Sunday, June 9, 2013

Effects of Retained Primitive Reflexes

Reflexes are involuntary responses to specific stimuli.  Some reflexes, such as blinking, should be active for a lifetime.  Other reflexes are designed to be present for a period of time in order to assist in development and then to become dormant once they have completed their jobs.  Primitive reflexes are this type of reflex.  They are preprogramed into a baby's brainstem and serve as the drive behind a baby's rapidly developing neuro-motor system. 

Primitive reflexes cause a baby to repeat certain motor patterns each time the stimulus for the reflex is encountered.  For example, placing your finger in a baby's hand will activate the "grasp reflex" causing the baby to curl his fingers around yours. Repeating the reflexive pattern develops pathways in the brain until eventually the reflex completes its developmental job and the stimulus no longer triggers the response.

Primitive reflexes are expected to become dormant or "integrated" within the first couple of years of life.  When a reflex becomes locked in the system and does not fully integrate then the brainstem is constantly being triggered by the stimulus for the reflex and higher level development is hindered.  Think back to the example of the grasp reflex.  If the grasp reflex is still partially present in a child who is learning to write, then the writing utensil is a stimulus for the reflex causing a constant triggering of the brain stem.  The brainstem is the most primal area or "survival" area of the brain.  This is the area responsible for the "fight or flight" response to danger.  Constant triggering of the brainstem causes stress.  In addition, the presence of the reflex prevents a child from developing volunary muscle control and natural muscle strength.  A child with active hand reflexes will have difficulty writing fluently and comfortably.

The following is a list of physical, cognitive, emotional and social issues that may result from primitive reflexes being active in children and adults.  (This list comes from Sonia Story, instructor of the Brain and Sensory Foundations on-line training in which I am currently enrolled):
  • muscle aches and tension
  • body parts don't move independently or there is "neuro-motor static"
  • fatigue due to too much effort needed to move and do specific tasks
  • lack of a solid neuro-sensory-motor and vestibular foundation which prevents the brain from maturing properly
  • continual activation of the "survival brain" (brainstem) causing irritation and increasing the likelihood of impulse control and emotional issues
  • chronic stress and health challenges
Primitive reflexes that are not integrated on-time can be assisted in doing so through the use of the same types of movement that babies naturally perform for this purpose.  In addition, there are ways to give additional feedback to the brain to help speed this process.  Integrating the primitive reflexes calms the nervous system and helps neuro-motor development to proceed which can improve both learning and behavior.  For more information regarding specific primitive reflexes see this article.

If you would like to learn a more about primitive reflexes, ways to check for them and how to integrate them, I highly recommend Sonia Story's on-line training course, Brain and Sensory Foundations.  Please contact me at integratedlearnermail AT gmail DOT com  for a discount code which can be used if you register by June 25th for the course beginning July 9th.