Integrating Primitive Reflexes
The Importance of Integrating Primitive Reflexes
Primitive (infant) Reflexes are repetitive, automatic movements that are essential for development of head control, muscle tone, sensory integration and development. They form the basis of our postural, lifelong reflexes. These primitive reflexes surface in utero and in infancy and become inhibited as the movements do their job and movements become more practiced and controlled. When a baby has been given the opportunity to develop freely and naturally, the primitive reflexes will integrate and no longer be active. When the primitive reflexes remain active, then many difficulties can emerge.
Incomplete integration of primitive reflexes may be a contributing cause of ADD/ ADHD, autism, learning challenges, developmental delay, sensory integration disorders, vision and hearing challenges, behavior challenges, and extreme shyness, lack of confidence, addiction, inefficient, effortful striving, and constant feelings of overwhelm. Rhythmic Movements help children and adults complete the primitive reflex patterns and transform the challenges into integration.
What Can Cause Unintegrated Primitive Reflexes?
Unintegrated, active primitive reflexes may be caused by:
- Stress of the mother and/or baby during pregnancy; breech birth, birth trauma, caesarean birth, induced birth
- Lack of enough proper movement in infancy: being placed in baby walkers/rings, jumpers, being left for long periods of time in car seats/carriers, and being placed in front of TV in bouncers all restrict critical movements required for brain development
- Illness, trauma, injury, chronic stress
- Environmental toxins, complications with vaccinations
- Dietary imbalances or sensitivities
Reflexes that are completely integrated can later reactivate because of trauma, injury, toxins and stress.
Why Are Primitive Reflexes Important?
From very early on in utero, the primitive reflex movements literally help develop the brain. The movements lay down the patterns of neural networks and myelinization of pathways that allow the connection of the various areas of the brain that are so important later on for learning, behavior, communication, relationships and emotional well being.
Integration of the primitive reflexes important because:
- They are the basis of our nervous system and our ability to move.
- They originate in the brain stem. This area of the brain is responsible for survival. If under stress and still operating from the brain stem, then we are not able to easily access our prefrontal cortex where we can process and analyze information. Instead, we stay in survival and stress.
- As we get older, our unintegrated reflexes trigger the fight/flight response even when there is no “logical” reason for the stress. So stressed behavior becomes our pattern of responding.
- When our movements come from active primitive reflex movement patterns, then there are challenges with coordination. This can lead to reading and writing difficulties; language and speech delays; disorganization; fidgeting; poor concentration, etc. Other challenges may be seen in poor bladder control; breathing difficulties; skin problems; and having an uncontrollable sweet tooth.
- They cause low muscle tone; muscle weakness; chronic body aches; poor endurance; and fatigue.
There are many primitive reflexes. The ones that we focus on in Rhythmic Movement Training are:
The Moro Reflex, sometimes called the infant startle reflex, is an automatic response to a sudden change in sensory stimuli. A sudden change of any kind (bright light, change in body position, temperature, loud noise, intense touch, etc.) can trigger the Moro Reflex.
Some possible long-term effects of an unintegrated Moro are:
- Easily triggered, reacts in anger or emotional outburst
- Poor balance and coordination
- Poor stamina
- Poor digestion, tendency towards hypoglycemia
- Weak immune system, asthma, allergies and infections
- Hypersensitivity to light, movement, sound, touch & smell
- Vision/reading/writing difficulties
- Difficulty adapting to change
- Cycles of hyperactivity and extreme fatigue
Tonic Labyrinthine Reflex (TLR)
TLR provides the baby with a means of learning about gravity and mastering neck and head control outside the womb. This reflex is important for giving the baby the opportunity to practice balance; increase muscle tone; and develop the proprioceptive and balance senses. The TLR interacts with other reflexes to help the infant to start developing coordination, posture and correct head alignment.
It is vital for the TLR to do its job because correct alignment of the head with the rest of the body is necessary for balance, eye tracking, auditory processing, muscle tone and organized movements - all of which are essential to the development of our ability to focus and pay attention.
Some possible long-term effects of an unintegrated TLR are:
- Balance and coordination difficulties
- Hunched posture
- Easily fatigued
- Poor muscle tone
- Difficulty judging distance, depth, space and speed
- Visual, speech, auditory difficulties
- Stiff jerky movement
- Toe walking
- Difficulty walking up and down stairs
Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (ATNR)
The ATNR is important for developing homolateral one-sided movements. When the infant turns his head to one side, the arm and leg of that side automatically extend. In utero the ATNR provides the necessary stimulation for developing muscle tone and the vestibular system. It assists with the birth process, providing one of the means for the baby to "corkscrew" down the birth passage. ATNR also provides training in hand-eye coordination. By six months of age, this reflex should evolve into more complex movement patterns. If the ATNR remains active it plays a significant contribution to academic problems at school.
