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Reflex Integration

What Are Primitive Reflexes?

Primitive reflexes begin in utero; they are repetitive, involuntary or automatic movements in response to stimuli that are essential for the development of head control, muscle tone, sensory integration and overall development. They protect a developing fetus, aid the birthing process and contribute to later, more mature postural reflexes.  As the baby grows, ideally these primitive reflexes will “integrate” into the growing brain.  They will no longer be active as the practice of these movements do their intended job and movements become more controlled and voluntary.

How Are Primitive Reflexes Integrated?

Movement is critical to integrating primitive reflexes. The integration of primitive reflexes allows us to move through our spatial world as we develop through early childhood stages of life.  Holding our head up for the first time, rolling over, crawling and creeping, walking, skipping – all of these require the basic building blocks that began with primitive reflexes.

 

From gross motor (walking, skipping, throwing, catching) to fine motor (handwriting, tying shoes) to ocular motor (eye movements), each stage of development is affected by the timely integration of primitive reflexes.

What Causes Primitive Reflexes To Be Retained?

There are many reasons which may contribute to primitive reflexes remaining “active”, or retained.

Retained primitive reflexes may be the result of:

  • Stress of the mother and/or baby during pregnancy (birth trauma, breech birth, Cesarean birth, induced birth)

  • Lack of movement in utero (due to low amniotic fluid, for example)

  • When infants spend extended time in car seats/carriers, jumpers, walkers, which restrict movements that are required for healthy brain development.

  • Illness, trauma, injury, chronic stress

  • Other developmental delays

 

Children and adults can experience symptoms from retained reflexes.  Reflexes that are integrated may become reactivated later by injury, trauma, illness or stress.

Retained Primitive Reflexes Can Affect Coordinated Movement, Vision, and Learning

When primitive reflexes haven’t integrated within the appropriate time frame, it is important to revisit the missing developmental stages.  These movement activities will help rebuild the foundation and create new neural pathways.  A primitive reflex integration program involving specific movement patterns makes it possible to retrain the brain, our control center for these reflexes.

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