Understanding Retained Primitive Reflexes: Their Impact and How to Address Them

Baby Lying On White Fur With Brown Blanket. Retained Primitive Reflex

Retained primitive reflexes are special movements that babies are born with. These movements are important for babies to grow and develop, but as they get older, they should learn to control them better. Read on to find out why these reflexes are important, how they can affect someone’s life, and ways to help with them.

The Role of Retained Primitive Reflexes

Retained primitive reflexes are things that babies do automatically when something happens to them. These reflexes are important when babies are very little because they help them learn about the world around them. One example is the “startle reflex” where a baby will spread their arms out and then bring them back in when they get scared or hear a loud noise. This reflex helps keep them safe.

As the child’s nervous system matures, these reflexes should integrate into more controlled voluntary movements. However, in some cases, these reflexes persist beyond infancy and childhood, and are known as “primitive preserved reflexes.” If primitive reflexes are still present long after they should have integrated, the child will display certain characteristics specific to the retained reflex, many of which limit their development and academic skills.

If your child has retained primitive reflexes, learning to integrate them could lead to improved development in many areas such as social skills, learning, motor skills, executive functioning, coordination, reading and writing. 

What is the Impact?

When certain reflexes don’t go away, it can cause problems in how you move and feel. It can affect your body and emotions.

  1. Motor Skills Challenges. Certain reflexes make it difficult for a child to learn how to move their body, in big and small ways. This can make it hard for them to stay balanced, coordinate their movements, and have strong muscles.
  2. Emotional Regulation: Retained primitive reflexes may contribute to difficulties in emotional regulation, leading to mood swings and heightened stress responses.
  3. Learning Challenges: Some individuals with retained reflexes may experience difficulties with concentration, memory, and academic performance.
  4. Sensory Processing: Retained primitive reflexes can also lead to sensory integration difficulties, such as hypersensitivity or hyposensitivity.
  5. Behavioural Issues: Retained primitive reflexes can sometimes lead to behavioural issues such as impulsivity and attention deficits.

What Can I Do to Help?

Addressing retained primitive reflexes typically involves a combination of therapies and exercises designed to help integrate these reflexes into more controlled movements. Some common approaches include:

  1. Neurodevelopmental Movement Programs: These programs focus on specific movements and exercises to target the integration of retained reflexes.
  2. Occupational Therapy: Occupational therapists can provide tailored exercises and sensory interventions to help individuals overcome challenges associated with retained reflexes.
  3. Physical Therapy: Physical therapists work on improving motor skills and coordination through exercises and activities.
  4. Sensory Integration Therapy: This therapy aims to improve sensory processing and emotional regulation.