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3 Retained Primitive Reflexes Responsible for Poor Balance | ilslearningcorner.com

3 Retained Primitive Reflexes Responsible for Poor Balance

This article provides helpful information regarding retained reflexes responsible for poor balance issues. 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.

As we dive deeper into the impacts of retained Primitive Reflexes, it’s no surprise that a child’s balance can be greatly affected by retention. Balance plays a huge role in a child’s learning and behavioral growth. Without a strong foundation, many kids may show signs of immature balance that could also be related to retained reflexes.

When we take a closer look at each primitive reflex, there are three major reflexes that could cause poor balance in children when they are retained. The Tonic Labyrinthine Reflex (TLR), Symmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (STNR), and the Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (ATNR) are the three main reflexes to test for when a child shows signs of an underdeveloped balance system. Testing a child’s balance in addition to testing for retained Primitive reflexes can provide early detection of trouble with balance, posture and motor skills.

When balance is delayed, children often display concentration issues and ADHD-like symptoms in the classroom. However, they often become “lost in the system” because they are not considered “bad enough” to receive additional help.

Retained Reflexes that Cause Poor Balance

The first sensory system to fully develop in a child is the vestibular system where the balance mechanisms are housed. This system controls our sense of balance and movement. When this system is disrupted by one or more retained Primitive Reflexes, research shows emotional, behavioral and learning issues begin to manifest themselves in the classroom.

Because the TLR, STNR and ATNR are primarily responsible for delayed balance milestones if retained, freedom to move the body in a way that supports learning is often hindered.

Tonic Labyrinthine Reflex (TLR) and Balance

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.

If the child has a retained TLR, they may struggle to maintain 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, with their legs and arms automatically extend. This is one reason a child appears to have no energy or is constantly laying on their desk at school. Both of these postures are not beneficial for writing, reading and copying notes from the chalkboard.

With a retained TLR reflex, kids may also have trouble with walking, running, riding a bike, navigating around furniture, tracking words on the page or having a good sense of direction.

Sports and other types of physical play may be impacted by a retained TLR if a child shows signs of poor dynamic balance. Almost every part of a sports game involves balance and coordination. To play sports or to be physically active, a child’s balance system must be regulated to run, jump and track words using their vision.

Knowing if a child’s balance and coordination issues are associated with retained primitive reflexes or a retained TLR reflex is an important step in getting your child the right intervention to help improve their learning in the classroom.

Symmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (STNR) and Balance

Posture can be one of the first casualties of a retained STNR reflex. This is because balance influences the movement of a child’s head position in space, which supports a child’s overall posture. 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. Kids with a retained STNR often slouch or rest their heads on their desk because the reflex has caused the child to have poor muscle control in the trunk and back of their body.

A teacher or parent may see a child slump in their chair with their legs stretched straight out underneath the desk, having their arms bent while holding their book. If the teacher asks the child to sit up in their chair, or if the child needs to lower their head so they can take a test or write notes on their paper, the reflex is automatically activated. This forces the child to wrap their legs around their chair for greater balance so they can focus, concentrate and write on the paper in front of them.

Sitting properly in the chair may cause kids to fidget, squirm, stand up or wiggle their legs underneath their desk because the body needs physical movement to stay comfortable. The retained STNR reflex still wants to control the upper and lower limbs with movement of the head.

Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (ATNR) and Balance

A retained ATNR largely affects the child’s head movements back and forth. Moving the head from side-to-side requires dynamic balance as a child reads words across the page or writes with their pencil from left to right. When the reflex is retained, a child’s dynamic balance is often delayed because the body requires so much movement for attention, focus and concentration. This prevents the child from using their head movements to drive learning in the classroom, especially when it comes to reading, writing and copying notes from the chalkboard.

Without greater mobility in a child’s head position, elements of learning like handwriting can be severely delayed. The child may even show signs of dizziness, nausea or disorientation.

For more research and information on how retained Primitive Reflexes may impact a child’s learning, download our free Primitive Reflexes roadmap below.

This resource provides information on how retained reflexes can impact a child’s learning ability and the road to take for integration. 

Join our waitlist here to learn more about the Integrate with Success program for retained Primitive Reflexes.


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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