Primitive Reflex: Poor Posture Shows Signs of Learning Delays from Retained STNR
This article contains information regarding the STNR primitive reflex. Affiliate links are included for your convenience.
The way we hold our bodies affects everything we do. Posture is a large part of daily life and influences everything from focus and concentration to mood and confident body language. Just as correct posture can produce amazing results in both body and mind, poor posture can generate unwanted problems.
Encouraging your child to have good posture is just as important as eating health foods, exercising and getting enough sleep. A child’s body alignment comes from a variety of factors including muscle strength, core muscle control, gait, flexibility, and psychosocial issues (for example, self-confidence). Poor posture in kids’ results in many physical problems down the road and can cause muscle strains, neck and back pain, even decreased lung capacity. Children with poor posture may experience growth and development problems and can show signs of abnormal bone growth due to pressure put on one direction or point. Permanent loss or decrease of flexibility is another side effect of poor alignment.
As children become more dependent on screen time with their electronic devices, iPads and television, we have noticed their posture tends to worsen and it increases their risk of developmental issues. While there are many health risks and physical delays that come from poor posture, one of the greatest risks we see is the impact poor posture has on learning in the classroom. As a result, many of our students show signs of both mental problems and learning challenges that prevent them from sitting straight in a chair or they are unable to focus for long periods of time due to pain or strain. In this study, early learning and memory development is linked to posture in the infant and child as they grow and develop.
Introduction to the STNR Primitive Reflex
There are various causes for poor posture in children. While some slouch in their chair or have trouble lifting their neck to see the chalkboard because of low muscle tone, others have a problem that most parents don’t realize is causing learning delays as a result of their posture. The problem we have looked at more recently is the observation that many children who have a retained a primitive reflex, called the Symmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (STNR), frequently slump or slouch when sitting, standing or walking.
The STNR is briefly seen after birth and re-emerges in the baby six to nine months later, which is a normal part of every child’s development. As the child grows, the STNR is no longer needed so it goes to “sleep” or becomes dormant just like some volcanoes, they are still present, but not active. If primitive reflexes do not integrate in the child’s development, the reflex is retained, and this is where we begin to see issues that impact their learning development as students.
As we take a closer look at the STNR, we know there are both extension and flexion movements in this important reflex. When the child is on his or her tummy and they lift their head, their arms will straighten and they will bend their legs (extension). If the child’s head is tilted down, the opposite movement occurs where the arms bend and the legs straighten (flexion). This reflex is necessary in infants to help support their upper-body posture when they are in the prone position (on their stomach) and when they begin to lift themselves from their tummy to their hands and knees. The STNR also helps a baby learn to crawl, pull themself up from a sitting to standing position, and assists in training their visual perception skills. By the time your baby is about nine to 11 months old, these reflexive movements will have done their job. This primitive reflex will lay dormant and the child’s head movement will no longer automatically trigger these bending and straightening actions of the arms and legs.
STNR Primitive Reflex: A Possibility for Poor Posture
We begin to see problems in children with learning challenges when the STNR does not integrate and remnants of the reflex are retained.
In Attention, Balance And Coordination, Sally Goddard Blythe discusses that posture can be one of the first casualties of a residual STNR reflex. This is because the head position continues to influence muscle tone in both the upper and lower limbs. She goes on to say that head position is critical when it comes to posture. Posture affects walking and stance, and poor posture, over time, affects the structure of the skeletal muscles in the developing child.
Because poor posture is one of the most common signs of a retained STNR reflex, it is frequently seen in the way a student sits at their desk in school. When sitting at their desk, they tend to gravitate and shift to a posture where they feel most comfortable. This is why you may see your child slump in their chair with their legs stretched straight out underneath the desk, having their arms bent holding their book. Or, another position that is common is where the child will slouch with their arms outstretched on the desk with their head resting on the desk. This position allows the legs to bend underneath their chair. These sitting positions are some of the only postures that don’t agitate the retained STNR reflex when your child is sitting at their desk. When your child is in these positions at school, they are able to focus, read, write and complete other projects that are required of them by the teacher. The problem is, a child’s poor posture puts a strain on other body systems (visual, vestibular, proprioception) that affect their learning potential.
If your child has retained the STNR reflex and is required to sit “properly” in their desk, it may cause them to fidget, squirm, stand up or wiggle their legs underneath their desk because their body needs the physical movement to stay comfortable. The retained STNR reflex still wants to control the upper and lower limbs with movement of the head.
Think for a moment about a student tilting his head up to see the chalkboard and attempting to sit straight with legs bent (perfect posture). If your child has retained the STNR, this movement automatically prompts him to straighten his arms, which is not conducive to reading a book. To correct this movement, your child tries to hold their head up and bend their arms to bring the book closer to their eyes so they can read. When they bend their arms, it triggers the retained STNR again causing them to shift their posture so they can read their book in a more comfortable position. It’s a continuous cycle of them moving, fidgeting, sitting straight and trying to focus as they attempt to learn better in the classroom.
Other Signs of a Retained STNR
In addition to poor posture when the child sits, stands or walks, there are a few other signs your child may display if they have retained the STNR primitive reflex. The following signs go hand-in-hand with poor posture:
- Impaired eye-hand coordination
- Struggles with low muscle tone
- Difficulty copying notes from the chalkboard to paper
- Muscle tension headaches linked to neck position and arm position
- Trouble with swimming skills
How to test for the STNR
To determine if your child has retained the STNR primitive reflex, try this simple test. Have your child get down on all fours (hands and knees). Ensure that their back is flat like a table. You will want to sit in front of them (facing their head so you can watch their movement).
Instruct your child to move their head downward toward their chest so they are looking at their feet and have them hold that position for 10 seconds.
Then have your child bring their head up and lean it back so they are looking toward the ceiling and have them hold that position for 10 seconds. As your child completes this exercise, watch their back. If their back arches or dips at any time while they are completing these exercises, it means they have retained the STNR primitive reflex and this could be the cause for poor posture, W-sitting and other postural issues.
It can also play a key role in why your child may be struggling with certain topics in school.
Exercises to integrate the STNR
If you have tested your child or student for the STNR primitive reflex and are sure they have retained it, then your child will most likely continue to show signs of poor posture, W-sitting, balance and coordination issues, and learning problems in the classroom. We need to help your child with specific exercises that will 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, we have created a new Retained Primitive Reflexes 101 e-Course that contains videos, instructions and pictures to direct you through the process. The e-Course is only offered three times a year so join now to save your spot!
To try more activities that can help your child with the STNR reflex and sensory integration, join our video membership club now to get started with all the exercises we do at our center. We now have three new options available:
- Pick and choose which series works best for you for one price.
- Sign-up for our monthly membership to gain access to each new series on a monthly basis.
- Register for our annual membership to gain access to all the videos we release for the whole year.
Depending on what option works best for you, each series is typically only $1 per video. Each video series allows you to track your progress and reach certain goals you set with your child. To join, click here.
As a reminder, the membership will include videos and information for the reflexes and other exercises performed at our center to help struggling children in the classroom. New videos, exercises and instructions will be added each month.
Integrated Learning Strategies is a Utah-based center dedicated to helping mainstream children and children with learning disabilities 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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