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Primitive Reflexes and How They Affect Performance

There are in excess of 27 known primitive reflexes. The following are samples of reflexes which, when not fully controlled by the maturing central nervous system, are associated with specific learning, co-ordination and balance problems.
Scientific Evidence suggests that when a cluster of primitive reflexes is still present beyond the normal age of inhibition they may interfere with academic performance and prevent a child from reaching his/her potential in the educational and sporting field.


1. Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (ATNR)
Head movement elicits this reflex, which is very strongly present at birth. It is thought to play an active role in a spontaneous vertex delivery of the baby and in its survival in the first few months of life. This reflex is present before birth and should not be present after about 1 year of age.

Symptoms of the presence of Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (ATNR) in school going children:
  1. Poor handwriting and sometimes an awkward grip
  2. Written ideas not reflecting intelligence
  3. Poor hand eye coordination
  4. Dislike of sports or clumsiness at ball games
  5. Losing place on the page when reading unless finger or pencil is placed under the words
  6. Difficulty distinguishing left from right
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An example of a child's handwriting BEFORE and AFTER treatment:


2. Tonic Labyrinthine Reflex (TLR)
This reflex is strongly present in a healthy infant at birth and should be fully inhibited by three and a half years of age. This reflex is strongly related to the infant's muscle tone. As the developing brain gradually inhibits the TLR the baby starts to lift his/her head up and as the reflex is fully controlled the growing child gains increasing control over his/her muscle movements.

If the Tonic Labyrinthine Reflex persists in a child of school going age it may cause:
  1. Skipping over words or skipping a line when reading
  2. A greater tendency to reverse letters or numbers, or mix them up with similar shaped letters (bd / pq)
  3. Sequencing difficulties which may affect the ability to memorise the days of the week, months of the year, maths tables, or remember a sequence of instructions
  4. Postural problems resulting in the child with floppy or tight muscle who may have a tendency to walk on his/her toes
  5. Travel sickness
  6. Orientation and spatial difficulties with a direct impact on his/her concept of time, understanding and giving directions, or maths ability
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3. Symmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex
This reflex is noticeable in a child just prior to the creeping phase of development. Every time the child raises its head there is a tendency to move the bottom back onto the ankles, and each time the child bends its head the arms tend to bend and the upper body goes towards the floor. While this reflex is present the baby will not he able to creep forwards in a proper synchronised movement. S/he may creep backwards or shuffle along on the bottom.

If the Symmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex still persists in the older child its influence may cause the child to:
  1. Lean down over the page when writing
  2. Squirm on the chair when sitting -e.g. may frequently swing on the chair or may sit watching T.V. with Legs hanging over the side or back of couch
  3. Appear awkward at some sports or avoid sports
  4. Have difficulty copying from the blackboard
  5. Have messy eating or spillages at meal times
  6. Spend a long time doing homework
  7. Have poor concentration and poor attention to task
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