Retained Primitive Reflexes

How learning to crawl relates to learning

I adore watching babies make involuntary movements in their first few months of life. These involuntary movements are primitive reflexes, and are governed by the brainstem – the only part of our brain that is mature when a baby is born.

Very soon, babies start to be able to control their movements, and start being able to explore in the world. A baby has to inhibit primitive reflexes before moving to the next stage of development.

This video is a fantastic demonstration of how we should learn to crawl.

In some cases, babies do not get onto their hands and knees and push up to crawling like this. Some babies get around by rolling or “bum shuffling”.

Is this “normal”? Should we worry if we have a bum shuffler? Take a look at this video: these children will more than likely find it impossible to concentrate for any length of time at school, and will develop vision difficulties.

We must give babies every opportunity to cycle through the developmental stages themselves – that means no props to sit them in, no walkers, no bouncers, and as little time in car seats and even slings/carriers as possible.

As demonstrated by Baby Liv in the video, the Symmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (STNR) is a reflex that helps babies learn how to start crawling by rocking back and forth on hands and knees. It strengthens the core, and is a pre-cursor to the integration of the ATNR reflex. Crawling is an extremely important step of development because the associated movements myelinate and strengthen connections in the corpus callosum, which is the part of the brain that connects the two hemispheres.

In fact, it is very important to have a well-connected corpus callosum in order to learn how to read and decode efficiently, as well as to be able to write numbers and letters the right way around and even to ride a bike. Children who have not learned to cross crawl (opposite hand and knee on the floor at the same time) do not have such dense neural pathways, which often leads to problems with convergence and near and far vision.

There is an interesting theory that a child is ready to learn to read once they loose their top front teeth, and I’ve heard that Steiner schools look at tooth loss as an indication of readiness for learning to read and write. I do not know how true this is, but it is true that children with neuro-developmental delays often lose teeth much later. Please take this statement with a pinch of salt, however, as I’m not sure how much peer-reviewed science there is behind it – but there is indeed plenty of anecdotal evidence.

A child who bum shuffles, or misses the crawling stage altogether has missed an important stage of development, and will almost certainly have an active STNR reflex. If you recognise this situation, you can always book in for an appointment.

Here are a few fun activities to try yourself, or to ask school to include in PE lessons:

  • play row, row, row your boat with another person, holding hands and touching feet
  • get children to cross crawl as much as possible, through tunnels etc
  • do push ups against a wall
  • do a snow angel movement on your back
  • use a balance ball to sit on while you work/watch tv

Retained Primitive Reflexes

Learning to crawl – how our development relates to learning

I adore watching babies make involuntary movements in their first few months of life. These involuntary movements are primitive reflexes, and are governed by the brainstem – the only part of our brain that is mature when a baby is born.

Very soon, babies start to be able to control their movements, and start being able to explore in the world. A baby has to inhibit primitive reflexes before moving to the next stage of development.

This video is a fantastic demonstration of how we should learn to crawl.

In some cases, babies do not get onto their hands and knees and push up to crawling like this. Some babies get around by rolling or “bum shuffling”.

Is this “normal”? Should we worry if we have a bum shuffler? Take a look at this video: these children will more than likely find it impossible to concentrate for any length of time at school, and will develop vision difficulties.

We must give babies every opportunity to cycle through the developmental stages themselves – that means no props to sit them in, no walkers, no bouncers, and as little time in car seats and even slings/carriers as possible.

As demonstrated by Baby Liv in the video, the Symmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (STNR) is a reflex that helps babies learn how to start crawling by rocking back and forth on hands and knees. It strengthens the core, and is a pre-cursor to the integration of the ATNR reflex. Crawling is an extremely important step of development because the associated movements myelinate and strengthen connections in the corpus callosum, which is the part of the brain that connects the two hemispheres.

In fact, it is very important to have a well-connected corpus callosum in order to learn how to read and decode efficiently, as well as to be able to write numbers and letters the right way around and even to ride a bike. Children who have not learned to cross crawl (opposite hand and knee on the floor at the same time) do not have such dense neural pathways, which often leads to problems with convergence and near and far vision.

