Our brain and nervous system control and coordinate the function of all cells, organs and systems in our body. The development of the brain and spinal cord starts three weeks after conception, and at five weeks it starts to respond to the environment through the onset of primitive reflexes. These reflexes are patterns of movement in response to a stimulus which assist in the birthing process and practice rudimentary movements needed when in gravity in the real world. The reflexes ensure the survival of the newborn, and once this has been achieved, they are replaced by voluntary movements which we depend on for life.
It is very important that the reflexes are present in a baby, and we will assess your baby to make sure that they are present and that they are even on both sides. As the baby develops over the first year of life the reflexes become integrated into more selective responses so the child can learn to roll, creep, crawl, walk, write, talk and concentrate. If the reflexes do not integrate properly, there is a higher risk of learning difficulties, behavioural problems, being uncoordinated, poor concentration and attention, as well as difficulty with writing, posture and visual or auditory perception.
Some of the common reflexes we will assess are:
This is the very early withdrawal reflex for the foetus, in which it will move away from perceived danger like a blow to the protective space of mummy’s tummy. You can see this reflex in action when an ultrasound is performed, and the baby moves away. This reflex is supposed to be integrated before the baby is born. If it is not, the baby may be very unsettled, not sleep well, feed well or suffer abdominal pains or reflux. The child will often avoid sensory stimulation, be afraid of new things, and be shy and timid. On occasion the child will be very aggressive in the avoidance, and may scream, yell and fight.
When a baby is surprised or scared, for example by a bright light, loud noise, rough touch or a sudden movement, he/she will startle: extend the arms and legs and take a breath in, followed by flexing of spine and limbs and a loud cry. This reflex will help the baby take its first breath when it is born and is a way to communicate the need for assistance and help from mum. This is a fight-flight reflex, a stress response, which is essential for the first few months of life. After this time the reflex should integrate and become a more conscious decision whether to get scared or not.
If the MORO doesn’t integrate properly the child will often be over-reactive and aggressive, easily distracted, have poor attention, be labelled ADHD as well as often being unwell, allergic and hypersensitive to foods and airborne allergens due to continuous exposure to stress hormones.
Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex:
When the baby turns the head to the side, the arm and leg will straighten on the same side. This reflex assists in the birth process, and helps the baby see his/her hand, so he can develop hand/eye coordination and depth perception.
If ATNR does not integrate properly the child will tend to be uncoordinated and unbalanced with crawling (if any) and walking, will have difficulty using both sides of the body at the same time as well as having problems bringing arms to midline (catching balls). Often he will have pencil grip and writing difficulties and he may have a blind line in the middle of his vision, causing challenges with reading. He may turn the books at weird angles to make reading and writing easier.
In a baby, when you place your finger in their palm, the fingers will close and hold on. This reflex goes back in evolution when babies clung on to their mother for safety.
If the reflex does not integrate properly the child will have problems with hand and finger control, poor pencil grip, hand writing and hypersensitivity of the hand. Due to this reflex’s association with the Rooting and Sucking Reflex, this child will often also dribble profusely and suffer delayed speech and articulation. You will often observe movement of the mouth and tongue when the child is writing and drawing.
Rooting and Sucking Reflex:
When the baby’s cheek and lips are stroked, he will turn his head, open his mouth with the tongue extended, search for the nipple and start sucking and swallowing.
If this reflex does not integrate properly, he will often be hypersensitive on the skin around the mouth, have the tongue too far forward in the mouth – which may interfere with chewing and swallowing solid foods, as well as causing speech and articulation difficulties. He/she will often dribble profusely, suck his/her thumb, and due to the association with the Palmar Reflex, have difficulties with manual dexterity and hypersensitivity of the hands.
Spinal Galant Reflex:
When you stroke the muscles next to the lower spine on one side, you will see a slight contraction of those muscles. This reflex is to help the baby ‘wriggle’ out of the birth canal. Stimulation on both sides of the spine is related to a reflex emptying of the bladder.
If this reflex does not integrate properly, the child tends to have trouble sitting still, have ‘ants in the pants’, coordination problems, have trouble with bedwetting and possible scoliosis (curvature of the spine).
Tonic Labyrinthine Reflex
This reflex is about where the head and body are in space and the interaction of the senses. It causes the limbs to bend when the neck is flexed, and to straighten when the neck is extended.
If the reflex doesn’t integrate properly the child will suffer disturbance in the vestibular system and its interaction with the other senses. The child will be delayed in reaching his/her gross motor milestones, as in delayed learning to crawl and walk, and will appear unbalanced, uncoordinated and clumsy. The child will often suffer vision and hearing problems and may suffer motion sickness.
If flexion does not integrate, the child will be weak and floppy and will often stand and sit with stooped posture, whereas retained extension will result in a child who appears stiff with rigid and jerky movements. You will often see this child walking on the toes.
Symmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex
This reflex helps the child to move in gravity by getting him/her rocking when on hands and knees. On all fours, when the neck is flexed, the arms will flex, the hips extend and the eyes focus close. This causes the child to rock forward. When the neck extends, the arms will extend and the hips flex and the eyes focus in the far distance, causing the child to rock back.
What we look for in every child is alignment and reflex presence at the appropriate stage.
If this reflex does not integrate properly, the child will not learn to cross crawl properly, a skill which is essential for thorough integration between the left and right sides of the brain, as well as training the eyes to focus and track.
The child will have poor posture (neck flexion causes arms and upper body to flex, and the belly to push forward in standing position), sitting with the legs and hips forming a W, difficulty changing eye focus from book to board, poor hand-eye coordination and messy eating habits.