Retained Primitive Reflexes that Cause Sensory Sensitivities, Reading Delays, Fear and Fight or Flight
This article provides helpful information about retained primitive reflexes and how they affect your child’s learning potential. 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.
Most children in the classroom (about 80 percent) are healthy and active kids that excel in the classroom. However, the other 20 percent of students (several that are still mainstream students) often struggle in different areas of learning and sometimes have developmental delays. Several of these students are bothered by loud noises, bright light, strong smells, and different textures or they are in constant fight or flight mode, have anxiety and several fears. All of these factors prevent the child from focusing and concentrating long enough to learn in the classroom.
What most parents don’t realize is that these issues are connected, but in different ways. The root problem is typically caused by not one, but two retained primitive reflexes that the child “held onto” after they were born. While one reflex causes your child to experience sensory issues like sensitivities to sounds (buzzing lights, pencils writing on paper) and textures (tags in clothing, food), the other causes instant fight or flight mode (runs from teachers or other kids), meltdowns, extreme anxiety (cries in the corner of the classroom) and fears (won’t go into the classroom, apprehensive of new toys or surroundings).
The Moro reflex and the Fear Paralysis reflex are two separate reflexes that often work hand-in-hand together, but they cause different, yet similar types issues within your child. Because they often work together, they can either allow or hinder your child’s classroom performance.
Before a child can even begin to read, write and spell, these two reflexes (often called a duet because they work together), must be integrated or the child’s chances of learning can be very slim. Overtime, children may learn to cope with these issues, but they may not fully reach their academic potential because these retained reflexes continue to hold them back.
What role do Retained Primitive Reflexes play?
Each primitive reflex plays a significant role in developing a balanced child. This unique duet, when performed successfully, allows the Moro reflex to emerge and the Fear Paralysis to integrate or “go to sleep.” Essentially, one makes way for the other to develop. To have successful integration of the Moro reflex, the Fear Paralysis reflex must fully integrate first for the child’s development to continue in a normal, healthy way. The duet of the Fear Paralysis reflex and the Moro lay the foundation for all other reflexes to follow. Without these moving instruments, there would be nothing paving the way for survival, movement, cognition and learning.
Fear Paralysis Reflex
The Fear Paralysis reflex emerges early on after conception and should integrate before birth. This reflex is often seen in the fetus with the movement of the head, neck and body in response to a threat. If this reflex does not integrate and remains active as the child gets older, the child is usually extremely fearful of all new situations and challenges. The child typically withdraws and their behavior usually follows with crying, screaming, hitting or fleeing the scene. What is most commonly found is the child will scream loud when faced with a perceived threat. For example, in the classroom, a child with the Fear Paralysis reflex may be fearful and scared to move to a new classroom so they will run, cry or even stand at the back of the classroom to avoid the situation altogether.
The Moro reflex appears in the fetus around nine to twelve weeks. The Moro reflex is seen as the startle reflex in babies. Gradual integration of this reflex should occur around three to four months after birth. At this time, the normal adult startle response starts to take over. The adult startle response occurs for instance, when a door slams and you are startled by the noise and turn to locate the source. You will not, however, lose postural control like a baby who is still showing an active Moro reflex. For those children that “hold on” to an active Moro reflex, they begin developing sensitivities to whatever might be in their environment. Instead of being startled at the slamming of the door, they may immediately cry or scream because the sound was so much greater for them than for a normal every-day child. The same extreme responses begin to apply to foods, textures and bright lights.
A retained Moro reflex may also prevent your child from developing the correct eye movements they need for reading and writing. This is typically when parents start to notice delays in their child’s academics and their ability to focus on information that is presented in the classroom.
What happens to my child’s reading, writing and attention if the duet continues for too long?
These two integral reflexes set the child up for future developmental stages, strengthening movement and successful cognitive learning. When either or both of these primitive reflexes still persist after the appropriate age, there can be a serious disruption of critical development and learning stages.
If the back and forth integration of the Fear Paralysis reflex and the Moro reflex do not integrate in the child on time, you may notice the following:
“As the infant develops and enters childhood, the unintegrated Moro may cause immature eye movements and visual problems, including difficulty ignoring irrelevant visual input. As a result, the child may have difficulty sustaining visual attention. He may find it hard to manage rapidly approaching stimuli, as in the case of catching a ball. In the classroom, the child may find it difficult to focus on details and copy from the blackboard. In general, he may be more distractible.” (Bonnie Brandes, Symphony of Reflexes)
Immature eye movement and visual problems can be directly related to reading delays, inability to track words and sentences on a page, and concentration while the teacher is teaching.
Attention and Focus
Vestibular problems, including poor coordination and balance, can also prevent the child from sitting quietly at their desk, staying focused, playing sports and completing simple activities that build their motor skills.
As the child matures, unintegrated reflexes start to influence behavior more and more. The child typically lives in a constant state of stress, which causes poor adaptability and strong dislike to change. This is seen not only in the classroom, but in many social situations. A fear of social situations is a common characteristic in children who have an active Fear Paralysis reflex or Moro reflex. Because the child may have difficulty adapting to new situations and environments, they often fall into the habit of withdrawing.
Another common red flag that is often displayed with an unintegrated Moro reflex is a constant craving of sugar and sweet foods. This may be caused by the excessive cortisol production in the body. Other signs during mealtime may include the inability to eat an entire meal, hates certain textures of foods or only eats three to four items on a regular basis. The child also frequently expresses they suffer from headaches.
Exercises to Integrate Retained Primitive Reflexes
As you monitor your child’s development, if you notice traces of primitive reflexes that remain in your child, which prevent your child from fully developing, they may need exercises to help their primitive reflexes “go to sleep” so their other 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, anxiety, fear, poor balance and coordination, underdeveloped vestibular and proprioceptive systems, and trouble with motor planning.
As your child begins these exercises, it is important to remember that the child may experience some emotional ups and downs. Emotional waves are common because the hormonal and nervous systems are readjusting.
Progress towards the integration of these retained primitive reflexes strengthens your child’s focus and stress relief. Balance and coordination will slowly improve and visual problems and immature eye movements will improve with consistent exercises.
To help you with these exercises, the Retained Primitive Reflexes 101 e-Course contains videos, instructions and pictures that may be beneficial for retained primitive reflexes. The e-Course is only offered two times a year so join now to save your spot!
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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