Primitive Reflexes: The Culprit Behind Your Child’s Balance and Coordination Issues
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Running, kicking a ball, riding a bike and sitting straight in a chair are things most kids do easily, but if a child struggles doing simple physical tasks, there might be an underlying reason that goes deeper than just being uncoordinated. If an older child tends to slump in their chair or battles staying balanced on their bicycle they may be holding on to a primitive reflex known as the Tonic Labyrinthe Reflex (TLR). While there could be many reasons behind poor muscle strengthen, bad posture, and balance issues, many times parents don’t think of a retained primitive reflex and often don’t have their child checked for the TLR.
What is the TLR
The TLR is a primitive reflex response made by a baby when the head position is changed. When the baby is supported on their back when they are in their parent’s arms, and the head is lowered below spine level, the arms and legs straighten. This is called Tonic Labyrinthe Extension (see picture here).
If the head is raised above spine level then the arms and legs flex and come into the body. This is referred to as Tonic Labyrinthe Flexion (see picture here). These primitive reflexes are the baby’s first response to gravity.
In Sally Goddard’s book, Attention, Balance and Coordination, she describes that in the first few weeks of life, the infant starts gaining some control over this reflex by holding its head up when lying on the stomach. This head control movement is the first step in gaining strength in the neck muscles, which assists in supporting the upper-trunk muscles. It will eventually lead to total mastery of muscle tone throughout the body regardless of head position.
In normal development, correct head alignment and control is the first lesson a baby must learn. Steadily, this head control provides the vestibular system, which is the balance mechanism in the inner ear, a starting point where it can direct muscle groups and systems to work together. This cooperation between the vision system, core muscle groups and proprioception (the sensation of movement and position) help your child maintain balance and posture, which are all used in the classroom for listening to the teacher, sitting in a chair, copying notes from the chalkboard, tracking words on a page and building social relationships with other children.
Symptoms of Retained TLR (Tonic Labyrinthe Reflex)
If your child has retained the TLR primitive reflex, you may notice some of the following signs:
- Posture issues
- Poor balance
- Hypotonia (Weak muscle tone)
- Hypertonia (Stiff muscle tone and movement)
- Motion sickness is common
- Toe walking
- Dislikes sports
- Tendency to be hesitant navigating surroundings
- Fear of heights
- Frequently fatigued
- Lacks time management skills
Balance is a critical part of a person’s daily life, and your child’s need for balance is just as great. Balance provides your child with the ability to keep the body centered over the feet. When balance and posture are lacking, it affects many daily activities. If your child has retained the TLR primitive reflex, you may notice he or she has trouble walking, running, riding a bike, navigating around furniture and other obstacles, sense of direction, judging speed, and tracking abilities that affect eye-hand coordination.
If your child struggles with balance issues, the risk for falling increases and they are usually unable to enjoy as many activities as their counterparts.
Another area impacted if your child has retained the TLR primitive reflex is with sports and physical play. Almost every part of a sports game involves balance and coordination. When a child is participating in sports, many natural abilities come into play. Your child has to judge the speed of the ball and navigate their position in coordination with the other teammates. To play sports or to be physically active, your child’s balance system must be regulated in order to run, jump and track words using their vision. When your child’s balance system is utilized properly, they can determine sense of direction (spatial awareness) to complete several tasks at the same time.
Knowing if your child’s balance and coordination issues are associated with a retained TLR reflex is an important step in getting your child the right intervention to help improve their learning in the classroom. As you observe your child’s balance systems, take notes and create a timeline so you can provide the information to a professional while seeking help for their retained primitive reflex.
How to test for the TLR
If your child’s balance and coordination issues do not stem from a retained primitive reflex, then you don’t need to complete this test. However, if you don’t know or are unsure if this could be a possibility, try it out with your child to see how their body responds. There are two simple tests you can try at home to see if your child has retained the TLR reflex.
Have your child stand straight with their legs and feet together (arms at their side). Now have your child close their eyes (you may want to stand behind them) and have your child tilt their head back as far as they can and hold that position for five seconds. If your child has retained the reflex, they will most likely fall backward.
Now have your child close their eyes and tilt their head forward toward their chest and hold for five seconds. If your child falls forward this means the primitive reflex is still present and they will need to complete the exercises mentioned below for it to “disappear.”
For this test, have your child lay on their tummy, flat on the floor. While they are on the floor, have them relax their body. When you count to three, tell them to lift their arms and legs off the floor at the same time (almost like the Superman, except for their arms are at their side instead of in front of them) and hold that position for 10 seconds.
If your child automatically bends their knees instead of keeping them straight when they lift their legs or if they tilt back and forth without holding still, this is a sign that they have retained the TLR reflex and it could be one of the reasons behind their balance and coordination issues. While you are completing this test, don’t tell your child what you are watching for because you want to see their natural response to the test. This will give you a good indicator if they have the reflex present or not. If they have the reflex, special exercises are needed to integrate the TLR, which you can do at home with your child.
How to integrate the TLR
If you have tested your child or student for the TLR primitive reflex and are sure they have retained it, your child may continue to show signs of poor balance and coordination issues. 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 integrate better in the classroom.
To help you with these exercises, the Retained Primitive Reflexes 101 e-Course provides videos, instructions and pictures to assist in integrating the reflexes. The e-Course is only offered two times a year so join now to save your spot!
In addition, our video membership may also be beneficial to help your child with physical literacy. It also allows you to track your progress and reach certain goals you set with your child. To join our team, click here.
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
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