February 8, 2023

Understanding Primitive Reflexes: Benefits for Parents and Children

Laura Gencarella Speech Therapist in Charlotte, NC

Laura Gencarella
Owner, Speaking Sensory LLC

Baby laying down

What are Primitive Reflexes?

Primitive reflexes are reflex actions that help babies develop motor skills, coordination and balance in their first year of life. When these reflexes persist into the second year of life, they can interfere with a child’s development and cause problems such as delayed speech, poor posture, difficulty concentrating, poor coordination or balance. Occupational therapy can help with the integration of primitive reflexes into higher level functioning.

Moro Reflex:

The Moro reflex is present at birth and usually disappears by four months of age. It’s a protective reflex that helps a baby orient to sudden movement, sound or touch. This reflex can cause the baby to arch their back and throw out their arms in response to a loud noise or sudden movement. If the Moro reflex is retained, a child may exhibit fear reactions to unexpected sounds or movements, have difficulty calming themselves if startled, and be overly sensitive to sound or touch.

Fear Paralysis Reflex:

The Fear Paralysis reflex appears around three months of age, and usually dissipates between 6-9 months. This fear response helps babies recognize potential danger and react accordingly with either freezing (paralysis) or running away (flight). This reflex helps babies orient to their environment and aids in posture control. If this reflex is retained into toddlerhood, it can cause fear reactions to novel situations such as new places or people. If this reflex persists beyond infancy it can result in anxiety, difficulty settling down after being startled, or an inability to regulate emotions.

Tonic Labyrinthine Reflex (TLR):

The Tonic Labyrinthine Reflex (TLR) appears around 3-4 months and is usually integrated into higher functioning by the end of the second year. It helps babies adjust their muscle tone to changing positions, such as when rolling from back to front. If the reflex persists it can result in a child being clumsy or having difficulty with transitions between activities. Additioanlly, this reflex can cause difficulty with crawling and walking, poor posture, difficulty maintaining midline alignment, and difficulty completing rapid movements.

Spinal Galant Reflex (SGR):

The Spinal Galant Reflex(SGR) appears around three to four months, and usually integrates in less than 12 months. This reflex helps babies coordinate movements of one side of their bodies with movement on the other side. When this reflex is persistent, a child may lack flexibility in different parts of their body or experience difficulty with activities such as swimming or biking. Additionally, there may be difficulty controlling bladder or bowels.

Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (ATNR):

The Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (ATNR) appears around four to six months, and should be fully integrated by eight months. This reflex helps babies develop neck muscles so they can look in different directions when lying on their back. Specifically, it helps a baby orient to movement in the environment by turning their head one way when an arm is extended. If the ATNR is retained, a child may have difficulty with reading because they have trouble tracking words across a page or keeping their place during reading. They may also report feeling dizzy or nauseous while reading or writing.

Symmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (STNR):

The Symmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (STNR) appears at six months, and should be fully integrated by nine months. This reflex helps a baby maintain balance when their head is turned to the side. and helps them learn to roll over when lying on their back. If it persists into later childhood, children may have difficulty crossing the midline of the body and struggle with tasks such as tying shoe laces or getting dressed.

How Occupational Therapy Can Help?- Let the Benefits of Integrating Primitive Reflexes Shine!

Occupational therapists use play-based activities to help integrate primitive reflexes and promote healthy growth and development. These activities are fun for children and also provide sensory input which helps to stimulate the nervous system. Examples include swinging on swings or crawling through tunnels while receiving gentle tactile pressure. This type of activity helps the brain reorganize itself so that it no longer relies on primitive reflexes but rather develops new pathways for learning and movement. As a parent, it can be beneficial to discuss any concerns you may have about your child’s development with their doctor or a qualified occupational therapist. They will be able to provide more information on what activities may be best suited for your child’s particular needs.

Overall, primitive reflexes are important for the development of motor skills, coordination and balance. If they are retained into toddlerhood, they can interfere with a child’s development and cause problems such as delayed speech, poor posture, difficulty concentrating, poor coordination or balance. Occupational therapy can help with the integration of primitive reflexes into higher level functioning. By recognizing the signs of retained primitive reflexes and seeking out intervention from an occupational therapist if needed, parents can ensure their children have the best chance at reaching their full potential. We hope this helped highlight the importance of primitive reflexes and their benefits!

Note: This content is written for instructional purposes only and should not be used in place of professional medical advice. Please consult your doctor for any concerns about your child’s development.

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