What are primitive reflexes, and why are they so important?

Reflexes are repetitive, involuntary movements in response to sensory stimuli.  They emerge in utero, during the birth process, or during the first part of the infant’s life and have survival, protective, restorative, and postural purposes.  Reflexes assist in the infant’s development - they are an important sign of brain and neurological development and development of the nervous system.  Most reflexes are categorized as either intrauterine, primitive, transitional, postural, or lifelong reflexes.

Primitive reflexes develop specifically during uterine life and are fully present by birth or shortly thereafter in normally developed, full-term infants. Primitive reflexes play a fundamental role in establishing head control, posture, sensory integration and the ability to move with stability and control. In addition, the primitive reflexes further stimulate the brain in order to improve attention and control of impulses, helping to diminish hyperactivity.  They assist in linking up the key neurological areas of the brain for emotional control and intellectual or academic pursuits.

The primitive reflexes integrate into postural reflexes, and this integration should be completed while the infant is still on the floor and before he learns to crawl and walk. For this reason, it is extremely important for babies to be able to move freely on the floor on their stomach and back.



Postural Reflexes

The postural or lifelong reflexes are necessary for our stability and balance in gravity, and they enable us to move automatically and with ease.  Development of postural reflexes is dependent upon function of the basal ganglia (i.e. part of the brain which works in cooperation with the motor cortex to control our motor activity).  Primitive reflexes are integrated into mature postural reflexes by the spontaneous rhythmic movements that an infant makes before he learns to crawl and eventually walk.  Postural reflexes help us establish balance, coordination and overall physical and emotional well-being.  Most of the postural reflexes are life-long and designed to ensure our survival, especially during stressful situations as we mature into adulthood.

Integrating Reflexes

There are many reflex patterns. Nonintegrated or active primitive reflexes that persist beyond childhood, teen or into adulthood will hinder brain development and can be a major contributor to physical, intellectual, emotional, behavioral and social problems.  The ones that are most common and which may remain most active for some children or adults are listed below. These reflexes usually are present when there are challenges with balance, coordination, attention, concentration, math, reading and writing, and difficulties with vision, speech and language, behavior, or emotional stability. Rhythmic Movement Training can assist in completing the reflex patterns and integrating them into our whole body system for increased sensory integration and motor development, improved coordination and balance, enhanced visual, auditory, and academic performance, and overall physical and emotional well-being.