How Retained Primitive Reflexes Impact Your Child’s Brain Development
July 20, 2021
Have you heard about retained primitive reflexes? Do you know that if your child has even one, that it can significantly impact their developing brain and may be the root of the symptoms they are struggling with right now? Today is a short solo episode of the My child Will Thrive Podcast, I take you through how retained primitive reflexes can impact your child’s brain development and I discuss in more detail the Moro reflex (otherwise known as the “startle reflex”).This is a favorite topic of mine because it is foundational to your child’s development. Also, this episode is a great reminder after our last podcast episode with Dr. Ryan Cedermark.
- We're all born with reflexes that are essential to our early survival, but they must be lost in order for our brain to develop properly. (2:04)
- The role of primitive and postural reflexes in brain development. (4:07)
- One example of a retained primitive reflex that can impact your child's development and might be an underlying cause of your child's developmental symptoms. (5:58)
- Some of the long-term effects of a retained moro reflex. (8:21)
- A list of steps you can take to assess your child and help them overcome their retained rate of primitive reflexes and maximize their potential. (11:11)
Resources and Links
Articles Related to Simple Neurological Exercises to Create a Balanced Brain
More about Tara Hunkin, FNTP, CGP
Tara Hunkin, Functional Nutritional Therapy Practitioner, Certified GAPS Practitioner, Restorative Wellness Practitioner, mother and founder of My Child Will Thrive (website and podcast) author and host of the Autism, ADHD and Sensory Processing Disorder Summit.
My Child Will Thrive was founded out of the frustration Tara felt when searching for explanations and solutions for her daughter. Doctor visits left her with more questions than answers and she was forced to do the research and find her own way to help her child. Tara’s daughter is now a thriving 16-year-old, succeeding in and out of school.
Tara now supports parents of children with neurodevelopmental disorders struggling to find the right combination of treatments and therapies through educating and coaching them so that they can get the best results for their children while saving time, money and effort.
Tara continues to expand her knowledge by attending and speaking at conferences and is a member of the Medical Academy of Pediatric Special Needs, International Association of Functional Neurology and Rehabilitation, and Nutritional Therapy Association.
00:01 Tara Hunkin:
This is My Child Will Thrive and I'm your host, Tara Hunkin, Nutritional Therapy Practitioner, Certified GAPs Practitioner, Restorative Wellness Practitioner, and Mother. I'm thrilled to share with you the latest information, tips, resources, and tools to help you on the path to recovery for your child with ADHD, autism, sensory processing disorder or learning disabilities.
My own experiences with my daughter combined with as much training as I can get my hands on research I can dig into and conferences I can attend have helped me to develop systems and tools for parents like you who feel overwhelmed, trying to help their children. So sit back as I share another great topic to help you on your journey. A quick disclaimer, before we get started.
My Child Will Thrive is not a substitute for working with a qualified healthcare practitioner. The information provided on this podcast is not intended to diagnose or treat your child. Please consult your healthcare practitioner before implementing any information or treatments that you have learned about on this podcast. There are many gifted, passionate, and knowledgeable practitioners with hundreds. If not thousands of hours of study and clinical experience available to help guide you.
Part of our goal is to give you the knowledge and tools you need to effectively advocate for your child so that you don't blindly implement each new treatment that comes along. No one knows your child better than you. No one knows your child's history like you do or can better judge what is normal or abnormal for your child. The greatest success in recovery comes from the parent being informed and asking the right questions and making the best decisions for their child in coordination with a team of qualified practitioners in different areas of specialty.
Today's podcast is sponsored by the Autism, ADHD and Sensory Processing Disorder Summit. In order to learn more about the summit and to sign up for free, please go to www.mychildwillthrive.com/summit.
2:04 Tara Hunkin:
Hi. Welcome back to the My Child Will Thrive podcast. Today I'm going to talk to you about retained primitive reflexes and how they may be affecting your child. Did you know that we're all born with reflexes that are essential to our early survival, but that must be lost in order for our brain to develop properly? For example, an infant's palmar reflex allows the child's palm to grasp anything that's placed in its hand. So for example, when you place your finger in your child's palm, they close their fingers around it to grasp anything that's placed there. And this is a reflex, even though we'd love to think that it's because they love us.
This reflex must be lost in order for the pincer grip, with the two fingers, to develop. That grip allows the child to develop fine motor skills with the hands. When primitive reflexes are retained, the development of postural reflexes, which require midbrain involvement and signify the maturing of the central nervous system is negatively impacted. And as a result, proper development is affected.
So in a nutshell, what we're going to cover in this quick episode today is how we are all born with primitive reflexes to keep us alive, but they should be lost at the age of 12 to 18 months, depending on the reflex. Retained primitive reflexes impede the development of postural reflexes and therefore higher level brain development. Simple tests for retained primitive reflexes can be done at home and how an at-home integration exercises can help us integrate the retain reflexes resulting in significant improvements in related symptoms.
4:07 Tara Hunkin:
So let's just start by talking about the role of primitive and postural reflexes in brain development. So there are seven primitive reflexes that we're born with. The more reflex, palmar reflex, asymmetrical tonic neck reflex, otherwise known as the ATNR, the rooting reflex, spinal galant reflex, tonic labyrinth reflex, and the symmetrical tonic neck reflex, otherwise known as the STNR. These reflexes develop in utero and help to keep us alive in the first few weeks of life and provide underlying training for later voluntary skills.
