The Primitive Reflexes are a group of motor reflexes found in new-born babies. They develop in utero and share the characteristics of being present at birth in a full-term, healthy baby and are mediated or arise from the brainstem.
Primitive Reflexes are the first part of the brain to develop and should only remain active for the first few months of life. In typical development, these reflexes naturally inhibit in sequential order during the first year, and replacement reflexes, called postural reflexes, emerge. Postural reflexes are more mature patterns of response that control balance, coordination and sensory motor development.
Retained primitive reflexes can lead to developmental delays related to disorders like ADHD, sensory processing disorder, autism, and learning disabilities. The persistence of primitive reflexes contribute to issues such as coordination and balance difficulties, sensory perceptions, fine motor skills, sleep, immunity, energy levels, impulse control, concentration and all levels of social, emotional, and intellectual learning.
Causes of Retained Primitive Reflexes
Retention of primitive reflexes can be caused by a variety of factors. The birth process is a key factor in the integration of these reflexes. Therefore a traumatic birth experience or birth by c-section may lead to retained reflexes. Additional causes can include: falls, traumas, lack of tummy time, delayed or skipped creeping or crawling, chronic ear infections, head or emotional trauma etc.
Reflexes that have the greatest impact on the visual process are:
Moro Reflex: The Moro reflex acts as a baby’s primitive fight/flight reaction and is typically replaced by the adult startle reflex by four months old. If a child experiences a retained Moro reflex beyond 4 months, he may become over sensitive and over reactive to sensory stimulus resulting in poor impulse control, sensory overload, anxiety and emotions and social immaturity. Some additional signs of a retained moro reflex are motion sickness, poor balance, poor coordination, easily distracted, unable to adapt well to change, and mood swings.
ATNR: Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (ATNR) is initiated when laying babies on their back and turning their head to one side. The arm and leg of the side they’re looking should extend while the opposite side bends. This reflex serves as a precursor to hand-eye coordination and should stop by six months.
STNR: The Symmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex is present briefly after birth and then reappears around six to nine months. This reflex helps the body divide in half at the midline to assist in crawling – as the head is brought towards chest, the arms bend and legs extend. It should disappear by 11 months. Developmental delays related to poor muscle tone, tendency to slump while sitting, and inability to sit still and concentrate can result if the STNR is retained.
TLR: The Tonic Labyrinthine Reflex (TLR) is the basis for head management and helps prepare an infant for rolling over, creeping, crawling, standing and walking. This reflex initiates when you tilt an infant’s head backwards while placed on the back causing legs to stiffen, straighten and toes to point. Hands also become fisted and elbows bend. It should integrate gradually as other systems mature and disappear by 3 1/2 years old. If retained, the TLR can lead to poor muscle tone, tendency to walk on toes, motion sickness and poor balance.
Most Behavioural Optometrists understand the importance of how primitive reflexes impact on the visual system and either incorportate them into their programs or work alongside reflex practitioners.
For more information, contact BABO or your nearest accredited practitioner.