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About Primitive Reflexes

The following information was taken from a webinar for parents presented by Patti Andrich. You can view it by visiting here.

Patti Andrich has learned about child development from being a parent as well as being a clinician. She is an occupational therapist with former background as a teacher and a special education consultant.

Our growing kids lead us to have growing questions. We just really want the best for our children. how are we going to support our children’s growth and development over the years? How do we give them the best future?

As parents, mothers and fathers, we have big expectations for the little hands and the little feet that we have to join our families.

We certainly don’t want to stand in the way of our children’s dreams. In fact, when we have a child that is struggling a bit, we want to give them ever the opportunity to be that one that makes it. Whatever their dream is! Whether it’s sports or the arts, music; we want them to reach their true potential, and you will help your child reach their true potential!

You can make their dreams come true.

I do know from a parent’s perspective how some of these struggles that our children face are challenging for them, and we know how challenging they are for us as parents. But, we can’t even imagine the challenges that they’re facing as they go across the finish line in life.

We as parents have the opportunity to help our child paint their future.

We can change their focus.

We can help them to envision a brighter future.

We have that power as parents to help our children grow to thrive and to access their goals and dreams.

Not only that, but we have to empower our children, and we have the means to do that. We just need to have a few secrets as to how do we develop our powered up kids?

How do we make their dreams come true?

There are five things you need if you want to power up your kid, This is what you need to know — how the brain and the body naturally gets wired.

Then, we need to target special opportunities for sensory motor connections. We need to have systems, and we need to be slow about it.

We need to be slow that we can observe the growth, and then we have to use our power of words! This is pretty cool stuff.

The first thing: Pregnancy & Fetal Development

During pregnancy and fetal development, we have a whole cascade of events that just go, and those cascaded events help to create our brain structures. Those brain structures are part of our nervous system that link sensory and motor nerves to the body.

It’s sort of like writing code for optimal performance. This cascade of events is a process of code writing.

If you were working with a computer program or a game or an app, and it was quirky. It’s not a problem; just quirky code. What you have to do is identify the quirk, then you just go back and rewrite the code. That’s essentially what we do with primitive reflexes. We use primitive reflexes as our coding language – to rewrite code of the nervous system. When we do these small changes, they make big differences in life.

When we work with primitive reflexes, the brain gets wired and the codes for performance become written.

The body first experiences feeling and movements through automatic reflexive feedback loops to the brain, and the brain records all the sensory and motor data. The brain makes adjustments to control our homeostasis. They control our motor experiences: both our fine and our gross motor skills.

Our super fine motor controls our emotions, the way we behave, and the way we think. That really brings vision therapy into the spotlight here because behavioral optometry is not

worried about a person’s acuity. Clear eyesight is important, but the behavioral optometrists out there around the world are our partners in helping us to understand behavior. We can make changes in behavior by the tools we use.

In behavioral optometry, those might be lenses, prisms, or filters. There might be primitive reflex tools as well and that will help a child to grow. To rewrite faulty code through the vision therapy experiences that they gain in their lessons.

Every day, all day, we’re writing code. From the time we are conceived to the last breath, we’re rewriting code. We have everyday opportunities with our play and our sensory. Neurons are linking up with motor neurons, and so on.

Sensory Neurons & Motor Neurons

We have a sensory neuron and that neuron is going to be sensing a stimulus, whether it’s sound. taste, or touch. We often think about our senses, but do you ever think about proprioception or knowing where we are in space?

What about interoception? That we have data being collected in our brain of where our stomach is compared to our heart.

We don’t think about these things because they are on an automatic subconscious level, but we’re writing code about that.

Kids for example may have poor interception. They may have trouble with toileting skills as they may not realize that they’re full, and they need to go.

We continually activate these sensory neurons, but with every sensory stimulus there has to be a motor response.

When the sound comes into the ears, and we have a sound wave, it’s not just a sound wave. It’s not just sensory input. A lot of programs work on sensory input – sensory input – sensory input.

But, they really need to think about the motor response. What’s supposed to happen in that ear drum when the sound wave comes in? Well one thing that’s supposed to happen is the muscle tension is supposed to change based on the frequency of sound.

