Neonatal Reflexes and School Success

stugglingchildREFLEX: an involuntary immediate reaction to a stimulus.

So what are neonatal (sometimes called “primitive”) reflexes, and what do they have to do with school success?

These reflexes develop either in utero or occasionally during the first months of life. They serve very critical functions ranging from facilitating the birth process to helping babies lift their head when on their belly, to setting the stage for crawling. Absence of these reflexes in newborns is cause for serious concern suggesting a serious neuromotor impairment or disease.

Given adequate nurturing and plenty of engaging floor time, most healthy babies “integrate” these reflexes long before they enter school. Saying that the reflexes integrate means that a stimulus such as a specific movement or something external like a loud sound no longer automatically triggers the “hard-wired” response. These neonatal reflexes give way to volitional movement and mature postural reflexes.

Unfortunately more often than is commonly recognized these reflexes do not fully integrate. Reasons are numerous. A key one seems to be less floor time and more time in swings, car seats and other “buckets” during the first year of life that inhibits exploratory movement. Others include premature births, ear infections and a wide variety of stressful events. That said if a young person has more or less adequate motor skills and is of normal or above intelligence, incomplete reflex integration is often not considered, even if that child is having learning and attention challenges.

Yet for over 20 years people like Sally Goddard have been studying the relationship between the lack of integration of specific reflexes and school challenges with reading, writing and math as well as attention. More recently Kathy Johnson of Pyramid of Potential has spoken of 6 of the many reflexes that if integrated can have a profound effect on a child’s school success. Without this foundation, sometimes referred to as “lower brain development”, academic tutoring may not be optimally effective. Cognitive brain training separated from specific academics is also enhanced by reflex integration and other neuromotor work.

The good news is that assessing these issues is quite simple and reflexes can be integrated at any age.

Do you know a child with learning disabilities for whom any of the following are also true?

  1. Poor balance and coordination with or without poor hand eye coordination
  1. Poor orientation and spatial challenges- tends to get car sick
  1. Hypersensitive to variety of stimuli/ may be cause of general distractibility

4.  Difficulty sitting still and “poor posture” at school especially when reading or writing

  1. May have been late to crawl, walk, develop hand preference, and potty train (or have “accidents” after essentially trained). Began to walk before or without ever crawling.

If you do I would highly recommend a basic assessment.

This Fall I am offering very low cost screenings ($25) for reflex integration as well as basic balance and proprioception (knowing where you body parts are in space without looking.) Combined these are key sensorimotor underpinnings of school success.

Interested? Please call me at 206-842-4608 or email <>




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