What are Retained Primitive Reflexes?

Primary or primitive reflexes are automatic movements directed from the brain stem to assist survival from the first weeks of life. Once in place and once the child reaches a certain age, the primary reflexes then need inhibiting by higher brain centres to allow more sophisticated neural structures to develop.

All primitive reflexes serve a purpose and ideally are all integrated by around two/three years old. When the primary reflexes are retained and are not replaced with higher level reflexes, this can affect a child’s (and adult’s) normal development.

Very little is known as to why these primitive reflexes are retained, however there has been some scientific research suggesting that a combination of factors that could be responsible such as a difficult or traumatic birth, (c-section, quick or premature birth), adverse reaction to vaccinations, toxins such as alcohol, drugs, nicotine, lead, pesticides or even a hereditary factor. Additional causes can include: falls, traumas, lack of tummy time, delayed or skipped creeping or crawling, chronic ear infections, head trauma, and vertebral subluxations. Reflexes that are completely integrated can later reactivate because of trauma, injury, toxins, and stress.

Examples of possible symptoms of retained primitive reflexes include; poor balance, poor self esteem, shyness, tantrums, panic attacks, breath holding, withdrawn, anxiety, over clingy, nightmares, difficulty focussing, copying, reading, impaired balance and co-ordination, difficulty fitting in, low tolerance to stress, constantly on red alert, very ‘on edge’, speech problems, thumb sucking, difficulty chewing or swallowing, issues with food, bland diets, dislikes wearing shoes or socks, foot problems, can’t walk or run fast, difficulty with hop, skip, jump, walks on toes,  difficulty in grasping things, catching a ball, stuttering, poor speech and language, difficulty crawling, difficulty with spelling, problems with using cutlery, struggles to concentrate, motion sickness, hyperactivity, outbursts of anger, difficulties with fitting in.

According to ADDITUDE* (Inside the ADHA mind), “research suggests a link to neurodevelopmental disorders like dyslexia and ADHD; several studies have found that children diagnosed with ADHD are more likely than their peers to have retained primitive reflexes.1 2 3 It’s unclear if these two conditions exist concurrently or are mistaken and misdiagnosed for one another, but some caregivers report that treating their child’s primitive reflexes also helped him or her to manage ADHD symptoms.”

Gentle muscle testing is used in a targeted way to find out if any primitive reflexes have been retained or not. If they have, there are very simple exercises that can be done to reduce or eliminate the symptoms, and integrate those reflexes.

1 Konicarova, Jana, and Petr Bob. “Retained Primitive Reflexes and ADHD in Children.” Activitas Nervosa Superior, vol. 54, no. 3-4, 2012, pp. 135–138., doi:10.1007/bf03379591.
2 Bob, Petr, et al. “Persisting Primitive Reflexes in Medication-Naive Girls with Attention-Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder.” Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, 2013, p. 1457., doi:10.2147/ndt.s49343.
3 Taylor, Myra, et al. “Primitive Reflexes and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: Developmental Origins of Classroom Dysfunction.” International Journal of Special Education, vol. 19, no. 1, 2004, pp. 23–37.