Primitive Reflexes

Happy Children Running in a Park

What are primitive reflexes?

Primitive reflexes are the necessities of survival that are housed in the central nervous system.  The development of the central nervous system begins at conception and develops in a regular sequence.  Parts of this sequence are identified by the movement patterns that occur at each state, and these are called reflexes.  By 12 months of age, all primitive reflexes should be integrated to allow for more advanced postural reflexes to occur.  As the primitive reflexes are integrated, the child acquires new skills and higher centers of the brain begin to mature and develop.

If these reflexes are still present passed one year of age, it may indicate a gap between the child’s chronological age and neurological age.  Neurologically, primitive reflexes provide the infant with learning experiences that lay the groundwork for all motor and behavioral skills.  Primitive reflexes that may be addressed at Balanced Health Family Chiropractic include the Moro, Palmar, Babinski, Spinal Galant, Rooting, Asymmetrical Tonic Neck, Tonic Labyrinthine, and Symmetrical Tonic Neck Reflexes.

Primitive reflexes are automatic, instinctual movements that assist in development, growth, and survival. Primitive reflexes are reflexes that present themselves in the womb and help with the birth process and early years of life.

In most cases of kids with neuro-developmental delays these reflexes and others don’t develop the way that they are supposed to. Below is a list the most common reflexes we find in kids, what they help to develop, and symptoms associated with them.


What can happen if primitive reflexes persist?

The persistence of these reflexes can indicate immaturity within the nervous system or result due to possibly damage to the brain. Children who have neurodevelopmental disorders such as ADHD, Sensory Processing Disorder, Autism, or other Learning Disorders often present with retained primitive reflexes, which can affect their behavior and learning skills.

Each primitive reflex is associated with one or more of the sensory processing systems and can affect their senses of sound, taste, tactile, smell, visual, vestibular, and proprioception. If a child presents with more than one retained primitive reflex, they often experience dysfunction in one or more of the sensory systems, resulting in a Neurodevelopmental Disorder or Sensory Processing Disorder.  Read more about how we can help those with neurodevelopmental disorders here!


What may cause retained primitive reflexes?

Parents may wonder “why are my child’s reflexes still present?” These reflexes can remain dominant if they are not integrated by the developing brain. This can prevent your child from reaching their milestones and disrupt normal social, behavioral and motor development.  The pregnancy and birth process is important in the development and inhibition of the primitive reflexes. A child born via cesarean section or one that experienced birth trauma may have retained primitive reflexes. Additional causes may include the parents having difficulty conceiving or a difficult pregnancy, a premature, prolonged, or traumatic birth with interventions, falls, traumas, lack of tummy time, lack of ability to explore environment during infancy, too much time in a bouncer, stroller, or car seat, head trauma, and vertebral subluxations.

This reflex is an automatic reaction to sudden changes in sensory stimuli. Sudden bright light, loud noise, touch, and change in body position can trigger this reflex.

The MORO reflex creates instant arousal of the baby’s survival systems, example is the baby responds as if reacting to a threat. The Moro reflex trains the baby’s nervous system in developing the “fight or flight” survival response. It is also the baby’s instinctual response to summon a caregiver.

When the MORO gets activated these physiological responses occur: Release of stress hormones adrenaline and Cortisol, Increased breathing rate, shallow breathing, and Increased heart rate and blood pressure.

An unintegrated Moro Reflex is often accompanied by hypersensitivity to incoming stimulus and health challenges such as allergies and asthma.

Ideally the Moro emerges in the womb 9-12 weeks gestation and is integrated by 4 months of age. Moro integration is complete when the baby learns more mature startle reflexes, sometimes called the Strauss Reflex.

