Primitive Reflexes Part 1

       After the first week of syntonics, patients are typically given a primitive reflex exercise as their second home therapy activity. When explaining primitive reflexes, one of our most frequently asked questions is, “How does this have anything to do with vision?” That is a completely understandable and expected question. It may seem odd that one of the first activities you or your child is doing at vision therapy resembles physical therapy. But it actually is not so odd when you fully understand how vision works! Vision is inseparable from the brain which is inseparable from the body. Your brain has to communicate with your eyes and body to facilitate normative functionality in everyday life.

       So, what are primitive reflexes exactly? Essentially, they are reflexes which help infants survive and adapt to the sensory stimuli around them in their first year of life.  They are automatic responses to their new environment and are even vital to the birthing process. They create the basis for cognitive and motor skills. By the first year of age, as their central nervous system develops, these reflexes should typically be inhibited and evolve into more mature responses called postural reflexes. They should begin using their processing skills in place of their survival techniques. According to the Brain Balance Achievement Center, “Retained primitive reflexes can lead to developmental delays related to disorders like ADHD, sensory processing disorder, autism, and learning disabilities. The persistence of primitive reflexes contributes to issues such as coordination, balance, sensory perceptions, fine motor skills, sleep, immunity, energy levels, impulse control, concentration and all levels of social, emotional, and intellectual learning.” Our brain serves as the control center for these reflexes, and our brain is completely trainable! By training our bodies to integrate out of these reflexes, we are creating new neural pathways which can effectively treat the above symptoms and create strong functional visual skills.

       There are numerous causes for retention, some which are unknown, but most have to do with the birthing process. Various studies have shown that factors such as C sections, low birth weight, traumatic births, lack of tummy time, a skipped crawling phase, and much more can contribute. I often find patient’s parents are slightly embarrassed that their child still has “baby reflexes”. But almost all of our patients have more than one retained reflex. There were even some still present in me when I was tested! Their ability to hinder adults is not significant if the adult has lived a successful life. But if your child is exhibiting some of the above symptoms, there is no reason not to give them every chance possible to reach their full potential, especially when it is so easy. There are specific exercises we distribute at certain periods during each patient’s vision therapy process based on which reflex they have retained. They are one of the first things we test for during the initial evaluation. Read my next blog post to learn in detail how we test for them and what we do to treat them!

-Emily Thompson, Vision Therapist