What are retained reflexes?

Retained ReflexesWe all have reflex reactions to certain stimuli without even consciously thinking and an automatic motor response occurs such as blinking when something flies towards your eyes, or sneezing or coughing. When a baby is born, primitive reflexes develop as a way to help the baby grow and mature in their environment in their first year of life. For instance there are primitive reflexes for flight or fight, for breastfeeding, to grab an object, movement of the head, crawling and so on. As the baby matures, they develop postural reflexes which are much more mature patterns of reflex to help control balance, coordination and sensory motor development. In some cases, babies retain their primitive reflexes past the first year of life because they fail to integrate them well with the rest of their nervous system. This may happen when there is too much overload and stress for the nervous system to handle and process. Retained primitive reflexes will cause developmental delays that may lead to disorders such as ADHD, sensory processing disorder, autism and learning disabilities. Here are some of the reasons why babies may have retained primitive reflexes beyond the first year of life: low birth weight, traumatic birth, C-Section birth, required resuscitation, incubation, blue baby, distorted skull, heavy bruising, prolonged jaundice, feed issues during first 6 months, illness with high fever, delirium or convulsions in the first 18 months, adverse vaccine reactions, history of reoccurring ear, nose and throat infections, and severe allergic reactions.

What your doctor will tell you about retained reflexes?

Your child’s pediatrician will do a routine assessment on reflexes present in your newborn child; however, more than likely the pediatrician will not routinely do an assessment to ascertain if these reflexes have integrated sometime within the first year of your baby’s life. Neuro-motor immaturity, which is another way of describing retained primitive reflexes, is one of the most prevalent issues in children with learning disabilities and developmental delays. The American medical literature only recognizes neuro-motor immaturity in cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury or diseases that affect motor skills such as Alzheimer’s; but not in infants and children with developmental delays. Infants and children with retained primitive reflexes present with many sensory integration symptoms. Most pediatricians are skeptical about recommending Occupational Therapy with Sensory Integration to help integrate retained reflexes because they consider sensory integration therapy to be controversial and questionable as to its effectiveness. In addition, your child’s pediatricians may also feel that the retain reflexes are really sensory processing issues which he or she might feel are just symptoms of another underlying developmental problem. Your child’s pediatrician will likely prefer to diagnose the other underlying disorders that share the symptoms that are presented by retrain reflexes; rather than address retained reflexes themselves as what your child is experiencing. Therefore, it is more than likely that your child’s pediatrician will not recognize retained reflexes but rather the sensory symptoms of the retained reflexes as part of a particular developmental disorder.

Another way to think about retained reflexes:

Retained primitive reflexes are a sign of imbalances in the brain when reflexes do not integrate and lead to developmental delays. Your child may have some or many of the developmental delays found in retained primitive reflexes such as poor coordination, lack of balance, poor sensory perceptions, poor manual dexterity, poor fine motor skills, sleep issues, dysregulated immune system, low energy levels, poor impulse control, lack of hand eye coordination, toe-walking, low muscle tone, asymmetrical gait, midline crossing difficulties, poor short term memory and concentration, panic attacks, hyper sensitivity and hyper reactivity, speech and articulation problems and impaired social, emotional and intellectual learning.

One of the most effective ways of integrating retained primitive reflexes is to do a reflex inhibition program. A reflex inhibition program will extinguish or inhibit the primitive reflexes and integrate many of the sensory-like symptoms that may be preventing your child from making improvement. The goal of this program is to activate as many of the neurological connections and functions as possible, so that your child will begin to become more age appropriate as they lose their retained primitive reflexes. Your child will then make much more physical and academic progress in many of the areas where he or she has delays.

A therapeutic reflex integration program can also be extremely helpful if your child developed retained reflexes from the first year of life. If your child’s development was interrupted such as those on the autism spectrum, then a reflex intervention program would be appropriate. Parents may also learn how to work with their children and integrate reflex exercises and techniques. The Sveltlana Musgutova Educational Institute www.musgutovamethod.com offers an enormous amount of material on the role of reflexes in learning and behavior and also teaches parents how to work with their children.

