Primitive Reflexes are the first part of the brain to develop and should only remain present for the first few months of life. In typical development, these reflexes naturally inhibit (or turn off) in sequential order during the first year to 18 months of age until the postural reflexes emerge (replacement reflexes). Postural reflexes are more mature and control balance, coordination and sensory motor development.

Retained primitive reflexes can lead to developmental delays and are often related to disorders like ADHD, sensory processing disorder, autism, and learning disabilities. The persistence of primitive reflexes contributes to issues that can affect all aspects of a child’s life such as coordination, balance, sensory perceptions, fine motor skills, sleep, immunity, energy levels, impulse control, concentration and all levels of social, emotional, and academic learning.


The Cause of Retained Primitive Reflexes

Primitive reflexes can be retained due to a number of different factors.  The primary cause is often related to the birthing process, particularly if the birth was traumatic for any reason or the child was born via cesarean.  This is because several primitive reflexes turn off or inhibit as the baby comes down the birth canal.  Additional causes can include: traumas, insufficient ‘tummy time’, delayed or skipped milestones such as creeping or crawling, falls or severe knocks, chronic ear infections, and vertebral subluxations.

Types of Primitive Reflexes

There are over 30 different primitive reflexes.  Those identified below are the ones that are consistently correlated with a brain imbalance and should all be present at birth:

Primitive ReflexPurpose of ReflexInhibits ByRetained Reflex Difficulties
Root & Suck (Breastfeeding) ReflexAutomatic feeding response3-4 MonthsFussy eating, thumb sucking, dribbling, speech and articulation problems
Moro ReflexPrimitive survival response (fight/flight)2-4 MonthsPoor impulse control, sensory overload, social & emotional immaturity, hyper sensitivity or reactivity, concentration & coordination
Spinal Galant ReflexAssists the baby with birthing process and to roll over3-9 MonthsFidgeting, bedwetting, poor concentration, poor short term memory
Palmer Grasp ReflexAutomatic grab response4-6 MonthsDifficulty with fine motor skills, poor handwriting
Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (ATNR)Assists baby with birthing process, rollover and creeping & crawling6 MonthsPoor hand-eye coordination, poor handwriting, poor visual tracking

Primitive reflexes inhibit or ‘turn off’ from use and this should occur as part of a child’s normal stages of development.  Retained primitive reflexes need to be ‘used’ to turn off and for the postural reflexes to take over.  Deliberate exercises are often required if a child has retained reflexes.

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