The importance of integration of primitive reflexes in learning and behaviour.

Primitive reflexes are a normal and integral part of our experience in-utero, during vaginal birth and early infancy. The purpose of these reflexes is to help a baby birth and optimise survival outside the uterus. For example, the crawling reflex allows the baby to crawl up to the mother’s breast straight after birth. This only occurs if the birth is completely natural.

Although these reflexes are helpful at different stages through the first year of life it’s vitally important that they integrate as they can interfere with daily activities, posture and learning as the child grows.

Lack of integration at the appropriate stage of development, will cause the brain to continue to operate at a more primitive level. This prevents access to higher centres of the brain where balance, coordination, school based learning, behaviour and immunity are attained.

Movement and stimulation are essential for integration of primitive reflexes.

Primitive reflexes can be retained if movement is asymmetrical, altered or skipped and this leads to imbalanced or immature brain development.

It is common for kids with retained reflexes to have vestibular imbalances. This can be seen as clumsiness, poor body awareness, altered postures. It can also be seen as sitting in a ‘w’ position, over or under sensitivity to movement and difficulties with auditory, visual and language tasks.

Here are 2 examples of primitive reflexes and what can present when they are retained:

1. Asymmetrical tonic neck reflex (ATNR)

This reflex is necessary to help develop hand-eye coordination, object and distance perception. Once these skills have developed, this reflex should switch off. If this reflex does not switch off then these movement patterns will be affected.

It can also cause poor balance, homo-lateral movements, difficulty crossing the midline, confusion with laterality, poor handwriting and expression on paper or visual perception problems. Activities like walking and skipping will be difficult for a child with a retained ATNR.

2. Moro reflex, startle reflex

This reflex causes a constant state of fight or flight. It is necessary as a baby hasn’t developed higher centres to make a rational decision about whether something is threatening or not. It is also set off by excessive information in babies senses.

Non integration can cause your child to be in a  constant state of fight or flight (survival mode), easily distracted, aggressive, over-reactive, have difficulty relaxing. These children may be labelled with ADHD, anxiety, hypersensitivity and highly emotional.

Our connecting kids program here at Errol Street Chiropractic will assess your child to make sure all there primitive reflexes are integrated and tailor a specific program for them if any need further areas of refinement. If you have any concerns with certain aspects of your child’s development then contact us for further information.