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Moro Reflex: The Answer Behind Your Child’s Hypersensitivity to Light and Sound
This article provides information regarding the Moro reflex, which could be why a child has sensitivity to light and sound. Affiliate links are included for your convenience. Integrated Learning Strategies (ILS) is a learning and academic center. As a reminder, ILS is not a health care provider and none of our materials or services provide a diagnosis or treatment of a specific condition or learning challenge you may see in your child or student. If you seek a diagnosis or treatment for your child or student, please contact a trained professional who can provide an evaluation of the child.
Have you ever noticed an infant startle himself awake? The baby flings his arms out and tightens his body, draws up his knees and then brings his arms close to his body. This reaction only lasts seconds and abruptly ends as quickly as it began. This is called the Moro reflex, commonly known as the startle reflex in babies. This primitive reflex is present after birth in infants and gradually decreases until it disappears around four to six months.
The purpose for this reflex is to provide the baby with an internal alarm system to protect himself from danger. We see this reflex in action when the baby is startled by a noise, sudden movement or the sensation of falling. For example, the baby will present signs of the Moro reflex if you lay them down without enough support.
As this primitive reflex starts to diminish in the child, the normal startle response that is present in adults starts to form. For instance, if a large book is dropped onto a nearby table, you will probably be startled by the noise and seek the source of this interruption. However, unlike an infant, you will not lose postural control during this reaction.
What occurs if the Moro reflex is retained and what does it have to do with your child’s sensitivity to light and sound? If the Moro reflex is present after six months it becomes an uncontrolled overreaction that overrides the newly acquired higher decision making skills. This creates a physical environment for your child where certain senses are heightened, making it more difficult for your child to cope with every day normalities that we take for granted.
This hypersensitivity to a child’s environment can cause anxiety in the child and extreme difficulty when your child tries to ignore irrelevant stimuli like the hum of a car, nightlight in their bedroom, a clock ticking or the brightness of a TV. These are all normal every-day things our bodies automatically ignore or drown out, where it may constantly bother your child because of their heightened sensitivity.
Retained Moro Reflex – Signs and Symptoms
There are many signs and symptoms of a retained Moro reflex that coordinate with many of the senses, along with emotional and balance issues as well. To learn more about these signs and symptoms, you can read The Well Balanced Child by Sally Goddard Blythe. If your child has retained the Moro reflex, the following signs may be displayed in your child:
- Light sensitivity
- Poor eye movement control
- Difficulty ignoring irrelevant visual stimuli
- Struggles reading black print on white paper
- Bothered by fluorescent light
- Sound sensitivity
- Difficulty ignoring background noise
- Poor auditory discrimination which is necessary for reading
- Dislikes clothing tags
- Hypersensitive to textures
- Issues when combing hair
Balance and Body Awareness
- Vestibular problems (inner ear)
- Poor coordination
- Low stamina
- Motion sickness
- Tense muscle tone
- Exaggerated startle response
- Emotional sensitivity
- Tends to withdraw from others
- Prone to anxiety
- Frequent Fight or flight mode
- Easily triggered or angered
- Low immune system (sick frequently)
- Decreased energy
- Dislikes change
- Food sensitivity
Light and Sound Sensitivity
There are several signs of a retained Moro reflex listed above, but the there are two symptoms I want to discuss further. Light sensitivity and sound sensitivity are two very common signs in a child that has the Moro present. “The child who still has a Moro reflex will experience the world as too full of bright, loud and abrasive sensory stimuli. The eyes will be drawn towards changes in light and to every movement within his visual field. His ears may receive too much auditory information. He cannot filter out or occlude extraneous stimuli, so he becomes easily overloaded. He is, in effect, ‘stimulus bound,’” said Blythe in The Well Balanced Child.
Results of Hypersensitivity
When a child is over reactive to light or sound stimuli, we see the fight or flight response in full force. This response is activated by the amygdala, a brain structure located in the temporal lobe. The amygdala is a limbic system structure that is involved with emotions and motivation. When this is activated by light or sound in the environment, your child is constantly reacting to hypersensitivity to these senses. Over time, the child will “burn out” or become steadily fatigued. At this point, their body’s systems suffer, for instance their immune system, which is why your child may often be rundown. Your child will also get sick more often and may develop allergies.
As we discuss the signs of a retained Moro reflex, remember it affects every sense in some way. Lights and sounds are a perpetual part of everyday experiences. We must understand that your child is living with frequent stress from being hypersensitive to light and sound and we must adapt it in some way. In an article written by The Center for Parenting Education, entitled “Understanding Temperament: Sensory Sensitivity,” it discusses how these sensitivities are sometimes viewed as odd or undesirable social behaviors and affects the child’s temperament. The child may retreat easily, or withdraw socially. The loss of attention or focus may be a direct result of the child trying to negate the current stimuli in the environment.
How to test for the Moro reflex and hypersensitivity
There are a few ways to test your child for the Moro reflex. The tests allow you to determine if the reflex is still present and if it could be the cause of your child’s sensitivities to bright light, loud noises, balance and coordination issues, fight or flight mode, fidgeting and behavior problems.
Have your child lift their arms out straight on the right and left sides of the body. Then have your child balance on one foot and then switch to balancing on the opposite foot. If your child wobbles or falls over it could be a sign they have retained the Moro reflex.
Help your child cross one foot over the other and lift their arms above their head. Then have your child take their arms and touch their toes. When they have completed the first exercise, help them repeat the same exercise by switching legs. If your child displays poor balance and falls over, it could be a sign your child has retained the Moro reflex.
Stand behind your child, have them close their eyes and stand up straight with their hands touching their chest (elbows bent). Tell your child to fall backward into your arms (catch them under the armpits). When your child falls backward, if they flail their arms outward instead of keeping them toward their chest, this is a sign they still have the Moro reflex present. While their eyes are closed you can also snap your fingers close to their ears. If the noise startles them and they flail their arms outward, this is another sign of a retained reflex.
How to help sound and light sensitivities
If you have tested your child or student for the Moro reflex and are sure they have retained it, your child may continue to show signs of sensitivity to light, sound, clothing and other triggers. Your child may need additional help to integrate the reflex that should have gone to sleep when they were a baby so your child’s body can calm down and no longer feel that anxiety.
To help you with these exercises, the Retained Primitive Reflexes 101 e-Course provides videos, instructions and pictures to assist in integrating the reflex. The e-Course is only offered two times a year so join now to save your spot!
Integrated Learning Strategies is a Utah-based center dedicated to helping mainstream children and children with learning challenges achieve academic success. Our services provide kids with non-traditional tutoring programs within the Davis County, Kaysville, Layton, Syracuse, Farmington, and Centerville areas. Areas to find Integrated Learning Strategies include: Reading tutors in Kaysville, Math tutors in Kaysville, Common Core Tutors in Kaysville, Tutors in Utah, Utah Tutoring Programs