Helping Children Integrate Primitive Reflexes

What are primitive reflexes?

Primitive reflexes are the reflex actions that arise from the Central Nervous System (CNS). Primitive reflexes are typically present in childhood, but not present in healthy or neurological intact adults.

Primitive reflexes are movement patterns that are involuntarily elicited in newborns to enhance chances of survival. During normal development, these reflexes are slowly integrated as the child’s motor development matures and their brain’s frontal lobe develops.

Why are Primitive Reflexes Important?

Primitive reflexes are needed for survival and development in the womb and in the early months of life. While in the womb, primitive reflexes help develop the brain, lay down patterns of neural networks and assist in creating pathways to connect various areas of the brain. These connections allow children to learn, behave, communicate, develop relationships and be emotionally healthy.

Integration of Primitive Reflexes are Important for Development

When a baby has been given the opportunity to develop freely and naturally, the primitive reflexes will integrate and no longer be active.

If primitive reflexes remain active, then many difficulties can emerge that can interfere with social, academic, and motor learning. Children with learning disorders, ADHD, autism spectrum, and various other neurodevelopmental disorders often have retained primitive reflexes contributing to their symptoms and level of dysfunction.

There are a number of reasons why primitive reflexes are retained; in many cases the birth process is a key factor in the integration of these reflexes. For babies who experience a traumatic birth experience or are born by C-section, this experience may lead to retained reflexes.

Other reasons reflexes may be retained include:

  • falls
  • traumas
  • lack of tummy time
  • delayed or skipped creeping or crawling
  • chronic ear infections
  • head trauma
  • and vertebral subluxations.

Reflexes can also be reactivated after being completely integrated because of trauma, injury, toxins and stress.

How to Help Children Integrate Primitive Reflexes

Once a child is a few years old, primitive reflexes should be fully integrated. Unintegrated reflexes are a sign of missing developmental stages.

Practicing specific movements can help create new neural pathways. Occupational therapy can be utilized as a primitive reflex integration program to help a child practice specific movement patterns to retrain their brain.

Help Integrate Primitive Reflexes for Special Needs Children

At Smile A While Foundation, we are working to increase access to occupational therapy for children with special needs in the Caribbean. By increasing access we hope more children can get the therapy they need and spreading knowledge we hope to increase the quality of therapy children have access to. This is where your support is needed.

Sponsor a child’s access to therapy with your donation today at