At Yellow Wood, we’re pretty passionate about Primitive Reflexes, and we talk about them, a lot! Primitive reflexes are the first step in healthy brain development, and are the reflexes present at birth to help infants through the birthing process and first year of life. One great example is the “startle reflex”. We’ve all seen a baby get startled and throw their arms out and head back. This reflex is part of an infant’s survival mechanisms, but as they mature and develop, they don’t need it anymore. Other than just survival, primitive reflexes are also responsible for connecting the lower centers of the brain to higher, more mature centers of the brain so that children can do more complex things! These reflexes should disappear by year one, but sometimes they “get stuck”, or are retained, and it halts the brain development process. This can cause a myriad of difficulties for a child, including anxiety, trouble learning to read, poor handwriting, and many others!
When primitive reflexes are retained, kids have trouble using their whole brain effectively, and this makes it hard to access cognitive skills, like attention, memory skills, sequencing, and even logic and reasoning. Many of the symptoms related to these reflexes are also associated with ADHD, dyslexia, sensory processing disorder, and more. If the brain is still immature, meaning it hasn’t finished developing because primitive reflexes are still intact, then the challenges will become more obvious as the student gets older. That is why primitive reflex integration is SO important to the success of a struggling student!
The amazing news about reflexes is this: learning challenges related to a retained reflex can be overcome! FIXED! See why we’re so excited about this? We LOVE helping families and students overcome their learning and behavioral challenges by testing for retained reflexes and then integrating them through simple movement exercises!
One of my favorite reflexes to “integrate” is called the Tonic Labyrinthine Reflex (TLR). You can see this reflex in action in infants when they do tummy time! A child who is placed on their belly will automatically lift their head and arms off the floor for a few seconds. As babies practice this movement, it helps to integrate the TLR. This is just one of many reasons why tummy time is so important for babies!
When a child retains (holds onto) the TLR, you might see these symptoms:
How many times have we heard that the core is SO important for learning? This reflex is why! Core strength is built through integrating the TLR. Without strong core muscles, students will have poor posture, balance, and stamina for both physical activities and sitting in a desk working! Weak core muscles are also linked to a weak vestibular system!!
Difficulty with Sequencing
Do you know a child who can never tell a story or tell about their day in order? Or struggles with counting, organizing, remembering the months of the year in order? It might be due to this retained reflex! Sequencing is also very important for learning to read and spell.
Poor Sense of Time
We all have a child who seems to never notice what time it is, is always running late or in a rush, and who may have struggle learning to tell time! This is also a classic symptom of a retained TLR.
So, you may be thinking, “Wow! This sounds *just* like my child! But, wait! How do we fix it??” Well, here ya go! Many exercises that help integrate reflexes look similar to the reflex in an infant. So, when integrating the Tonic Labyrinthine Reflex, you’re essentially going to recreate tummy time! Here are a few ways you can do this:
The main exercise we use for integrating the TLR is the superman. In order to complete this exercise, you’ll:
Repeat 3 times daily for 6 weeks.
Lay on the floor or on a yoga ball on your stomach
Lift arms above your head, and life your arms and legs off the floor at the same time, hold this position and count to at least 10.
If this exercise is extremely difficult, parents may need to help hold the legs up while the child focuses just on lifting their arms. Usually this will not be necessary after a couple weeks.
2. “Floor Play”
Another approach is floor time. You can often find activities to complete while laying on the floor on their stomach. Some ideas could be reading a book, doing homework, or completing a puzzle… or even just playing with legos, while propped on your elbows. If you have a scooter board, rolling around on your stomach is a great way to work on the TLR. Many OT’s have stretchy swings that you can lay in on your stomach with your and legs stretched out, so you can swing and do other activities while in the “superman” position. We have a swing like this in the doorway at our home so my 4 year old son can get in some daily tummy time!
Here’s the key to success with integrating the TLR and any reflex: you MUST do it daily for at least a 30 days! Just like when starting a new habit, the habit won’t form until you’ve done it daily for a few weeks. With Reflexes, we’re making new brain connections and pathways, so that will take time and it must be deliberate in order to integrate the reflex! In order to help you out with this, I’ve created a free printable chart that you can print for each of your children and hang on the fridge! Every time they complete the super man or at least 10 minutes of floor time, you can add a sticker to the chart!
What happens if you fall of the bandwagon? Don’t worry! If you’ve only missed a day or two, just jump back in and add a few days to your chart. If you’ve missed more than that though, I would suggest starting over!
Are you a classroom teacher? This is an amazing and easy exercise to implement in your class! Use it as a brain break, and encourage your students to continue with it on the weekends! You’ll see results in any student who has a retained TLR, and it will only help your other students to strengthen their core even more!
I hope you enjoy this exercise and find it helpful and freeing for your student! And if you are interested in learning more about all SIX reflexes we help integrate, you might want to check out our Brain Based Movements Online Workshop! Hundreds of families and professionals have taken this course and helped to change the lives of their students through reflex integration!
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