There is an interesting theory that a child is ready to learn to read once they loose their top front teeth, and I’ve heard that Steiner schools look at tooth loss as an indication of readiness for learning to read and write. I do not know how true this is, but it is true that children with neuro-developmental delays often lose teeth much later. Please take this statement with a pinch of salt, however, as I’m not sure how much peer-reviewed science there is behind it – but there is indeed plenty of anecdotal evidence.

A child who bum shuffles, or misses the crawling stage altogether has missed an important stage of development, and will almost certainly have an active STNR reflex. If you recognise this situation, you can always book in for an appointment.

Here are a few fun activities to try yourself, or to ask school to include in PE lessons:

  • play row, row, row your boat with another person, holding hands and touching feet
  • get children to cross crawl as much as possible, through tunnels etc
  • do push ups against a wall
  • do a snow angel movement on your back
  • use a balance ball to sit on while you work/watch tv

Dyspraxia, Dyslexia, Dyscalculia, Dysgraphia – what are they and how can you help?

Everyone has heard of dyslexia, but perhaps most people are less familiar with the terms dyspraxia, dyscalculia and dysgraphia, which are also specific learning difficulties…

So, what do all these terms mean?

Dyspraxia is a neurological spectrum that involves difficulties in motor planning, coordination as well as organisation of thought, sequencing and working memory and often extreme difficulties in setting thoughts down on paper. Dyspraxia can also come with sensory processing difficulties, anxiety and difficulties socialising, and can often be misdiagnosed as autism.

Dyslexia can be defined as a specific learning difficulty that is neurological in origin, which results in difficulties learning to read and spell.

Dyscalculia is a numeracy equivalent of dyslexia, involving extreme difficulties with numbers, calculations and numerical reasoning.

Dysgraphia is characterised by extreme difficulty or avoidance in getting thoughts down on paper, with poor or often illegible handwriting.

What causes these specific learning difficulties?

All these dys- diagnoses are caused by under-developed connections in the corpus callosum and irregularities in the parietal lobe. This causes a disconnect between left and right hemisphere and means that information between the two hemispheres cannot be processed as efficiently as someone with a fully functional corpus callosum. Added to this, problems with balance and coordination.

Underlying all these specific learning difficulties is a cascade of retained reflexes. Most with these SPLDs will have the following reflexes active: Fear Paralysis, Moro, Landau, Symmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex, Tonic Labyrinthine Reflex and Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex. It may be that these children/adults did not learn to roll effectively, get up on hands and knees and start to rock before reaching a hand out and starting to crawl, or to cross crawl during the appropriate developmental window, or that they skipped crawling altogether, perhaps they were late to meet milestones…

Does this sound familiar? If so, never fear! It is possible to repattern the brain to a certain extent, which will reduce or even eliminate these challenges.

You see, these developmental milestones aren’t simply there for fun – as they happen, our primitive reflexes gradually integrate. If we hit developmental milestones early or late or skip them altogether, we can expect to see reflexes hanging around in our systems. In fact, every one of us has a few, but it’s the extent to which they are retained that may or may not cause problems or learning difficulties.

I worked with a little boy of seven with extreme difficulties with the three Rs. He also had problems learning to ride a bike and had an extremely uncoordinated gait. So we got to work, and within a week of starting Rhythmic Movement Training, we saw improved eye tracking and he was suddenly able to ride his bike without stabilisers after two years of trying really hard to do so!

Difficulties learning to ride a bicycle can be related to the Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex

His difficulties were all related to the Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex, and his inability to separate head movements from arm movements. This stems from the time that this little boy was a baby, preparing to roll over, and turned his head to look at an outstretched arm, bending the opposite arm – something he never managed to get out of his system, because all his milestones were delayed – crawling at only 13 months and walking at 19 months.

We are now well into an Rhythmic Movement Training programme, and the differences are staggering. Many of his sensory processing signals – spinning, flapping, problems with sudden loud noises etc, have completely disappeared. His coordination has improved, his hypermobility has reduced noticeably, and his balance is much better – in fact, the latest is that he is learning to snowboard!

Rhythmic Movement Training is so called because we are training our brains to make the connections we should have made as babies, and training our bodies to notice small differences that can help us move forward – behaviourally, emotionally and academically.

Check https://rhythmicmovement.org/consultants for your nearest Rhythmic Movement Training consultant.