How to integrate primitive reflexes

Retained Primitive Reflexes delay child development and limit potential

When parents are expecting a baby, they dream of the incredible future that’s in store for their child. A child is born with a set of primitive reflexes that provide for initial survival. Those primitive reflexes are supposed to disappear for the baby to continue to develop. If that process is blocked or delayed and those reflexes are retained, the child’s ability to develop will be compromised.

Retained primitive reflexes delay child development and limit a child’s potential from the first year of life. Specialists have found that children with neurodevelopmental disorders such as ADHD, dyslexia, autism, sensory processing disorders, and learning disabilities have something in common which is retained primitive reflexes.

The good news is retained primitive reflexes can be integrated into higher-level brain functions at any age using simple neurologic-based exercises and interventions that unlock a child’s physical, academic, emotional, social, and behavioral potential. 

What are Primitive Reflexes?

The brain stem is the first part of the brain to develop in utero. It serves a critical role in regulating certain involuntary, automatic functions of the body including the heartbeat, breathing, sleeping, and eating. Primitive reflexes develop in the brain stem before birth or in infancy. They are innate, automatic responses that always occur when a certain stimulus is present. These responses are designed to help a baby survive and develop in the womb and in the early months of life.

Before birth, primitive reflexes help the baby with positioning in the womb and in the birthing process. After birth, primitive reflexes help the baby take its first breath of life, feed, and move. newborns instinctively suck on a nipple that is placed in their mouth or grasp an object, such as a finger, that is placed in their palm.

Other than innate primitive reflexes, human movements and behaviors are learned, or at least influenced by experience. To clear the path for voluntary controlled movement, primitive reflexes must naturally stop in sequential order during the first year of life. This allows higher functions of the brain and muscle control to develop so balance, coordination, and sensory motor movement will emerge.

Download our BrainyAct Primitive Reflexes Quick Reference Guide


Request testing to identify retained primitive reflexes

If primitive reflexes are still present after 12 months, they are called “retained primitive reflexes”. These retained reflexes interfere with the neurological organization of the brain and body. Developmental milestones such as rolling over, crawling, walking, eating, and speaking can be delayed or missed, causing significant difficulties with various learning, social, behavioral, and emotional skills later in life.

During a baby’s first wellness check, the doctor tests to make sure each primitive reflex is active. It’s important for parents to ask their doctor to test for retained primitive reflexes every few months or learn to do these yourself at home. It will help you know when your child’s development is on track and when to raise a red flag. Correcting the issue at 12 months prevents your child from suffering for a lifetime. 

Causes of retained primitive reflexes

Retention of primitive reflexes can be caused by several factors in utero, during birth, or after birth. They can even reactivate later in childhood due to a triggering event. Here are some of the most common causes: Trauma, stress, or toxin exposure during pregnancy may affect reflex integration. The birth process helps integrate many reflexes; therefore, a premature birth, traumatic birth, or C-section may lead to retained reflexes. After birth causes can include falls and injuries, lack of tummy time and opportunities for free movement, delayed or skipped creeping or crawling, chronic ear infections, head trauma, and vertebral subluxations. Reactivation of previously integrated reflexes can occur due to trauma, injury, toxins, and stress.

Movement drives brain and body development

Horses are born ready to stand and walk. Dolphins are born ready to swim. Ducks are born ready to paddle after mama duck. Humans are the most intelligent and highly developed species on the planet, yet we aren’t born to hit the ground running. It takes about a year for a baby to learn to walk and about four to five years to learn to skip. Humans need to move to develop their brains and gain control of their bodies.

During the first year of life, a baby goes through many stages of sequential movements needed to walk. They develop the ability to hold the head up, roll over, sit upright, keep the head aligned, crawl in a cross patterned motion, stand, and then walk. A baby learns to maintain its center of gravity as it moves, which sets them up for a life of sensory motor control and the feeling that they can focus and take control of their body.

When developmental milestones are missed, children may feel insecure in their bodies. They may refuse to do activities that are difficult, avoid situations that are new, overreact to normal sensory stimuli, fidget, lack focus, lose patience easily, and lash out at others for no apparent reason. It’s likely retained primitive reflexes are the cause of these missed movement milestones and the lack of a child’s sensory motor control.

Types of Primitive Reflexes

Primitive reflexes are directly related to each other. Therefore, if one is retained, we can assume others will be retained. These are the most common eight primitive reflexes to test and integrate.

