Primitive Reflexes and Vision

What are Primitive Reflexes?

  • Primitive reflexes are “tools” that all infants are born with – these reflexes are designed to provide safety immediately after birth. 
  • They are “automatic, stereotyped movements, directed from the brain stem and executed without cortical involvement.” (Goddard)
  • Primitive reflexes are the foundation, for higher-level learning and thinking, planning, and movement. 
  • Each reflex has its own life span and once it is integrated (“goes away”), the child will develop more mature movement patterns that are voluntary and controlled. 
  • Primitive reflexes are not meant to remain in the body forever. 
  • Once they integrate, more mature and voluntary movements appear. 
  • Primitive reflexes typically integrate naturally – through movement, or what we now call “developmental milestones.” 
  • Developing head control, tummy time, rolling, crawling, etc. – these are all examples of natural movement that will assist in natural primitive reflex integration. 
  • If a primitive reflex does not integrate naturally, this is an indication of structural weakness or immaturity within the CNS (central nervous system). 
  • Retained (not integrated) primitive reflexes can interfere with the development of more mature, voluntary movement patterns including:
    • Postural reflexes – balance, ability to move safely through environment. 
    • Bilateral coordination – ability to coordinate arms and legs. 
  • Instead of mature, voluntary movement patterns, a child with retained primitive reflexes may develop abnormal movement patterns which can result in clumsiness. This can affect a child’s ability to participate in social activities such as recess and sports. 
  • Because primitive reflexes are the foundation for higher-level learning, if one or more is retained, potential challenges can occur in:
    • Learning – challenges sitting and attending in class; challenges with ocular motor skills which affects reading and writing; challenges with establishing a hand dominance. 
    • Social skills – high anxiety and decreased self-confidence; decreased language and communication skills. 

What Causes Primitive Reflexes To Be Retained?

There is no definitive answer to WHY a primitive reflex may not integrate naturally.

However, there may be contributing factors.

During pregnancy:

  • Hyperemesis or severe morning sickness
  • Severe viral infection during the first 12 weeks or between 26-30 weeks
  • Alcohol / drug use / smoking
  • Radiation
  • Severe stress

During the birthing process:

  • Prolonged labor
  • Placenta previa
  • Use of forceps or “vacuum”
  • Breech
  • Cesarean
  • Cord wrapped around infant’s neck
  • Fetal distress
  • Premature / post-mature (2 weeks early or late)

In newborns and infants:

  • Low birth weight (under 5 pounds)
  • Incubation
  • Prolonged jaundice
  • “Blue baby”
  • Feeding challenges in the first 6 months
  • High fever, delirium, or convulsions in the first 18 months
  • Adverse reactions to any of the inoculations
  • Delayed walking or talking (later than 18 months

Reflexes that are integrated may become reactivated later due to trauma, injury, illness, or stress.

It is important to address these missing developmental stages when primitive reflexes are not integrated.

Vision Therapy and Primitive Reflexes

Although there are many primitive reflexes, vision therapy programs focus on five reflexes that affect he development of the visual system. 

Moro Reflex

Moro reflex is the earliest primitive reflex. It affects vestibular, ocular, motor and visual perceptual skills.

Symptoms include:

  • Exaggerated startle reflex
  • Motion sickness
  • Eye movement and visual processing problems
  • Poor coordination
  • Poor balance
  • Light sensitivity
  • Frequent infections
  • Inner ear problems
  • Allergies
  • Poor stamina
  • Difficulty with black print on white paper
  • Tense muscle tone
  • Poor auditory discrimination
  • Biochemical and nutritional imbalances
  • Often in “Fight or Flight” mode
  • Hyperactivity
  • Low self-esteem

Tonic Labyrinthine Reflex (TLR)

TLR affects ocular, motor, balance, muscle tone and auditory discrimination.

Symptoms include:

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

Symmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (STNR)

STNR affects fixation, focusing from far to near and crossing midline.

Symptoms include:

  • Poor posture
  • Difficulty catching and/or tracking a ball
  • Poor depth perception and balance
  • Difficulty swimming
  • Poor hand-eye coordination
  • Messy eating
  • Difficulties with adjusting focus from far to near
  • Poor swimming skills
  • Learning problems
  • Difficulty aligning numbers for math problems
  • Difficulty recognizing social cues
  • ADD/ADHD characteristics
  • Anchors feet behind chair while sitting
  • “W” position when sitting on the floor

Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (ATNR)

ATNR affects midline issues, eye tracking, balance, handwriting and laterality.

Symptoms include:

  • Poor balance when moving head side to side
  • Focusing problems (especially when switching from near to distance)
  • Difficulty keeping place when copying
  • Difficulty learning to ride a bicycle
  • Difficulty crossing the midline
  • Poor pursuits (smooth eye movements)
  • Mixed laterality (uses right foot, left hand or uses right or left hand interchangeably)
  • Poor expression of ideas on paper
  • Difficulty catching a ball
  • Poor handwriting
  • ADD/ADHD characteristics

Spinal Galant Reflex

Spinal Galant reflex affects the ability to sit still, short-term memory, concentration problems and can lead to bedwetting.

Symptoms include:

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

How Does Integration Therapy Help?

An Integration Therapy Program provides exercises to address primitive reflexes. By using rhythmic movement training techniques that imitate the movements of an infant in development, patients can integrate these retained reflexes. These repetitive motions develop the reflexes and gradually help develop the front and visual cortex of the brain.

Once these reflexes are integrated by the body, many behavioral issues affected by retained primitive reflexes show improvement and at times are resolved. Since, vision is directly linked with the brain and is affected when our brains do not develop correctly, it is important to address primitive reflexes along with the visual concerns.

To learn more about Primitive Reflexes, feel free to contact our office.