Friday, January 18, 2013

What are Primitive Reflexes?

Babies' brains are cleverly designed with an inborn program of development which relies on reflexes that are controlled by the primitive or "survival" area of the brain.  This is the same brain area that becomes active when a person's "fight or flight" response is triggered.  It is the area of the brain that responds to our most primitive needs for self-preservation. 

Primitive reflexes not only help babies survive, they also provide the means of motor and brain development.  Young babies do not use higher reasoning processes when it comes to movement or emotional response.  They turn their heads and suck when their check is stroked.  They grasp a finger placed in their palm.  They cry when they are startled or hungry and do not stop until they are cuddled, rocked, fed, and/or changed.  The baby responds instinctively to sensory stimulation.  And as his primitive reflexes are repeatedly activated by specific stimulation the related neural pathways develop.  Each reflex becomes "integrated" or dormant after it has completed its developmental purpose.  As the brain and body mature through this process, voluntary motor control emerges along with reasoning, language, and impulse control.

Primitive reflexes emerge in a sequential pattern starting from 9 weeks in utero.  We anticipate their complete integration by 2 years of age, but this is not always the case.  Primitive reflexes may fail to integrate "on time" or may become reactivated for various reasons including: heredity, difficult birth, disease, physical or psychological trauma, toxicity, and sensory-deprivation.

Some of the consequences of unintegrated primitive reflexes include: aberrant motor development, poor lateralization, poor muscle tone, poor binocular vision, eye motor dysfunction, perceptual problems, anxiety, sensory processing disorders, ADHD, and learning disabilities.
I often suggest to parents that the "attention deficit disorder" their child is exhibiting may be age-related.  When a seven year old exhibits the attention and activity level of a 2 year old, we tend to call it a disorder.  Perhaps we should consider whether there is something actually disordered about the child's brain or whether her brain is immature. Children who are significantly controlled by the primitive areas of the brain may have a great deal of difficulty with the higher reasoning involved in self-control.  Utilizing a program of developmental movement based on the natural way brains were designed to mature can fine tune motor skills, calm emotions, develop language skills, improve attention, and increase impulse control - all of which will collaboratively improve one's ability to succeed in an academic environment. 

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