Some possible long-term effects of an unintegrated ATNR are:
- Reading, listening, hand writing and spelling difficulties
- Difficulty with math
- Confused handedness
- Symmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (STNR).
The STNR is not a primitive reflex. It is transitional. It is an important developmental stage that transitions the baby from lying on the floor up to being able to crawl. At this stage in development, movement of the head is automatically linked to movement of the arms and legs. If the STNR remains active, it is another main cause of inability to function in school. This is because up and down head movements remain linked to arm and leg movements, making school work effortful and difficult.
Some possible long-term effects of an unintegrated STNR are:
- Poor, hunched posture
- Headaches from muscle tension in the neck
- Difficulty writing and reading
- Difficulty sitting still
- “W" sitting
- Difficulty copying from blackboard
- Ape-like walking
- Vision disorders
- Find it difficult to stay on task
Spinal Galant & Spinal Pereze Reflexes
The Spinal Galant & Spinal Pereze Reflexes works in conjunction with the ATNR to help the baby's journey down the birth canal. It is also thought to help babies balance and coordinate the body for belly crawling and creeping. It is thought to be connected to bladder function because a high percentage of children who are bedwetting past age 5 have an active Spinal Galant reflex.
Some possible long-term effects of an unintegrated Spinal Galant and Pereze are:
- Poor endurance
- Attention difficulties
- Hip rotation to one side/scoliosis
- Poor concentration
- Poor coordination
- Poor posture
- Poor short-term memory
We also look at the following foot, hand and oral reflexes - the Babinski, Plantar, Palmar, Hands Pulling, Grasp, Amphibian, Rooting, Suck and Babkin reflexes and their role in learning and development especially for coordination, writing and language development.
Some possible long-term effects of an unintegrated foot, hand and oral reflexes are:
- Speech delay or difficulties
- Swallowing problems
- Poor social behavior
- Dribbling and drooling
- Poor manual dexterity
- Poor pencil grip
- Handwriting difficulties
- Loose, easily sprained ankles
- Toe walking
- Flatfooted or walking on sides of feet/hip rotation
- Difficulty expressing written ideas
Fear Paralysis Reflex (FPR)
The FPR is a withdrawal reflex that emerges in the embryonic stage. It is a total body withdrawal away from stimulus that is normal in utero. The baby in utero reacts to this stimulus by withdrawing inward and freezing. As the fetus' tactile awareness develops, withdrawal upon contact gradually lessens. It is thought that this reflex is the first step in learning to cope with stress. Ideally, FPR merges into the Moro reflex and has become inactive before birth. If the FPR is not fully integrated at birth, it may contribute to life-long challenges related to fear. People with the FPR active may often be very anxious and tend to veer towards negativity, which can prevent them from easily moving forward to living a meaningful, interactive life. An active FPR often goes hand-in-hand with an un-integrated Moro reflex.
Some possible long-term effects of an unintegrated FPR are:
- Shallow, difficult breathing
- Underlying anxiety or negativity
- Insecure, low self-esteem
- Constant feelings of overwhelm
- Extreme shyness, fear in groups
- Excessive fear of embarrassment
- Fear of separation from a loved one, clinging
- Sleep & eating disorders
- Feeling stuck
- Elective mutism
- Withdrawal from touch
- Aggressive or controlling behavior, craves attention
- Extreme fear of failure, perfectionism
- Low tolerance to stress
Movements for Integration
The movements in Rhythmic Movement Training are based on replicating the movements that infants naturally make. In RMT sessions we work at using these movements to integrate the reflexes so that learning, communication, behavior, emotional and general well-being can be given the opportunity to be accessed. Consultants in RMT either use RMT movement and integration techniques by themselves or can use these movements in conjunction with other techniques and modalities. There is usually an assessment of the active reflexes, and then a series of fun activities given to help the nervous system change from stressed posture to a more natural and effortless way of moving. This promotion of easy learning and whole brain-body development has been effective with people all over the world. There have been many instances of positive shifts and change as these reflexes integrate and we form a proper basis for moving and learning.
The movements are easy to learn and parents find that they are straightforward to use at home. Children like them and find them beneficial. Adults also find them easy to remember to do.
Rhythmic Movement Training provides the basis for optimizing our ability in all areas of life. It is beneficial for all - no matter what age or skill level. The movements are effective for reflex integration, whole-brain learning, optimizing skills, reducing stress, eliminating learning blocks and living well.
This article was adapted from Rhythmic Movement Training International.