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Retained TLR: Without the Right Balance and Coordination, Learning Falls into a “Slump”

This article provides helpful information about a retained TLR and how it impacts a child’s balance and learning ability. 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 coordination are two areas of physical development in children that are often overlooked. These areas of development are typically discounted because, for most children, they come automatically or just take care of themselves. Children get stronger and more coordinated as they grow, right? True. However, if balance and coordination is always left to natural development and chance, many children may not reach their full potential.

For children that struggle with certain disabilities or developmental delays, their lack of balance and coordination is often more noticeable, but for an every-day child, trouble with balance and coordination can be hard to detect. Each child is on a different development and growth level where some abilities may develop faster than others. Because there are many students with delays in balance and coordination, they should be tested to determine what level they are at and if they have retained the Tonic Labyrinthine Reflex (TLR) that may be responsible for poor balance and coordination.

How does a retained TLR affect my child’s learning?

Because the TLR involves the vestibular system, which is the child’s sense of balance and position in space, it also interacts with all the other senses. These all play a part in the process of learning. Whether it be bringing stimuli (sound, noise, smell, touch, taste) into the cognitive sphere, or having the ability to maintain proper posture to focus on a lecture, or retain the information once received, all parts are important. When one of these parts does not function correctly, the learning potential diminishes.

If the child has a retained TLR, they may struggle significantly in maintaining basic posture and focus in the classroom, especially when seated. The very nature of the reflex does not allow a “normal” seated posture to exist. The child will either slump over with their head down or if they tilt their head backward, their legs and arms automatically extend. This could be the reason a child appears to have no energy or is constantly laying on their desk at school. Both of these postures are not conducive to writing, reading, copying and studying.

A few issues you may notice in the classroom if a child struggles with a retained TLR include the following:

  • Poor posture (frequently rests head on desk)
  • Child wrap legs and feet around the legs of the chair to maintain posture at their desk
  • Tends to lift arms when writing and will tire easily because writing with lifted arms is exhausting
  • Has difficulty with reading, usually very slow and struggles with comprehension
  • Has difficulty with following multiple instructions in the classroom (auditory processing)
  • Extremely disorganized
  • Poor visual perception (letters and numbers run together in words and sentences with no spaces in between)
  • Toe walking

If any of these describe your child, there may be a chance that he or she has a retained TLR. When we focus on integrating this reflex, there are a few corrections to help alleviate the issues. Different types of movement and body awareness exercises will help the child balance, move and coordinate more efficiently. You also may want to help the child’s posture so they can sit upright at their desk without pain or frustration. When we implement exercises that can correct the retained TLR, the child will no longer need to slump at their desk and many other issues in the classroom will start to improve. If a child has a retained TLR, integration is essential so the child may move forward in their educational journey.

Retained TLR

James, a 6-year-old boy, has a strongly retained TLR. When his head comes forward, his knees bend. When his head moves backward, his legs and arms naturally extend. This, of course, causes some very odd positions, both at school and at home. Frequently he hears, “sit up” from his teacher and parents. The problem is that when he does sit up, it takes an immense amount of energy that is all used up for subjects that require higher cognitive learning. If James is under stress or if he is compensating for his reflex, he runs out of energy and is unable to cope. He begins to shut down and daydream so he can filter out the world around him. His teacher also says James doesn’t have energy to play at recess and struggles with listening. These signs tell us that James is using all his valuable energy to compensate for a retained reflex that should not be there in the first place.

This is a common scenario if a child struggles with a retained TLR. While most parents and teachers don’t know or understand how primitive reflexes are connected to the learning process, they are often manifested in the classroom without the parent or teacher’s knowledge.

In Symphony of Reflexes, Bonnie Brandes says, “Retention of the TLR indicates developmental delays or neurological abnormalities and may cause a multitude of complications.” She continues to say that when this reflex is retained, there is a major impact on the child’s educational experience. A retained TLR can hinder the ability of the child to learn. Auditory processing is just one of the areas impacted. Typically when a child has an auditory processing issue, it affects their ability to follow instructions, complete assignments and retain information the teacher is teaching. They are often told to “listen” and ask “Huh?” or “What?” as if they didn’t hear you.

What is the TLR and how is it retained?

The TLR is a primitive reflex that helps the baby develop correct head alignment and contributes to balance, auditory processing, muscle tone and visual tracking. The TLR has two of the following distinct movements:

TLR Forward

As the baby’s head bends forward while on their back, the whole body, arms and legs curl inward into a fetal position. The TLR forward shows up in utero around three to four months. It should normally integrate at three to four months after birth.

TLR Backward

As the baby is held on its back and the head tilts backward past the line of the spine, the baby’s arms, legs and torso straighten and extend. The TLR backward emerges at birth and should be integrated by the age of three and a half years.

These two reflexes are another example of a perfect duet played within the reflex symphony. While this duet is developing, the head-righting and Landau reflexes are joining in. All of these areas begin to develop muscle tone that engages the baby’s core and limbs so it can react to the small changes deep inside the inner ear, which is what is used for listening to the teacher and following directions (auditory processing). Changes within the inner ear are caused by head movements developing in the child.

As the child’s head movements become stronger, balance and coordination begin to develop with it. Gross muscle coordination is especially key for a baby as they transition from the stomach to getting up on all fours, then the movement towards crawling. The trouble begins when the child hangs on to these two reflexes for too long and they don’t integrate.

Integrate with Success Program

If you suspect your child has one or more retained Primitive Reflexes, there is a way to test your child and help integrate the reflexes with a few simple exercises you can do right in your living room. The Integrate with Success program helps parents, therapists, teachers and professionals integrate six basic and most commonly retained Primitive Reflexes.

To enroll in the course, join the waitlist here. You can also download a free copy of our Retained Primitive Reflexes roadmap that provides information on how to begin navigating your way toward reflex integration. To download your free copy, complete the form below.

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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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