Head Righting Reflex Delays Cause Poor Visual Skills for Reading and Vestibular Issues for Attention
This article contains information regarding head righting reflexes. 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.
Balance and posture control over the pull of gravity is critical for every person’s life. This process begins before birth and continues as the natural reflexes emerge in an infant’s body. Postural reflexes start to appear a few weeks and a few months after birth and stay active for your child’s lifetime. The attainment and maintenance of head position and upright posture is an essential requirement for successful motor development. The postural reflexes that are the first to develop are the head righting reflexes. The two head righting reflexes we will focus on are Labyrinthine-Head Righting Reflex and the Oculo-Head Righting Reflex.
Introduction to Head Righting Reflexes
To begin understanding the head righting reflexes, we need to become familiar with a small, but essential organ in the inner ear called the labyrinth. The labyrinth is a complex structure deep within the ear that contains the membranes and cavities filled with fluid. These reflexes stimulate the receptors of the labyrinth, causing changes in the neck muscles, which bring the head to an appropriate position. The labyrinths in the ears are the most important structures that assist with the anti-gravity posture of the human body (for example, helps you steady yourself on a moving train). Movement of the head, in any direction, stimulates the labyrinths. Several weeks after birth, when this head movement occurs, the head-righting reflexes start emerging.
Labyrinthine-Head Righting Reflex
The labyrinthine-head righting reflex appears around two to three months of age in your infant. It enables the baby to start lifting his or her head while on the tummy. To stimulate this reflex, hold the infant vertically and slowly tilt to the side, forward or backward. The response will be the upright positioning of the baby’s head. This reflex persists throughout your child’s lifespan.
The labyrinthine reflex is linked to the vestibular motor system. After this reflex is developed, the infant will always move into a similar position. The child’s head position at the top of the skull is vertical and the mouth is horizontal. The labyrinthine reflex develops over the first few months of life and its influence is easily seen in the progress an infant gains as they start raising their head in the prone (tummy) position. The ease of this task increases as this reflex gets stronger and is better developed.
Children with underdeveloped labyrinthine-head righting reflexes often struggle with balance and coordination issues so they may appear to be clumsy or uncoordinated when they play sports. In addition, they may also have trouble with their vestibular and proprioceptive systems, which makes it difficult for them to pay attention in school and they often get motion sickness or experience dizziness.
If these head righting reflexes are not developed properly, you may start to see your child struggle with listening to the teacher, underdeveloped auditory processing, poor handwriting and trouble with gross and fine motor skills. A child with poor proprioception may have difficulty with motor planning and often has sensory seeking behavior (plays rough, chews, bites, likes tight clothes, pushes).
Because these head righting reflexes are also closely related to lifting the head (postural reflexes) you may notice your child slouching in their chair, laying on their desk or struggling to lift their head to view the chalkboard.
Oculo-Head Righting Reflex
The Oculo-Head Righting Reflex (OHRR) starts making its entrance around two to three months as well and remains for life. To stimulate this reflex, the infant is held vertically and tilted off center. Your infant should maintain their head in a vertical manner and their eyes will focus due to visual information. The oculo reflex baseline means orienting of the head and vision.
In Attention, Balance and Coordination, Sally Goddard explains that the OHRR responds to visual cues and it maintains the head in a stable position while the eyes are fixed on visual targets. This all occurs despite other movements of the body and head. This is a necessity to build the visual fixation skill, which is used to maintain visual attention when the body is in motion. It is also imperative for eye tracking when looking away from something and then looking back, which helps a child track words on a page and prevents them from skipping lines or words.
Children who struggle with the OHRR often have difficulty with their visual systems and tracking with the eyes. This often causes them to skip words, write their letters backward, and they can’t copy notes from the chalkboard, has poor handwriting, struggles with spacing their letters and words and has difficulty with long-term or short-term visual memory. The constant struggle to refocus and readjust their eyes makes simple tasks like copying notes from the chalkboard very difficult. Parents may mistake their child for having Dyslexia because they can’t tell their visual system hasn’t developed properly.
Head Righting Development
As your child’s head righting reflexes begin to develop, a chain of events happens as these head righting reflexes start to influence the baby’s body position and balance. These reflexes not only include the vestibular and proprioceptive systems and the organs involved with the function of these systems, but they affect movements and attitudes of the infant’s limbs. For example, when a baby raises his head in the prone position, it opens the door for him to crawl.
Head righting increases the strength of the neck and head and the extent to which the neck extends to reach the appropriate position. This facilitates the movement of the infant’s arms. The support reflex of the arms allows the infant’s chest to rise off the floor. After the head righting reflex is established, the postural reflexes move down the body to enable the child to reach their developmental milestones. The pelvis is next, which allows your child to bring their knees underneath their small body.
All of these reflexes play a key role in the development and production of crawling. If a child skips the crawling phase or is delayed, they can develop other learning delays or retained primitive reflexes that prevent your child from higher learning. If you notice your child struggling in these areas, you may want to have them tested for retained primitive reflexes or delays in head righting reflexes. This can impact your child’s learning greatly if they have not reached necessary developmental milestones that help organize the brain and build those neural connections for reading, writing, critical thinking, math, problem solving and speech and language.
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 head righting reflexes from fully developing, they may need to integrate their Primitive reflexes so the Postural reflexes can support their development. If Primitive Reflexes are retained 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 head righting reflexes are absent, this is an indication that the nervous system is underdeveloped.
To help you with these exercises, the Retained Primitive Reflexes 101 e-Course provides videos, instructions and pictures that may help integrate the reflexes. The e-Course is only offered two times a year so join now to save your spot!
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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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