You may have never heard of primitive reflex integration or even primitive reflexes.

Moro reflex
Moro reflex (Photo credit: kungfujen)

Primitive reflexes are the reflexes we are born with that protect us as newborns.  They are what allows a newborn to root to nurse, what allows them to throw their arms out in startle. These are protective reflexes that usually become suppressed as an infant matures.

These are the primitive reflexes:

  1. moro also called the startle reflex
  2. walking reflex: infants will try to place one foot in front of the other when stood up
  3. rooting: when the infants cheek is stroked it will turn towards the touch in search of breast or bottle. It also includes the sucking reflex, where the infant will suck on anything that touches the roof of its mouth
  4. tonic neck: when the head is turned the arm on that side will straighten
  5. palmar grasp: when something touches the palm of the hand, the fingers will close
  6. plantar: causes toe curling: this explains why we can’t get those tiny shoes on newborns!
  7. galant: when you stroke one side of the infants spine, their body will twist towards that side
  8. babkin: when pressure is applied to both palms, the infant will rotate their head and open their mouth.

So what’s the big deal, right? Well these reflexes normally become suppressed by or before six months of age in infants who are developing normally.  When they do not integrate due to infant stress like toxins, illness, or anything that may disrupt development they interfere with the development of the nervous system.

I did know about infant reflexes when I had children as I had read about them in baby books, but I hadn’t given them much thought beyond that. I thought they were something that they just outgrew. What I did not know or realize was that many children with autism or other developmental conditions still have some of these reflexes. And if they do it inhibits other development like visual eye teaming, focus, attention, and can contribute to anxiety and learning problems.

I was drawn to study this and read some books about it because we did vision therapy and it was there that I learned my son had some primitive reflexes at the age of 7!

I still remember how blown away I was to see my son twist his body to the side when the therapist ran a pencil down the side of his spine. He had the gallant reflex. Upon more testing he had others like the moro reflex which they believed to be responsible for his anxiety.  But so many things that were impeding his motor development and keeping him from being able to see properly. It explained why he did so poorly with visual field grounding and could not find objects on the floor when sent him to get something.

But this all began a journey for us that led to healing and improvement. We were able to do primitive reflex integration with a therapist who was trained by Sally Goddard Blythe, a specialist in neuro-development and author of The Well Balanced Child.  Over the coming months my son’s reading level jumped significantly and his printing improved.

We were able to shed the diagnosis of Irlen’s Syndrome which for us turned out to be a convergence insufficiency corrected by this therapy along with vision therapy.

His initial evaluation results places him functioning visually at the level of a three-year old at age seven. His final evaluation done at the completion of therapy placed him at age appropriate visual motor functioning.

Primitive Reflexes are often overlooked in the development of our children but they can be important in how they affect our kids.