How long does reflex integration take?

The process of reflex integration typically takes six to twelve months for babies. By the time we celebrate a child’s first birthday, the primitive reflexes have made way for postural, lifelong reflexes.

At least, that’s what’s meant to happen. Many children today have primitive reflexes stuck in place well beyond this stage of life, leading to potential challenges with learning, concentration, behaviour, coordination and emotional resilience. Childhood becomes much harder work than it was ever intended to be.

The good news is that such difficulties are not set in stone. A variety of approaches can be used to complete the process of reflex integration that was missed during babyhood. I wrote about three different modalities in an earlier blog post, you can read it here.

Once we understand our amazing capacity for creating neurological change, the question that quickly follows is, how long will reflex integration actually take?

The true answer is a very individual one, dependent upon how many reflexes are still active, their strength as well as the frequency and intensity of intervention. But knowing that it takes six to twelve months for babies, we have a starting point for what to anticipate. Added onto this is another layer-the younger you are, the faster the shifts will come.

As you’ve just read, this process isn’t a quick fix. The journey won’t be complete after two weeks or two months. To create changes in the brain, a small amount of targeted movement is needed daily, or a minimum of four times per week (although educators who only see children twice a week can still start clearing the cobwebs).

Continued support will be needed for a sustained period of time. And for that reason it’s best to embrace your reflex integration modality of choice, as part of your routine, without a prescriptive end date in mind.

 

How soon will I see changes?

For some children it gets worse before it gets better. Change can be seen almost immediately but not in the right direction. This can feel incredibly scary and not what families signed up for. This is a phase of adjustment where the body and brain establish a new way of being, typically only lasting two to three weeks. It’s essential to have someone in your corner to check in with at this time, who can advise if a lower intensity of intervention is needed.

Off to a bumpy start or not, it’s usually after six to twelve weeks that noticeable changes can be seen. In a classroom, the children seem more settled and focussed at group times. At home, a child may have improvements with bedwetting, a decrease in meltdowns, begin asking ‘why?’ for the first time in their life, or display a wide range of positive shifts that reassure us we’re on the right track.

At this point in time some families decide to stop. They reach a point where life feels easier and the fierce motivation to create change lessens. I urge you not to. While neurological change has occurred, input needs to continue for a minimum of six months in order to maintain these changes. In other words, if you don’t want to unravel back to the world of meltdowns and madness, keep going just a little bit longer.

 

Do you have a question about the process of reflex integration? If so, ask it here.

Comments 6

  1. Hi Clare,
    I was lucky enough to hear you speak about this topic at an Early Years Leader’s Forum held at the South Adelaide Football Club in 2016. I think I remember you speaking about a downloadable ebook that was available. Unfortunately, I did not mange to download this resource at the time but have been trying to find it again recently. Are you able to give me any further information on where I might be able to find this?
    Kind regards,
    Tanya

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  2. Hello!
    I was so happy to discover your podcast and website! I can’t understand why all this information about primitive resources isn’t more mainstream – it is so important for parents to be aware of. I’m about to start doing integration exercises with my 7 year old son. Is it best to work on one reflex at a time or to do daily exercises for several retained reflexes at the same time? Thank you!

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      The movement programs I use often work on integrating several at the same time Brittany, as development for babies often looks the same way (they never really do something that only targets one reflex or component of child development, there’s always overlap – that’s us as adults finding pleasure in putting things into categories!). Some reflexes will typically need to shift however, before integration of others can complete (TLR for example will stick around until the Moro and Fear Paralysis Reflex have gone).

  3. Hello my son has been diagnosed with retained atnr and told to do crawl and turn head opposite side to writting hand. I notice when he does it his arms are not straight and his writting arm bends and flexs when turning head and crawling. Is this expected in the first week. We have to do this every day 10 laps of our hallway. He just cant keep his arms straight and even towards the end of the 10 laps its still the same.

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      Hi Clare. This is a different approach to the movement programs that I use, so I’m unsure as to what the person you’re working with was anticipating to see.

      The arm bend completely makes sense – it’s a sign of a retained ATNR. The way that I check for its presence is to ask a child to turn their head to one side (with a neutral spine), then the other. Changes in the arms and hips on the opposite side to the head turn indicate that the reflex is still active.

      With your son’s ATNR confirmed as being active, this is a very challenging task for him to do. His arms will bend automatically, without choice. He would tire very easily. And perhaps resist doing the task due to the physical and mental strain that it brings. If you haven’t seen any improvement since writing this question, it may be time to stop and find a gentler alternative.

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