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Retained Primitive Reflexes

What are primitive reflexes?

Primitive reflexes originate in utero. They are involuntary/automatic movements essential for the development of head control, muscle tone, sensory integration and overall development.

Primitive reflexes protect a developing fetus and contribute to later, more mature postural reflexes. As a baby grows, primitive reflexes will “integrate” into the growing brain. They will no longer be active as movements become controlled and voluntary.

Vision and primitive reflexes go hand-in-hand. The integration of these reflexes allow us to move through our world during early childhood and all the way through adulthood. From gross motor to fine motor to oculomotor, each stage of development is affected by the appropriate integration of primitive reflexes.

What causes primitive reflexes to be retained?

Retained primitive reflexes may be the result of many circumstances including:

  • Stress of the mother and/or baby during pregnancy
  • Lack of movement in utero
  • Infants spending extended time in car seats/carriers, jumpers, walkers… all of which restrict movements required for healthy brain development.
  • Illness, trauma, injury, chronic stress
  • Other developmental delays

Both children and adults can experience symptoms from primitive reflexes that were not integrated. Reflexes that were integrated can also reactivate due to injury, trauma, illness or stress.

When primitive reflexes are not integrated it is important to address those missing developmental stages. The movement activities associated with integrating these reflexes will help rebuild those early childhood foundations and create/repair neural pathways. Reflex inhibition programs consist of specific, stereotyped movements practiced everyday for 5-7 minutes per day. Generally these are practiced over a period of 9-12 months.

Although there are many primitive reflexes, we incorporate the integration of the five reflexes that affect the visual system in our program.

Moro Reflex: affects fixation, focusing from near to far, and crossing midline

Moro Reflex is the earliest primitive reflex to emerge, forming a foundation for life and living. Other reflexes tend to impact specific skills, Moro effects the overall emotional profile of the child. It also affects vestibular, oculomotor, and visual perceptual skills. Retained Moro causes sensory overload leading to emotional sensitivity. Often the person struggles to “tune-out” extraneous stimuli, therefore the world seems too bright, too loud, and too abrasive.

Symptoms include:


  • Exaggerated startle reflex
  • Motion sickness
  • Poor balance
  • Poor coordination
  • Light sensitivity
  • Difficulty with black print on white paper
  • Tense muscle tone
  • Often in “Fight or Flight” mode
  • Biochemical and nutritional imbalances
  • Hyperactivity
  • Mood swings and/or emotional instability
  • Low self-esteem

Symmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (STNR): affects fixation, focusing from near to far, and crossing midline

STNR Reflex allows the child develop to a quadruped position. The child will begin to defy gravity by raising up/on to hands and knees. STNR plays a crucial role in the TLR reflex as well and forms the bridge from lying to crawling on hands and knees. In addition STNR helps the child develop near/far fixation. With head and arms extended (STNR Extended) the child can fixate on far away objects. Head down with legs extended ( STNR Flexion) the child has a near fixation.

Symptoms include:

  • Poor posture
  • Difficulty tracking and/or catching a ball
  • Poor balance and depth perception
  • Difficulty swimming
  • Poor hand-eye coordination
  • Difficulties with adjusting focus from distance to near
  • Learning problems
  • ADD/ADHD characteristics
  • Difficulty aligning numbers for math problemsSTNR 3

Tonic Labyrinthe Reflex (TLR): affects ocular motor, muscle tone, balance, and auditory discrimination

TLR Reflex should be fully present at birth and is thought to be the child’s first response to the forces of gravity. This reflex is seen when moving the child’s head in towards their body (position in utero) causes the arms and legs to also move in. Extension of the head above/below the spine causes extension of the arms and legs. By 6 months of age this is modified so the child will develop head control through oculomotor and head-righting reflexes.

Symptoms include:

  • Poor posture and/or stooping
  • Weak muscle tone
  • Poor balance
  • Dislike of sports
  • Eye movement, visual perceptual, and spatial problems
  • Motion sickness
  • Poor coordination
  • Poor sequencing skills
  • Poor sense of time
  • Poor organization skills


Spinal Galant Reflex: affects the ability to sit still, concentration, short-term memory, and bed-wetting

Spinal Galant Reflex is seen when a child feels stimulation on either side of their spine and turns their hips to that side in response. This reflex is what helps the child to travel through the birth canal. Retained Spinal Galant can occur on just one side of the spine or both. When it is retained on one side it can manifest as a “limp” and even contribute to scoliosis.

Symptoms include:Spinal Galant

  • Bedwetting
  • Fidgety or wiggly (especially when sitting)
  • Sensory issues with waistbands/tags in clothing or food texture
  • Poor concentration
  • Poor short-term memory
  • ADHD characteristics

Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (ATNR): affects midline issues, balance, eye tracking, handwriting, and laterality

ATNR Reflex represents the first eye-hand coordination. As visual fixation on nearby objects is developing, the child will begin to reach out towards those objects. As contact is made between the child and the object awareness of distance, touch, what grasp is needed to pick up the object, as well as maintaining visual fixation, are all developed.

Symptoms include:ATNR

  • Poor balance when moving head side to side
  • Difficulty keeping place when copying
  • Difficulty crossing the midline
  • Difficulty learning to ride a bicycle
  • Poor pursuits (smooth eye movements)
  • Mixed laterality (uses left foot, right hand or uses left or right hand interchangeably)
  • Difficulty catching a ball
  • Poor handwriting
  • ADD/ADHD characteristics