Primitive Reflexes Under the Microscope: Part 2

It’s that time again folks. In this post we’re going to take a closer look at three more of the primitive reflexes. You’ll not only see how each reflex presents in baby but also get a sense of the possible long term ramifications of still having them.

Tonic Labyrinthine Reflex (TLR)

The TLR connects movement of the head with that of the body. When a baby’s head moves forward, so too does the body, curling into a fetal position. When the head moves back, so too does the body, this time arching at the spine. This reflex is extremely important for helping a baby to gain control of the head and neck.

When kept beyond babyhood, challenges may exist with balance, eye tracking, auditory processing, muscle tone and toe walking. This is because correct alignment of the head is essential for each of these processes to work well (and when they don’t unfortunately our ability to be focussed and pay attention is compromised).

A retained TLR is very common in babies who have not had enough tummy time (we have to ‘use up’ the reflex before it leaves us alone).

The Palmar Reflex

This reflex is a whole fist grasp in response to an object or finger being placed into the palm of a baby’s hand. It’s a real crowd pleaser in an infant but not in an older individual.

A child with this reflex at preschool or school will present with poor fine motor skills. No matter how many times you model the correct pencil grip, it will not stick! Handwriting is consequently messy and even the most avid storyteller will struggle to capture their amazing ideas on paper. The mechanics of it all gets in the way.

Symmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (STNR)

If you want to get technical, the STNR is not a primitive reflex because it’s not present at birth. Instead it is transitional, developing between 6-9 months of age. The purpose of this reflex is to get us into a hands and knees position in preparation for crawling. When the baby’s head looks forward or up, the arms are straight and the legs bent but when the head looks down the arms bend and the legs straighten (ker-splat!). Rocking backwards and forwards is the instinctive way that babies integrate this reflex. If still active, crawling will either look quirky or not take place at all (hello bum shuffler!).

An unintegrated STNR means that movement of the head is still automatically linked to movement of the arms and legs. School work becomes effortful and difficult, particularly in the areas of reading, writing and comprehension. Posture is awkward, headaches are frequent, vision disorders are common and swimming above water sure is tough.

If you see yourself, a loved one or a student in any of the examples above, it is never too late to create neurological change. 

Reflex Integration

When primitive reflexes are retained, movement therapy can be used to revisit the integration process, missed during the first year of life. To learn more about reflex development and the two approaches I recommend, sign up to my newsletter list to access your free eBook.

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