What is Primitive Reflex?

Primitive reflexes are automatic or involuntary movements directed from the brainstem without cortical involvement. They play a crucial role in survival and developmental processes. As a baby grows, these primitive reflexes will slowly disappear as the brain develops and matures.

What If Primitive Reflexes are Retained?

Reflexes are mostly repressed at the age of 6 months. If this doesn’t happen, the child will struggle with both motor and cognitive skills. For instance, children with learning disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Autism Spectrum, and various other neurodevelopmental disorders are known to have retained primitive reflexes contributing to their symptoms and level of dysfunction.

What are the Causes?

Retained primitive reflexes may be the result of:

  • Stress of the mother and/or baby during pregnancy
  • Lack of movement in utero
  • Restricted body movements, such as the infant spending extended time in car seats, carriers, walkers or jumpers
  • Illness, injury, trauma, chronic stress
  • Other developmental delays

Reflexes as Diagnostic Tool:

Reflexes can determine level of neurological maturation by being age-specific in normal, healthy infants. Early identification  of abnormal movements or reflexes can lead to early referral, diagnosis and treatment. Here’s some of the primitive reflexes that you can look out for in the meantime.

  1. Rooting reflex
  • Onset: 28 weeks gestation
  • Integrated by 3 months

This reflex is an autonomic response to locate the food and it can be seen when you gently stroke the infant from the lips to the cheek, the infant should turn his head toward the stimulated side with the mouth opening and a trial of sucking the finger. However, it may not be present if the infant is not hungry.

If this reflex is retained for more than 3 months, the child may exhibit signs such as anterior tongue-tie, thumb-sucking, a lot of hypersensitivity in the oral cavity, feeding discrepancies, and speech problems.

2. Asymmetric Tonic Neck Reflex (ATNR)

  • Onset: Birth
  • Integrated by 4-6 months

This reflex is commonly known as the “fencer position.” It helps babies move through the birth canal and is essential for activities crossing midline such as reading or writing. To test this reflex, lay your child on his back, gently turn their head to one side. You’ll see the arm and leg on the side that he is looking toward will straighten, while his opposite arm and leg will bend.

Signs of retention include decreased hand-eye coordination, poor handwriting, uncoordinated gait, poor balance, difficulty with visual-motor skills and tracking, and difficulty with tasks that require crossing the midline.

3. Tonic Labyrinthine Reflex (TLR)

  • Onset: Birth
  • Integrated by 6 weeks-3 years old

The TLR reflex helps in postural stability such as movements of rolling over, crawling or quadruped position, standing, and walking for the child. Commonly, kids with ADHD have retention of this reflex. The presence of this reflex beyond the newborn stage is also referred to as abnormal extension pattern or extensor tone.

There are two parts to this reflex — forward and backward, while the response is a change in muscle tone, either flexion or extension. In flexion, the baby’s legs are curled  up and flexed into the fetal position. In extension, you’ll see their arms and legs straighten and stiffen up.

Retained reflex leads to poor balance, spatial problems, motion sickness, hypermobility of the joints, weak muscles, poor posture, toe-walking, and oculo-motor difficulties (reading/ writing).

It is important to address these retained primitive reflexes. If you suspect that your child has retained any of these reflexes, discuss with your paediatrician or contact us today. We look forward to assisting you!

Prepared By

Cindy Chai Hui Chyi

Your Physio Ampang

Call Now