If this is the first time you have heard of Primitive Reflexes you are not alone. Very few people have ever heard of Primitive Reflexes or understand how they can wreak havoc on their child’s learning.
First we need to fully grasp the idea of a reflex. A reflex is our brain and body’s reaction to a stimulus that happens at lightning speed and without our conscious thought or input. It is our body’s auto-pilot taking over total control of our systems and keeping us out of danger. An example of a reflex can be as simple as when we touch something hot, we pull our hand away; to our body shutting down our digestive system, switching from central focus to peripheral vision, shortening our calf tendons, and flooding our system in adrenaline, in an effort to outrun a sabertooth tiger. It is an automatic physical and chemical reaction that happens without thought.
All children are born with this inborn programming that is their Primitive Reflexes. These automatic Primitive Reflexes are intended to support a child’s survival in the womb and early childhood. The reflexes are designed to assist the child to be born, to know how to feed, and to react to perceived danger, while they are still developing their higher brain functioning. Although some of our reflexes (like when we touch something hot) are meant to stay with us and protect us, our Primitive Reflexes are meant to go away. Primitive Reflexes are meant only to control our muscles until such time that the infant’s higher brain development is adequate to take over control of their own body. Most Primitive Reflexes should integrate by 3 months to 1 year, after birth.
The reflexes control muscle development and are the initiation of movement. It is through movement that a child starts to experience it’s environment and starts to develop higher brain thinking. Through trial and error the infant tries to lift it’s head, creep, crawl, grasp objects, stand and walk, eventually gaining master control over it’s body.
It is through these efforts to take over master control that the Primitive Reflexes are integrated. Integrating a reflex means that the inborn programming is no longer required to be active, the child has done the work (through repetitive movements) to prove to the brain that it no longer needs the automatic reflex. If the brain is convinced the infant knows what to do, the reflex will be integrated (go dormant).
However, in some cases a child’s reflexes can stay active, causing issues. The reason a reflex stays active is almost impossible to pinpoint. Possible reasons range from c-section birth, illness, trauma, environmental, or simply that the baby did not crawl long enough before moving to walking, not giving the reflex enough time get it’s work done.
Each reflex, besides it’s primary role of helping the infant survive, also develops other brain and sensory functions. The act of crawling, as simple as it appears, is a symphony of development. In order to crawl, an infant must be able to lift it’s head, push it’s upper body off the ground, be able to adjust it’s eye focus from near (looking down at the floor), to far (looking ahead at where they are going), to coordinating not only the left and right side of the body, but the upper and lower body, in order to propel itself forward. There is alot going on to simply crawl to their favorite toy.
It is not until we break down the primitive reflexes and infantile movements, that we start to see how these could be a possible cause our child is having learning difficulties. If your child has not fully developed the muscles to hold their head up, they will rest it on the desk to do homework; without good shoulder and arm strength, the act of writing becomes physically exhausting; if their eyes cannot adjust focus from near to far, the child will struggle to take notes from the blackboard; if they can not coordinate the left and right hemispheres of the brain to work together, all coordination, physically and mentally is challenged.
Primitive Reflexes create a sort of ‘lock’ on the body. They can cause the child to appear lazy, sloppy, uncoordinated, disinterested or fearful. It is the reflexes control over the body that manifest these symptoms in a child. Also, the reflex controls the signals that go to the muscles and is often the reason for low muscle tone, and also the reason that strength training in the gym does not fix the problem.
Luckily, retained Primitive Reflexes can be integrated at any age. It is not uncommon for adults to have Primitive Reflexes that are still active. Through simple reflex testing we can determine which reflexes are retained, or ‘still active’, simply by the presence or absence of the automatic reflexive muscle response. Once we have determined which reflexes may still be active, we can then create a program that will work to integrate them so that they no longer interfere with control of the body.
Review the descriptions of each of the Primitive Reflexes to better understand how they can affect a child’s learning and behavior, and which reflexes appear characteristic of your child. If you believe your child may have retained Primitive Reflexes I would recommend that you check out how The Organized Mind program may be able to help.