptoms;
- Crawling in unusual ways
- Poor hand – eye co-ordination
- Walking on toes
- Odd pattern of walking
- Slumping at desk
- Constant eye fatigue
- Poor organisation skills
Many children have one or two reflexes that have not been integrated and may be functioning well. It is only when there is a cluster of reflexes that have not been integrated that problems begin to present themselves in the form of feeding issues, emotional issues , learning issues and behavioural issues.
Common questions that would suggest retention of retained neonatal reflexes are:
- Problems in pregnancy.
- Problems in delivery.
- Problems with birthing (forceps, suction, C-section, induction, long, short).
- Difficulty in feeding or keeping milk down.
- Early or late walking – before 10 months or after 16 months.
- Unusual crawling action or skip the cross crawling stage.
- Late when learning to talk (2-3 words by 2 years).
- Serious illness or seizures in the first 18 months of life.
- Signs of eczema, asthma or allergies or recurrent sinus or ear infections or headaches.
- Adverse reactions to childhood vaccinations.
- Thumb sucking past the age of 5.
- Bed wetting regularly past the age of 5.
- Problems with travel / motion sickness.
- Trouble establishing hand dominance or crossing the midline with objects.
- Over reaction to sudden loud noise.
- Problems learning to read and / or write in the early years at school.
- Difficulty telling the time on an analogue clock.
- Difficulty riding a bicycle.
- Difficulty catching a ball and poor coordination.
- Problems being still.
- Problems when copying from the board.
- Occasionally miss letters or write them backwards or missing words out when reading.
- Awkward pencil grip.
- Behavioural problems at school or problems with going to school.
- Problems making friends.
If you have answered yes to some or all of these questions then it is likely that there are some retained reflexes causing problems as they are a sign of an immature central nervous system. The child Centre Method can provide assessment and treatment.