What are Primitive Reflexes?

Primitive reflexes are automatic movements arising from the Central Nervous System (CNS) in response to a particular stimulus that are typically present in childhood, but not present in healthy or neurologically-intact adults. Primitive reflexes are movement patterns that can be involuntarily elicited in a newborn. They exist to enhance the chance of survival. These reflexes should be integrated as the child’s motor development matures.

Why are Primitive Reflexes important for my child’s development?

These reflexes lay the foundation for a child’s nervous system, which is responsible for processing information through taste, touch, smell, sight, and sound. If the nervous system is not developed properly, the child will have trouble regulating, processing, and interpreting information from one or more of their senses. 

Every child should use each primitive reflex at the proper time of development. Each reflex is needed for developing higher areas of the brain and serves a specific purpose for a period of time. Higher areas of the brain must eventually take over and “replace” these reflexes with higher-learning processes. The presence of these reflexes in children at a certain age and in adults is considered abnormal. 

The table below shows an estimated time frame of when the reflexes should be integrated.

What causes Primitive Reflexes to be retained?

There are many factors that can cause primitive reflexes to be retained. Certain neurological diseases can also activate reflexes to reappear. The birth process is a key factor in the integration of these reflexes; therefore, a traumatic birth experience or birth by C-section may lead to retained reflexes. Other causes such as falls, traumas, lack of tummy time, delayed or skipped creeping or crawling, chronic ear infections, head trauma, and vertebral subluxations may also lead to retained primitive reflexes. Children and adults who have reflexes that are completely integrated can later reactivate their primitive reflexes because of trauma, injury to the brain, toxins, and stress. 

Other causes of retained primitive reflexes:

How can I help my child integrate their primitive reflexes?

Specific movement exercises will help rebuild the foundation and create new neural pathways. A primitive reflex integration programme involving specific movement patterns makes it possible to retrain the brain. 


Contact us today to learn more about our approach and the programmes we have at The Energy Source.

This article is written by Valerie Tan, our physiotherapist.

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