Common long-term symptoms that present from the MORO Reflex:

  • Sleep disturbances
  • Easily triggered anger or emotional outbursts
  • Shyness
  • Poor balance and coordination
  • Poor stamina
  • Poor digestion
  • Weak immune system
  • Motion sickness
  • Hypersensitivity to light, movement, sound, touch and smell
  • Difficulties with vision, reading and writing
  • Difficulties adapting to change
  • Cycles of hyperactivity followed by extreme fatigue
  • Easily distracted, difficulties filtering out outside stimuli
  • Difficulties catching a ball
  • Difficulty with visual perception
  • Easily fatigued, irritable under fluorescent lighting

The tonic labyrinthine is broken up into two parts, the forward TLR and the Backwards TLR. The Forward TLR is present as the head bends forward, the whole body, arms, legs and torso curl forward in the characteristic fetal position. In the backwards TLR, as the head is bent backwards, the whole body, arms, legs and torso straighten and extend.

The TLR helps the baby to adapt to gravity and learn neck and head control! This reflex gives the baby and opportunity to practice balance, increase muscle tone, and develop the proprioceptive and vestibular sense. Eventually the TLR interacts with other reflexes and body processes to help develop coordination, posture and correct head alignment. Head alignment with the rest of the body is necessary for balance, visual tracking, auditory processing and muscle organization. All of which are vital to the ability to focus, pay attention and learn.

Common symptoms if reflex is retained:

  • Balance and Coordination issues
  • Shrunken posture
  • Easily fatigue
  • Muscle tone to weak or too tight
  • Difficulty judging distance, depth, space and speed
  • “W” leg position when sitting
  • Motion Sickness
  • Visual, speech, and auditory difficulties
  • Tendency to be cross eyed
  • Toe walking

They Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex creates some of the largest symptoms when not developed well. This is a reflex that happens when the infant turns their head, what happens is the infant’s arms and legs on the side they turned the head toward automatically straighten! The ATNR provides stimulation for development of muscle tone and the vestibular system. The ATNR also helps to develop hand eye coordination. By 6 months of age this reflex should be developed and evolve into more complex movements. It should be inhibited prior to crawling and if not developed well creates abnormalities in crawling. It is also the most significant cause of inability to function well in school!

Common Symptoms that patient present with:

  • Dyslexia
  • Reading, listening, handwriting and spelling difficulties
  • Poor sense of direction
  • Confused handedness
  • Focus and Balance Difficulties

The STNR is a reflex that helps to develop neck control and low back control so a baby can lift their head and focus far distance. The STNR also prepares the baby for creeping and crawling. The STNR is a reflex that links head movements to arm and leg movements, so when still present it allows the baby to move their head and create automatic movements of the upper and lower extremities. This is important because it allows us to build muscle that is vital for later movements like crawling and walking! This is another reflex that if still present will create problems in school! This is because up-and-down head movement causes the arms and legs to reflexively move. This distracts attention always from concentration and learning more difficult!

Common symptoms when reflex is present:

  • Squirming and fidgeting: poor posture, slouching
  • Headaches from muscle tension
  • Difficulties writing and reading
  • Apelike walking
  • Vision disorders
  • Trouble Staying on task
  • Clumsy and messy eating

The Spinal Galant reflex is a rotation of the hips when the back is stroked along the spine in the low back. It is thought to help infants balance and coordinate the body for belly-crawling and creeping. It is likely connected to bladder function, because a high percentage of children who are bedwetting past age 5 have an active Spinal Galant reflex.

Common symptoms:

  • Bedwetting
  • Hip rotation to one side
  • Poor posture
  • Difficulties sitting still
  • Scoliosis
  • Fatigue
  • Poor concentration
  • Poor short-term memory
  • Irritable bowel syndrome

Some of the Oral, Hand and Foot reflexes are linked at infancy. We often see babies kneading their hands while they suckle. When these reflexes stay active, we may see adults move their mouths or tongues while writing. Many foot reflexes will interfere with walking and can result in toe walking to compensate

Common symptoms:

  • Speech delays or difficulties
  • Difficulties in social situations
  • Manual dexterity issues
  • Handwriting difficulties
  • Loose, easily sprained ankles
  • Flatfooted or walking on side of feet
  • Difficulties expressing written ideas
  • Swallowing difficulties
  • Drooling
  • Poor pencil grip
  • TMJ issues
  • Toe walking
  • Hip rotation

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Balanced Health
Family Chiropractic
Liberty Square Plaza
501 Boston Post Road #24
Orange, CT 06477
(203) 553-9300