If you imagine a drum head, the drum head is nice and tight. The sound is going to bounce off that drum head, and it’s going to make a certain sound.

If that drum head is loose and that sound wave hits the drum head, it’s not going to have the same response.

Metorically, to listen, we need a metoric response. Same thing with light. When light enters the eye, different color enters the eye. We’re going to have a different response of the muscles that surround our pupil so that the pupil can appear to constrict and dilate.

Every sensory stimulus has a motor response. If it’s cold, cold makes the skin contract. It’s a type of motor response to the skin that’s why you get goosebumps.

Every sensory stimulus has a motor response, and as we continually activate these sensory neurons firing with neural responses from the motor neuron, it allows our child to become more aware, and awareness is key.

We have to be aware of differences in sounds, taste, touch, body movement, etc.

We have all these sensory experiences whether it’s just playing, hugging, kissing, rolling play-doh, running across the playground, etc. All these sensory experiences are continually updating our data. We’re continuing updating our code. Our brain is rewriting code based on the prior experiences.

We respond in that way of refinement through our experiences, and then as efficient as we are at making these connections simultaneously and synergistically.

That means that sensory neuron that is stimulating that motor neuron must connect immediately and pretty much simultaneously. It must be efficient as that process happens, and as efficient as we write our code, the coding process is editing code that’s faulty. That controls our development.

Sequence of Code

There is a sequence of code, which is basically how we write code for primitive reflexes that we have in our human body. Some of these are considered postural reflexes as well. Primitive reflexes happen first as they’re part of our very early primitive brain, but as our brain develops, and we go from brain stem to mid-brain, we get more of a postural control.

Then we get higher levels of brain development, until our executive functioning in our frontal cortex are well developed.

There are different resources that have different time periods whent his all happens, so don’t be surprised if you find some small deviations when a reflex emerges. What’s more important than the exact week that a reflex emerges is the sequence of emergence.

The sequence of integration is very important especially when you’re talking about an older child. Let’s say your child is seven years old. You know the fact that the rooting reaction comes in around 28 weeks is important, but when we’re way past 28 weeks, it integrates at approximately three months. But we’re past three months!

It’s more the sequence of events that happened. That is your secret on how to really integrate. If we go to advanced, and we start working on tilting reactions before we work on let’s say a moral or fear paralysis, that fear paralysis or moral reflex could really be inhibiting any progress in tilting reactions.

Timing is really everything. The exact timing between our sensory neural neuron stimulation and our motor response is crucial to integration of reflexes.

We have in behavioral optometry the saying that we set the stage for discovery.

Every vision therapist that you work with they’re working to set the stage for discovery.

What are you discovering? We’re discovering that timing. They’re setting up specialized activities so that sensory neuron is stimulated in such a way that a motor neuron is going to connect with that sensory neuron. That how you’re going to get change in development. That’s what makes behavioral optometry so special!

Here’s what it’s like if you have neurons firing without a catcher. Let’s say that sensory neuron is being stimulated, but there’s no motor neuron response responding.

Those are those kids that complain “It’s too loud! it’s too loud!” You know they’ve got all the sensation but no motor change. No motor connection there. We want to definitely make that connection so cells that fire together, wire together.

We use this premise in our therapy to get neurons to fire together, and then we want to wire them together. In behavioral optometry, we’re really looking at the whole person

You may be asked to do some reflex integration activities when you went into the eye doctor for an eye tracking problem. If the eyes aren’t tracking, it could be because it’s not just a motor response of the eyes. The eyes are connected other parts of our body. They’re connected to our ears for one thing.

When we read a story, we want to be able not only be able to say the words we’re reading but if we’re going to say the word, if we’re going to have speech, we’re going to want to understand what we’re reading. Then we’ve got to turn the visual symbol into an auditory sound. We’ve got to turn that auditory sound into expressive language. We’ve got to turn that expressive language into another visual picture, so we are very much wired together.

In our therapy, you’re going to be probably asked to be using metronomes. You’re going to be asked to move the body in space because we want those eyes linking together with the whole body so neurons that are out of sync, link.

