How Retained Primitives Could Affect Learning Disabilities

About a year ago, both my children were tested for retained primitive reflexes and to my surprise, they both showed high levels of many primitive reflexes still retained at ages of 7 and 10. I want to be clear that this is a non-traditional approach and it is certainly not evidence-based. But as I studied the science behind it, I began to believe the power of this non-invasive approach.

I realize this is not for everyone. My goal is to put the information out there. You can decide whether this is a match for your family. 

So if you are against non-evidence based approaches, please STOP reading now.

During the training to eliminate these reflexes, I have met many children and parents with amazing stories. Realizing this may not be for everyone, I am sharing my experience with those who might be in search of alternative solutions just like I was.

The beauty is, there are many resources online that can guide a family through the exercises without any cost. Dr. Robert Melillo’s and Solve Learning Disabilities’ website, as well as Kathy Johnson’s YouTube video series are the best I found so far. Although the exercises are simple and can be fun, it sure will also be tough in the beginning. They have to be done exactly and repetitively every day up to three times for about 30 days or more. The just of it is that the exercises break the connection for the reflex in the brain and reform new connections by repetitively performing the specific physical movements. As the reflexes are “consumed”, we experienced that the exercises became much easier to complete.

We eliminated more than half of the primitive reflexes in couple of months. The ones still lingering along are the ones that were severe and are now reduced to mild or moderate. Some of the major benefits we saw were:
- Improved handwriting, reading, attention, impulse control, fine-motor skills (pencil grip, using utensils), hand-eye coordination, swimming, bicycling, core strength and posture
- Reduced sensory overload, moodiness and motion sickness
- Eliminated hair eating, sleeve sucking and messy eating

So what are these primitive reflexes? We are all born with them. A reflex is an automatic muscle reaction in response to outside stimulation. The primitive reflexes are the reflex actions typical in a newborn that naturally inhibit during the first year of life. They are critical for the survival of the infant and serve as the training wheels for the brain early on in the infancy. Older children and adults with intact neurology do not show signs of primitive reflexes. Instead, postural reflexes replace the primitive reflexes once they are successfully integrated. These more mature postural reflexes control balance, coordination and sensory motor development.

The presence and the severity of the primitive reflexes are an important benchmark for the development and function of the nervous system and the brain functions. Therefore, if the training wheels cannot come off and the reflexes are retained beyond the age it should normally disappear, the child’s brain cannot take off full speed and it could potentially cause developmental delays.

A variety of factors may cause retention of primitive reflexes. Some major factors are traumatic birth experience, atypical neurology such as people with cerebral palsy, head trauma or falls that could affect the brain. Some other factors are easy to overlook such as birth by c-section, chronic ear infections, lack of tummy time, delayed or skipped mile stones such as crawling.
Although there is no scientific evidence based on current knowledge that primitive reflexes play a role in disorders such as ADHD, sensory processing disorder or learning disabilities, more scientists are investigating the potential relation between retained primitive reflexes and these disorders. A the results of a study, for example, by Integrated Learning Strategies showed that children with ADHD had a high occurrence of primitive reflexes compared to the control group.

For a list of primitive reflexes, please click here. Landau Reflex, which is not present at birth but typically emerges around the third month of life, is also included in the list.