Primitive reflexes are automatic and are directed from the brainstem and executed without conscious involvement, hence the word reflex. In order for that later voluntary skills to develop primitive reflexes must fade to allow for the appropriate development of the postural reflexes, which allow for a child to properly interact with its environment. It is this interaction with the world through sight, smell, touch movement, and gravity that the brain continues to build appropriate neural pathways leading to higher level brain involvement and skills.
So, Sally Goddard in her book says that primitive reflexes retain beyond six months of age, may result in immature patterns of behavior or may cause immature systems to retain despite the acquisition of later skills. So let's talk further about the impact of retained primitive reflexes on brain development beyond what's the quote that I just read from Sally.
5:58 Tara Hunkin:
Let's look at an example of one retained primitive reflex that can impact your child's development and might be an underlying cause of your child's developmental symptoms. This reflex is the moro reflex which is developed in utero, as I mentioned before, and fully present as at birth. And it's triggered in response, this reflux triggered in response to a sudden stimuli or a perceived threat. It's part of the infant's fight or flight survival response, which helps alert others to summon them for assistance. So when that the reflex is triggered, the infant will open its arms and legs away from the body and open its hands while taking a sudden inhalation or sudden breath in, and then momentarily pause and freeze sort of in that position and then release the breath while the arms and legs close, as if to give themselves a consoling hug.
Again this reflex is completely involuntary and it's activated the brainstem level during birth. This reflex helps to open the windpipe and in a normally developing infant, the moro reflex is inhibited by two to four months of age. So what happens when the moro reflex is retained beyond the two to four months of infancy? Your child will have an exaggerated startle reaction,
which can present itself as hypersensitivity in one or more sensory channels. In other words, your child may overreact to stimuli like sudden noise or light or movement or bodily position. Your child will be constantly on alert. This over-activation of the fight or flight response will then impact all functions of the body tied to the adrenal glands, which will be overworked from continuous activation.
High cortisol release from the adrenals will also result in inability of blood sugar levels and have negative impact and implications on energy levels and mood throughout the day. So you can see this huge cascade of effects of just this one retained primitive reflex. But let's talk about some of the long-term effects of a retained moro reflex.
8:21 Tara Hunkin:
There are many more than the ones I want to list here, but here are a few. Vestibular related problems, such as motion sickness, poor balance, coordination. Particularly these are seen during games where your child's playing with a ball. So things like soccer or baseball or volleyball or something of that nature. Ocular motor and visual perception problems. So that can be the ability to track eye tracking in terms of reading. It could be perception, depth perception - they often trip or on stairs or on even ground or something like that. They can have sensitivity to bright lights, difficulty shutting out background noise. So that's your child that sits in the classroom is unable to filter out the children around them and becomes overwhelmed with all the different conversations going on, or has an inability to focus.
Allergies and lowered immunity are also tied to this retained primitive reflex. If this can present itself as asthma, eczema or a history of frequent ear or throat infections. They can have an adverse reaction to drugs. They can also have poor stamina and a dislike of change or surprises in their life. So that's the child that doesn't transition well from one activity to another, or as they get older, they just would prefer to know what the expectations are and what's coming up as opposed to have a surprise where people otherwise would love a surprise. And they also may have reactive hypoglycemia, which is tied back again to what we talked about earlier in terms of how the adrenal glands are taxed during, because there are constant state of alert. I've given you a very quick glimpse of the impact of retained primitive reflexes here today.
For an overview of all the primitive reflexes and one of the bridging postural reflexes that explain many of our children's symptoms, I would offer up to you our primitive reflexes cheat sheet, which you can download from the show notes of this episode. This will help you identify the reflexes that your child may have retained and could be limiting their neuro-development as well. So what do you do if your child has retained primitive reflexes? The good news is they can be overcome. Here's a list of steps you can take to assess your child and start therapy to help them overcome their retained rate of primitive reflexes and maximize their potential.
11:11 Tara Hunkin:
So step one is download that cheat sheet I just mentioned - the primitive reflexes cheat sheet and review it to see if your child's symptoms may be aligned with a retained primitive reflex. Step two is to seek a professional that does these types of assessments all the time, like a functional neurologist or a pediatric occupational therapist that they've been trained in primitive reflex inhibition therapy to perform that assessment and give you an at-home plan potentially, or to do work with them in their office. And then step three is to work with a practitioner, take that home program. And there are books that have programs and then like Dr. Robert Melillo, "Disconnected Kids." He has an extensive home program that you can use to both assess and then remediate the retained reflexes with your child at home.
So I highly recommend you pick up that book. And you're going to then leverage the power of neuroplasticity by doing that rehab exercises with them and integrating those reflexes so the higher level functions can start to develop appropriately as well. So again, I encourage you to go to the show notes and grab the free primitive reflexes cheat sheet, and start on your way to addressing primitive reflexes with your child.
So that's a wrap. Thanks for joining me this week on My Child Will Thrive. I'm so passionate about giving you the tools and information you need to help your child recover. And as they say, it takes a village, so join us in the, My Child Will Thrive Village Facebook group, where you can meet like-minded parents and stay up to date on everything we have going on at My Child Will Thrive.
This is Tara Hunkin and I'll catch you on the next podcast or over at mychildwillthrive.com.
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