Updated: Feb 3, 2021
Primitive reflexes are the brain’s way of teaching the body motor patterns, they emerge in utero and integrate by a specific age. An example of a primitive reflex is the palmar reflex. If you place your finger in the palm of an infant; they are going to squeeze your finger. As they get older, they develop more control over the reflex and they are able to open and close their hand voluntarily. This is a reflex we want to see in an infant. If a 2 or 3-year-old still has their palmar reflex, it is called a retained primitive reflex, and that is when it becomes problematic. Sometimes, it is not noticed until the child begins kindergarten and is expected to begin higher level skills such as writing. If their palmar reflex is still present, it limits the control the child has on the writing utensil.
There are many primitive reflexes; and they are all important. Since primitive reflexes are located at the brain stem, if a child retains any of these reflexes, higher learner and sensory processing (among other things) can be greatly impacted. Recurrent bed wetting, difficulty with coordination, riding a bicycle, regulating emotions, sensory processing, toe walking, writing, and reading are all issues that could be addressed and solved if primitive reflexes are present and the specific reflex is integrated.
There are specific assessments and evaluations to detect if a child has retained primitive reflexes. If the reflexes are present, there are activities and exercises that could be done to integrate the reflex so it is no longer causing developmental issues.
Over the next few weeks, I am going to discuss a few specific reflexes, how they impact development, and next steps if you suspect your child may have retained primitive reflexes.