  1. Moro / Startle Reflex: The Moro reflex is the earliest development of the “fight or flight” response. It’s triggered by sensory input and causes a baby to be frightened or threatened. The response is a reaction or a retraction from the threat. This reflex is replaced by the adult reflex by four months old. If retained beyond four months, a child may become over sensitive and over-reactive to sensory stimulus and lack impulse, emotional, and social control.
  2. Rooting / Sucking Reflex: The rooting reflex helps an infant locate and turn its head towards food. It’s activated by brushing your finger down one side of the mouth. The baby will turn toward the stroke and open its mouth for feeding. Retention of the reflex beyond four months may result in eating problems, speech articulation issues, and thumb sucking. Because the hand and mouth are so closely related, a retained rooting reflex and palmer reflex can cause hand and mouth movement to be intertwined. For example, a child may stick out their tongue or have speech problems when writing.
  3. Palmer / Grasp Reflex: The Palmer Reflex is the automatic closing of the fingers into a grasp to grab an object that is placed into the palm of the hand or when the palm is touched or feels pressure. It should be integrated no later than six months when a baby gains hand control and intentionally grasps objects. If not, it can cause manual dexterity issues, messy handwriting, and sticking tongue out when using hands (when intertwined with rooting reflex).
  4. Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (ATNR): The ATNR, like the spinal gallant reflex, helps the infant through the birth canal. The ATNR also helps develop bilateral cross-body movements after birth. It’s referred to as the “fencer position.” While lying on the back, when the baby’s head turns to one side, the arm and leg on the same side will straighten while the arm and leg on the opposite side will flex. The connection between the hand and eyes help develop depth perception and hand-eye coordination. If the reflex is retained beyond six months, problems will exist with reading, writing, and coordinating tasks while the head is moving.
  5. Spinal Gallant Reflex: The Spinal Gallant Reflex, like the ATNR, helps with the birthing process. The spinal gallant also helps the baby urinate after birth. When the lower part of the back is stroked vertically to the spine, the baby’s hips and back will bend into the side being stroked, almost like being ticklish. If both sides of the spine are stroked at the same time it induces urination. If the reflex is retained beyond nine months, higher muscle control will be affected, impacting posture, bladder control, the ability to sit still, concentrate, and retrieve short-term memory.
  6. Tonic Labyrinthine Reflex (TLR): The TLR is the foundation for head control and posture stability and is closely related to the Moro reflex. It’s needed to help roll over, creep, crawl, stand and walk. This reflex doesn’t disappear within the first year of life, but must be integrated by 3 ½ years old, once other systems mature. It’s activated when a baby is laying on its back and tilts its head back below the spine. The legs stiffen, straighten, and toes point. The elbows bend and hands fist. Forward head movement above the spine causes the fetal position. When retained, it causes poor balance, body awareness, sequencing, rhythm, and timing. Toe walking and motion sickness may result.
  7. Landau Reflex: The landau reflex doesn’t develop until two months after birth. It helps develop posture. It’s activated when a baby is on its stomach. By lifting its head, the entire trunk flexes and the feet lift as well. If the landau persists beyond 12 months, it can cause muscle tone, posture, motor movement issues.
  8. Symmetrical Tonic Neck / Crawling Reflex (STNR): The STNR is present at birth, then disappears and reappears around six months to help with crawling. This reflex helps separate the upper and lower halves of the body for crawling. It’s activated when a baby is on it Its hands and knees. When the head is bent down towards the chest, the legs extend. When the head is moved up, the legs bend. This causes a rocking motion, which is a precursor to crawling and standing positions. If the reflex is retained beyond 11 months, it can cause motor learning and behavior problems related to poor muscle tone, sitting posture, and synchronizing movements, problems with near and farsightedness, and the inability to sit still and concentrate.

Download our BrainyAct Primitive Reflexes Quick Reference Guide

Treatment to integrate retained primitive reflexes

When primitive reflexes haven’t integrated within the appropriate timeframe, it’s important to revisit the missing developmental stages to create new neural pathways and build brain-body connections for voluntary, controlled sensory motor movement. This can be done at any time because the brain can change at any age. It’s never too late!

Neurological-based movement interventions like BrainyAct® by Kinuu are specifically designed to integrate retained primitive reflexes and develop higher brain-body connections needed to drive learning and development forward. This can be done with repetitive play three times weekly for four months or more.

By integrating your child’s retained primitive reflexes you can unlock their true potential and reverse disorders such as ADHD, dyslexia, autism, sensory processing disorders, and learning disabilities.

Unlock your child’s potential with BrainyAct®

BrainyAct helps ages 6-adult with learning and development difficulties unlock their true potential. BrainyAct is a non-medical, drug-free program that uses interactive full-body movement gaming technology to deliver an engaging and personalized neurodevelopmental program in your home or in our Minnetonka, Minnesota center.

If you suspect your child has retained primitive reflexes that may be contributing to physical, academic, emotional, social, or behavioral issues, contact us at (952) 444-2808 to discuss your child’s challenges and how BrainyAct can help. Purchase BrainyAct for home or in our center at www.kinuu/purchase/. You can also purchase an assessment prior to purchase in our Minnetonka, Minnesota center.

Download our Mom’s Guide: Strong Brains Start Here to evaluate your child’s strengths and weaknesses and discover any warning signs of neurodevelopmental issues.

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