Reflexes and How They Affect Learning Disabilities? Part 2
In our first post, we talked about what reflexes are and discussed their role in learning disabilities (LD). In this second post, we’ll look at how reflexes can become unintegrated and give suggestions to help manage them in relation to LD.
How Do Reflexes Become Unintegrated?
Reflexes become unintegrated due to one of two things: they didn’t fully form at the appropriate stage of development, or they became unintegrated in later life. Reflexes are in a delicate, finely-tuned balance within our bodies. Thus something as jarring as a car accident can cause a few to go off balance, and childhood trauma, drug abuse, and stress are also culprits.
During those fundamental and fragile early years of development, there are a number of things that can inhibit the development of a reflex:
- Traumatic birthing processes and cesarean sections can affect reflexes. For example, the Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex and the Spinal Galant Reflex work in tandem to help the baby maneuver out of the birth canal. As the baby makes the necessary motions, the reflexes develop further. So a cesarean often inhibits the complete development of these reflexes.
- Lack of tummy time as an infant can inhibit the development of some reflexes. The importance of tummy time is in the fact that it allows the baby to develop certain movements on their own. Sally Goddard Blythe, the author of The Well Balanced Child, says: “Tummy time is the first step up the ladder of learning. When a baby is on its tummy, it is free to experiment with a range of spontaneous and involuntary movements. These accidental maneuvers then become learned skills of coordination and movement. Muscle tone, neck control and subsequently head and eye control are reined in by tummy time.” Tummy time helps the infant to develop the Landau Reflex.
- Lack of sufficient crawling and time to explore the space around them can also inhibit a baby’s reflex development. Visual-spatial development, muscle tone, coordination, sensory integration, and spatial awareness are developed by adequate time on the floor. If the baby spends too much time in carriers, car seats, strollers, etc., then these developments can be delayed. As a result, reflexes like the Spinal Galant, ATNR, and TLR can all be affected.
These are just a few possible causes of unintegrated reflexes in early developmental stages. Other factors include the health of the mother during pregnancy, low birth weight, severe illness or trauma to the infant, chronic ear infections in infancy, and missing the crawling stage.
Ways to Help Manage Unintegrated Reflexes
The best way for someone struggling with retained reflexes to have success is through a series of exercises, done precisely and consistently. At Pathfinders, we work with parents to teach them these exercises in relation to their child’s unique needs. If you’ve tested your child for any reflexes and found some to be unintegrated, you might find these exercises helpful.
However, it is always recommended to find someone in your area who specializes in primitive reflex inhibition therapy. A functional neurologist or an occupational therapist trained in this area will be able to help. When changing reflexes, we are ultimately targeting the brain and working off of its ability to change. This takes persistence, patience, and a good understanding of how to do it.
For helpful resources, check out the books listed below (some of them give detailed exercises to do at home):
- The Rhythmic Movement Method, by Harald Blomberg
- The Symphony of Reflexes, by Bonnie Brandes
- Reflexes, Learning, and Behavior: A Window into the Child’s Mind, by Sally Goddard
- The Well Balanced Child: Movement and Early Learning, by Sally Goddard Blythe
Do you have experience with retained reflexes, questions regarding them, or are you in need of guidance? Please leave a comment below.
- Blomberg, Harald. (2015) The Rhythmic Movement Method. San Bernardino, CA: Lulu
- Brandes, Bonnie. (2015) The Symphony of Reflexes. Charleston, SC: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.
- Goddard Blythe, Sally. (1994) The Well Balanced Child: Movement and Early Learning. Hawthorne Press.