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Primitive Reflex Integration

"Improve brain functioning through integration of primitive reflexes." Kathy Johnson, MS, Ed.

What Are Primitive Reflexes?

Primitive reflexes begin in utero; they are repetitive, involuntary or automatic movements in response to stimuli that are essential for the development of head control, muscle tone, sensory integration and overall development. They protect a developing fetus, aid the birthing process and contribute to later, more mature postural reflexes.  As the baby grows, ideally these primitive reflexes will “integrate” into the growing brain.  They will no longer be active as the practice of these movements do their intended job and movements become more controlled and voluntary.

How Are Primitive Reflexes Integrated?

Movement is critical to integrating primitive reflexes. The integration of primitive reflexes allows us to move through our spatial world as we develop through early childhood stages of life.  Holding our head up for the first time, rolling over, crawling and creeping, walking, skipping – all of these require the basic building blocks that began with primitive reflexes.

 

From gross motor (walking, skipping, throwing, catching) to fine motor (handwriting, tying shoes) to ocular motor (eye movements), each stage of development is affected by the timely integration of primitive reflexes.

What Causes Primitive Reflexes To Be Retained?

There are many reasons which may contribute to primitive reflexes remaining “active”, or retained.

Retained primitive reflexes may be the result of:

  • Stress of the mother and/or baby during pregnancy (birth trauma, breech birth, Cesarean birth, induced birth)

  • Lack of movement in utero (due to low amniotic fluid, for example)

  • When infants spend extended time in car seats/carriers, jumpers, walkers, which restrict movements that are required for healthy brain development.

  • Illness, trauma, injury, chronic stress

  • Other developmental delays

 

Children and adults can experience symptoms from retained reflexes.  Reflexes that are integrated may become reactivated later by injury, trauma, illness or stress.

Retained Primitive Reflexes Can Affect Coordinated Movement, Vision, and Learning

When primitive reflexes haven’t integrated within the appropriate time frame, it is important to revisit the missing developmental stages.  These movement activities will help rebuild the foundation and create new neural pathways.  A primitive reflex integration program involving specific movement patterns makes it possible to retrain the brain, our control center for these reflexes.

 

Moro Reflex

Affects vestibular, ocular motor, and visual perceptual systems.

 

Symptoms include:

  • Exaggerated startle reflex

  • Dislike of change or surprise

  • Eye movement and visual processing problems

  • Motion sickness

  • Poor balance

  • Poor coordination

  • Physical timidity

  • Light sensitivity

  • Inner ear problems

  • Frequent infections

  • Allergies

  • Adverse reaction to drugs

  • Poor stamina

  • Difficulty with black print on white paper

  • Tires easily under fluorescent lighting

  • Poor auditory discrimination

  • Tense muscle tone

  • Often in “Fight or Flight” mode

  • Biochemical and nutritional imbalances

  • Hyperactivity

  • Mood swings and/or emotional instability

  • Low self-esteem

  • Anxiety or withdrawal

  • Phobias

Symmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (STNR)

Affects fixation, focusing from near to far, and crossing midline.

Symptoms include:

  • Poor posture

  • Tendency to slump when sitting, particularly at a desk/table

  • Simian (ape-like) walk

  • Difficulty tracking and/or catching a ball

  • Poor balance and depth perception

  • Difficulty swimming

  • Poor eye-hand coordination

  • Messy eater

  • Difficulties with adjusting focus from distance to near

  • Poor swimming skills

  • Learning problems

  • Difficulty recognizing social cues

  • ADD/ADHD characteristics

  • Anchors feet behind chair while sitting

  • “W” position when sitting on the floor

  • Difficulty aligning numbers for math problems

Spinal Galant Reflex

Affects ability to sit still, concentration, short-term memory, and bedwetting.

 

Symptoms include:​

  • Fidgety, wiggly, especially if clothes or chair brush their back.

  • Sensory issues with waistbands/tags in clothing or food texture

  • Poor concentration

  • Attention problems

  • Bedwetting long after potty training

  • Short term memory issues

  • Fidgeting and wiggly “ants in the pants”

  • Posture problems

  • Hip rotation on one side/possibly scoliosis

  • Low endurance

  • Chronic digestion problems

Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (ATNR)

Affects use of hands at midline, balance, eye tracking, handwriting, and laterality.

Symptoms include:

  • Poor balance when moving head side to side

  • Homolateral (same side) instead of cross-pattern movements (marching, skipping, walking)

  • Focusing problems (especially when switching from distance to near)

  • Difficulty keeping place when copying

  • Difficulty crossing the midline

  • Difficulty learning to ride a bicycle

  • Poor pursuits (smooth eye movements)

  • Mixed laterality (uses left foot, right hand or uses left or right hand interchangeably)

  • Difficulty catching a ball

  • Poor handwriting

  • Poor expression of ideas on paper

  • ADD/ADHD characteristics

Palmar Reflex

Affects grip, hand-eye coordination, proper vision, and direction/distance judgement.

Symptoms include:

  • Poor handwriting

  • Poor pencil grip

  • Poor fine muscle control

  • Poor dexterity

  • Poor fine motor skills

  • Poor vision coordination

  • Slumped posture when using hands

  • Back aches when sitting

  • Sticks tongue out or moves mouth when using hands (i.e., when cutting)

  • Poor ability to put thoughts to paper

  • Dysgraphia

  • Speech and language problems

  • Anger control issues

Landau Reflex

Affects attention, motor control, muscle tone, and memory.

Symptoms include:

  • Low Muscle Tone

  • Poor Posture

  • Poor Motor Development

  • Short Term Memory Difficulty.

  • Tension in the back of legs, toe walker.

  • Lack of Stimulation in the pre frontal cortex causing attention, organization and concentration problems.

  • Weak upper body

  • Difficulty swimming the breast stroke.

  • Struggles to do a summersault. Knees buckle when head tucks under.

Tonic Labyrinthine Reflex

Affects attention, posture, rhythm, and speech

 

Symptoms include:

  • Poor balance and spatial awareness

  • Weak muscle tone

  • Stiff or jerky movements

  • Toe walking

  • Poor balance

  • Dislike of sports, physical education class, and running

  • Eye movement, visual perceptual, and spatial problems

  • Motion sickness

  • Poor coordination

  • Poor sequencing skills

  • Poor sense of time

  • Poor organization skills

  • Fear of heights