Updated: Mar 22
Primitive reflexes are automatic movements originating in the brain stem and are essential for a baby’s survival in the first few weeks of life. These reflexes should have a limited life span and become integrated within the first year of life, being replaced by highly refined, cortically controlled movements. These reflexes are the foundation for development of accurate gross motor skills, fine motor skills and the integration of the sensory systems, including vision.
These reflexes may not be integrated due to a poorly developed motor system, or can reappear with trauma or brain injury. There is a hierarchy for the integration of reflexes and when they are integrated out of sequence, normal development of the nervous system is disrupted. This is also true when working with a patient to integrate their reflexes. You must follow the appropriate sequence of integration that follows how they integrate during typical development. By appropriate sequenced movements it is possible to integrate these reflexes.
Why is it important for these reflexes to be integrated? Retained reflexes cause the body to use energy to continually compensate for these reflexes. This in turn, interferes with the necessary energy needed to perform higher level tasks, such as those needed for an efficient visual system.
The following are examples of behaviors/characteristics that can be associated with retained reflexes:
Moro Reflex– oculomotor (visual tracking) delays, visual perceptual delays and increased anxiety
Palmar Reflex– poor pencil grip and difficulty with writing
Tonic Labyrinthine Reflex– balance issues and oculomotor delays
Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex– poor bilateral integration, poor handwriting and poor eye movements
Spinal Galant Reflex– hypersensitivity to tags/clothing, poor concentration and poor visual fixation
Babinski Reflex– toe walking and poor balance
Symmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex– poor handwriting, difficulty hopping and skipping and poor posture
Retained reflexes are often just a piece of the puzzle, but they may be an important piece. When working to learn any new skill, it’s imperative to have a solid foundation, in order to maximize the efficacy of the treatment. Primitive reflexes are a foundational skill that can have an impact on the development of all of the sensory systems, if not integrated.