Postural Reflexes: Lack of Postural Development Creates Poor Balance, Coordination, Fine Motor Skills and Motor Planning
This article contains information about Postural reflexes and how they affect your child’s development. 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.
The Central Nervous System (CNS) is the center of thinking and controls most functions of the body and mind. Developing an efficient CNS is very complex and we are only beginning to understand how this system matures. There are two components of the CNS, the spinal cord and the brain.
Both of these structures serve major roles in the complicated process and advancement of automatic movements in infants and adults, which we often refer to as reflexes. The advancement within the CNS starts at conception and develops in a regular sequence. This developmental pattern of the CNS is seen in all humans regardless of cultural influences.
Signs of a maturing CNS include automatic movement patterns or reflexes that are seen at every stage of a baby’s growth. Each reflex in the young infant plays a part in the necessary growth and development of the CNS and there are two sets of reflexes in particular that help the sequence of advancement with the CNS. The first set is Primitive reflexes.
Primitive reflexes are survival reflexes that are seen in the womb or at birth and should “go to sleep” or integrate by the 12 month mark. The second set of reflexes are called Postural reflexes. Postural reflexes, like Primitive reflexes, are automatic movements, but are more mature patterns of response to stimuli (noise, light, sound, texture, touch, etc.).
The Next Stage – Postural Reflexes
Postural reflexes help control the balance a child requires when they are upright and moving. The child is constantly battling the effects of gravity in their ever expanding universe. Your child begins to maintain their balance, posture and fluidity of body movement as their posture reflexes emerge. Postural reflexes sequentially replace Primitive reflexes as the CNS matures. These postural responses are transformed Primitive reflexes that are executed in higher regions of the brain (cerebral cortex). As the baby develops over the first year of life, connections to the higher levels of the brain become stronger and typically take over for the survival reflexes, which help your child with reading, writing, critical thinking, problem solving and other higher learning concepts.
When Primitive reflexes eventually integrate, the postural movements take over and should remain for the life span of your child. As those Postural reflexes develop, your child should improve their balance, coordination, fine motor skills, and motor planning, which eventually impacts your child’s ability to sit in their chair, copy notes from the chalkboard, hold a book while they read, and track their hands as they guide their pencil along the page for writing. If your child holds on to those Primitive reflexes that should have integrated after 12 months, their development of Postural reflexes may be delayed. This could directly impact your child’s learning ability in the classroom and could be the reason behind delays in reading, writing, physical education, comprehension and sensory integration.
In, Attention, Balance, and Coordination, Sally Goddard Blythe describes the transition of Primitive reflexes to Postural reflexes as more of a fluid process rather than a rigid step-by-step procedure. Postural responses develop in a sequential pattern, but happen during dual periods of maturation within the CNS along with increased interaction in your child’s environment. Though Primitive reflexes do transition into more mature postural reflexes, both types of responses can coexist for a time.
Why do we need Postural Reflexes?
Postural reflexes are a group of automatic movements that help maintain body position and balance when a person is resting as well as in active movement. Think of your body standing in a bus as it lurches forward. Postural reflexes steady your body and they also keep the body balanced and coordinated on a subconscious level a majority of the time.
In part, this is due to your child’s powerful Postural reflexes as well as their vestibular and proprioceptive systems. The development of Postural reflexes, along with their vestibular and proprioceptive systems, helps your child’s movement become automatic. This makes it so your child doesn’t have to think about sitting still in their chair, holding their head up to read the chalkboard, or forcing themselves to listen to their teacher. It happens automatically without thought, which opens their mind up for learning higher concepts rather than focusing on how to control their attention in school.
One of the first Postural reflexes to emerge in your baby is the head righting reflex on a vertical plane. If you remember at birth, your baby has no head control. Slowly they begin to consciously gain control to lift the head. Eventually, this head movement becomes automatic and the head naturally aligns centrally with the body. As the CNS matures, subsequent postural movements will emerge. Imagine what it is like for a child who never develops their Postural reflexes for head movement or is delayed. They may not have muscle movement to lift their head to look at the teacher or to move their head back and forth for reading and writing.
How Postural Development Occurs
If your child is working their way through their developmental milestones, you may want to watch for signs that their developmental progression is headed in the right direction to avoid learning delays down the road. This includes the development of Postural reflexes to support their learning capability as they grow older. To determine if your child is on the right path for developing their Postural reflexes, watch for a few of these signs:
- Follows a head to toe pattern: Reflexes that involve the head begin to emerge first, feet and toes second (with the exception of some coordinated movement progresses from the feet up).
- Follows a proximodistal pattern: Reflexes develop from the center of the body and move outward.
- Brain Regulation: Development of balance, coordination and motor planning. Majority of Postural reflexes are regulated in the midbrain (exception being the Oculo-head Righting Reflex (OHRR)).
Postural reflexes are controlled by an exchange between the sensory vestibular system, which is in the inner ear, the cerebellum, and motor nerves controlling the muscles associated with the reflex. Development of the pathways between the lower and higher regions of the brain is never complete, nor an all or nothing system. The majority of adults have some deficits in the postural movements and motor reaction area. This is why most of us, regardless of training, will never end up as top performance athletes.
Sometimes, there are stronger deficits in neurodevelopment in children that cause issues with coordination, balance, sensory stimulation, reading, focus and even higher learning skills. If there is a breakdown in the exchange of sensory information with the development of your child’s Postural reflexes, this could also be a reason for Sensory Processing Disorders (SPD) or sensory sensitivities to texture, sound, light and smell.
How to integrate Primitive Reflexes
As you monitor your child’s development, if you notice traces of Primitive reflexes that remain in your child, which prevent the postural reflexes from fully developing, they may need exercises to help their Primitive reflexes “go to sleep” so the Postural reflexes can support their development. Without these exercises, you may continue to notice delays in your child’s learning or side effects that can cause toe walking, W-sitting, bedwetting, poor balance and coordination, underdeveloped vestibular and proprioceptive systems, and trouble with motor planning. If Postural reflexes are absent, this is an indication that the CNS is immature.
To help you with these exercises, the Retained Primitive Reflexes 101 e-Course provides videos, instructions and pictures that may help integrate these 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 for your child’s physical literacy. 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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