What happens when things are out of phase?

We have kids that are really struggling in school, sports, social skills and basic motor control and sensory integration. These are some of the symptoms of what I like to call neurological immaturity. The world calls it retained reflexes, but, in my world, I just look at it as code that needs to be rewritten.

I just look at it as really we’ve got a state of immaturity in the nervous system, and we can just go back, rewrite code, and help those nerves in the nervous system to mature to a more advanced state. When we mature the nervous system ta o more advanced state, the brain grows and develops. Then, we get kids that are like “Wow! I don’t know what you’ve been doing but your child is much more mature!” We see a significant difference than the last time we saw your child.

Retained Primitive Reflexes

These are just some of the symptoms of retained primitive reflexes or immaturity of the nervous system. The behavior is a big key we got to watch our kids. To see are they irritable, whiny, do they melt down, angry outbursts, as that could be a sign of moral reflex activity.

Do they have difficulty maintaining posture? Perhaps that’s a retained time like labyrinth reflex. Do they have difficulty following directions? There could be a deficiency between base metrical tonic neck reflex and auditory processing or spinal volant integration and auditory processing. We have to look at skin color, sweating, or whether they get white as a ghost.

When they’re in a new situation, do they crawl under the table? Do they have trouble breathing? Every time they are asked to do something difficult, do they end up locking down and holding their breath? Do they shut down or refuse to participate in social events or interact with others? Do they get nervous or scared with that? Do you see poor coordination?

Do they have difficulty with their milestones? Even a professional athlete can have poor coordination and still have these reflexes that are immature. I personally did some training for the Olympics for gymnastics when I was young, and I can tell you I had some significant reflexes retained. You can push yourself through it, but that moving ahead in life does not actually fix the structure.

We work with professional athletes, such as the Cleveland Guardians. I cannot tell you how many baseball players there are around the world with the different teams that we’ve we’ve worked with. High level athletes from football, etc, that tell us they see two balls. What would happen if they had caught this when they were younger?

Of course, we do reflex integration work with our professional athletes as well as our child with disabilities, and nobody out there you know is free of saying that they’re perfectly developed. We can always go to another level.

Do your children avoid being touched? Do they not like tags or haircuts? Do they get overly silly? That’s a great way to try to fit in if I’m overly silly. I laugh a lot. I’m just trying to avoid feeling bad.

I mentioned covering their eyes or their ears. Do they cover an eye when they do their work? Do they have difficulty with the tension? Attention is strongly linked to the symmetrical tonic neck. A fidgety restlessness as a tactile defensiveness.

If you’re fidgety, how do you keep up your head and neck still enough for your eyes to actually do their work? Are there challenges with sleeping or poor muscle tone?

These are just some of the some of the things that are signs and symptoms of retained reflexes, but certainly there are others.

This brings us to secret number two: we need you to target your opportunities for your children to have sensory motor connections.

Obviously, vision therapy is going to be highlighted when you talk to me. Vision therapy is essential depending on the resource that you look at. I’ve seen statistics anywhere from 70 all the way up to 95 percent of the brain has visual connections connecting to different parts of the brain.

Vision is a huge part of success. Everything we do relies on vision, even people who are visually considered blind use visual areas of their brain.

We have worked on cases where individuals have come to us blind, and they have improved their vision because vision is not eyesight alone. Vision really is whole brain function.

Auditory processing therapy is a huge part of what we do because we don’t just treat eyes alone, we treat the whole child, and there are a lot of auditory and visual similarities.

When one system is not working, quite often the other system isn’t. For example, I was working with a little child, and after a palmer reflex test, as I touched the child she looked at her hand. I wanted her to connect her body with her visual system trying to get her to develop the brain map between the eye and the hand. There are a lot of things that we can do through reflexes and through our work. We can target opportunities for sensory motor connections by knowing what is the normal sequence.

Just because your child may be older, doesn’t mean they’ve got everything out of their foundation. We may have to go back to earlier states of development and make them age-appropriate but give them the pieces to rewrite the codes that they have missing.