Have you ever heard of infantile reflexes? These are natural reflexes that newborns have, known as primitive flexes, that normally vanish within the first year of life. When a newborn is in the hospital the staff checks to make sure these reflexes are present determine their development. Some of these include:
- Startle reflex: pulling your arms and legs in after hearing a loud noise.
- Sucking reflex: sucking when an object is touched around the mouth
- Grasp reflex: the infant grabs hand or object put in its hand.
And many more. For more information on these click here.
These reflexes are meant to help the children survive, but as they get older these primitive reflexes disappear. But what happens if they don’t?
There has been a lot of emerging research on retaining primitive reflexes and how it affects children’s development. It has been linked with autism, ADHD, sensory issues, and much more, check out this informative blog about retained infantile reflexes here.
Think about if the startle reflex is still retained. This is a fight or flight survival response, which should disappear between 2 and 4 months of age. If this is retained, think about a child hearing a loud noise, instead of looking to see what it was, their whole body shakes and their brain goes into survival mode. This can turn into hypersensitivity to sensory stimulus and a child can become constantly in the alert state, feeling the urge to fight-or-flight, have higher adrenaline, and negatively impact energy levels and mood throughout the day.
This is only one example of an infantile reflex being retained. What if multiple are retained? How would that impact development?
The first time I heard about retained infantile reflexes was from a friend whose son has autism. She had been taking him to Brain Balance, which identified which infantile reflexes he retained and worked on catching him up with his peers. She saw some great progress with him doing the program.
As she was describing these infantile reflexes I thought about Ruby and yep she definitely had retained some as well, most notably the startle reflex. When she heard a loud noise her whole body would shake and she did not have control over herself and could not respond to communication. Definitely fight-or-flight. I think this picture does it justice.
When I looked into Brain Balance it was quite pricey (think thousands of dollars $$$) so not something I could afford, and with all the other therapies she was doing I just kind of forgot about her retained reflexes.
Fast forward to today, I recently got an evaluation from her OT about her progress. She is making progress in basically all areas, yay! One thing that caught my eye was the reflexes section. Her OT talked about Ruby’s retained reflexes and that not having integrated reflexes could make it difficult sitting still, hypersensitivities to waistbands and belts, contribute to deficits in postural (body posture, apparently she has weak core muscles) and ocular skills (has a hard time tracking objects visually), throwing a ball, and copying from the board.
So apparently I should have been more aware of this… When my friend was telling me about some of the exercises her son was doing to try and release these infantile reflexes I knew at that time Ruby could not do them because they required her to follow directions, which was a pipe dream. Even still we are not quite there, but she is starting to mimic a lot more and perhaps will be able to start some exercises soon to get her brain talking (both sides of the brain) and let her infantile reflexes go.
So my next step is to talk to her OT about her retained reflexes and get some exercises to work on at home, of course in addition to the endless list of speech and OT exercises already suggested… All we can do is our best 🙂 Lot of love!