In addition to treating the retained primitive reflexes with therapeutic interventions, it would also be helpful to address many of the biomedical issues (microbiome, organ stress, food allergies and intolerances, fatty acid deficiencies, oxidative stress and detoxification of pathogens) with your child and include some other additional therapies which can enhance the improvement and progress of your child’s developmental delays. ‘

Learning Disabilities
Sensory Processing Disorders
Brain Gym

Retained reflexes checklist to start:

  • Make dietary changes. Eat whole foods; buy organic. Remove all GMO, fast and processed foods and those with colors, artificial ingredients, preservatives, phenols, salicylates and inflammatory foods such as casein, gluten, soy. Strictly limit sugars, salt, and white refined carbohydrates. Join the Feingold Association www.Feingold.org to learn more.
  • Include plenty of good quality fats, such as coconut and olive oil, avocados, wild salmon, organic chicken and turkey, ghee, eggs, etc. Plus essential fatty acids
  • Heal the gut with GAPS, PALEO, or (GF/CF) Gluten Free/Casein Free, Body Ecology Diet, Modified Atkins Diet (replaces the Ketogenic Diet) are all possible diets depending on the needs of the child.
  • Clean up your environment. Remove animals (both live and stuffed!), carpets. Use non-toxic cleaners, building materials. Green your home!
  • Ask your pediatrician to run some laboratory tests that give information about possible food sensitivities and allergies, Test for Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay (ELISA) IgG,IgA,IgE and IgM. Other testing could show deficiencies in vitamins and minerals, bacterial overgrowth and gluten and casein sensitivities.
  • Add fermented foods and probiotics daily to keep the gastrointestinal system and microbiome healthy and strong which in turn will keep the immune system strong. Eat keifer yogurts and fermented vegetables, umeboshi plums (very alkalizing) and miso soup. Some good probiotics are VSL#3, Gut Pro, Dr. Ohirra’s Live Cultured Probiotics, Garden of Life, and Culturelle.
  • Use herbs, essential oils and natural supplements such as neuromins DHA, Phosphatidylcholine, Phosphatidylserine, MCT Coconut Oil, zinc, protein shakes, frankincense oil, trace minerals, methylcobalamin B12, folinic acid or 5MTHF, picamilon, piracetam, cognitive amino acids, lavender oil, essential fatty acids, grapeseed extract, gotu kola, gingko biloba, and Dimethylglycine (DMG)
  • Digestive Enzymes such as betaine hydrochloric acid, Vitalzyme Complete with DPPIV for gluten and casein intolerances, proteolytic enzyme, BiCarb, bromelain and papaya
  • Take Vitamin D3, Vitamin C and sulphur – N’acetylcysteine (NAC) (sulphur) helps with detoxification process and healing of the G.I. tract, MSM transdermal cream and Epsom Salt Bath.
  • See an OT doing Occupational Therapy with Sensory Integration who addresses a variety of sensory issues with a child using hands on equipment and calms down the nervous system to help integrate the senses and retained reflexes.
  • See a Chiropractor for spinal cord adjustments and improvement in the nervous system.
  • See a CranioSacral practitioner to reestablish the central nervous system functioning.
  • See a Behavioral Optometrist to do vision therapy or lens and prisms to help improve the hand eye coordination.
  • Find a therapist doing Brain Gym to do exercises for sensorimotor coordination, self-calming and self-management.
  • See a Chiropractic Neurologist at a Brain Balance Center: to help balance the right and left brain hemispheres and make neural connections to extinguish the primitive reflexes.

If you’ve addressed these issues and are still dealing gastrointestinal disorders:

  • Test OAT (Organic Acid Test) by Great Plains Laboratory for yeast overgrowth and Candida, oxalates, and other microbial infections
  • NutrEval by Genova Diagnostics Labs covers the following areas: malabsorption & dysbiosis; cellular energy & mitochondrial metabolism; neurotransmitter metabolism; vitamin deficiencies; and toxin exposure & detoxification need.
  • Homeopathic or Naturopathic physicians can diagnose and treat gastrointestinal disorders naturally so that the child’s immune, sensory, neurological and nervous systems develop without being compromised.

Still looking for answers? 

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For further resources:


Brandes, Bonnie. The Symphony of Reflexes: Interventions for Human Development, Autism, ADHD, CP, and Other Neurological Disorders. 2016  https://www.amazon.com/Symphony-Reflexes-Interventions-Development-Neurological/dp/150285502X

Goddard, Sally. Reflexes, Learning And Behavior: A Window into the Child’s Mind : A Non-Invasive Approach to Solving Learning & Behavior Problems. 2005  https://www.amazon.com/Reflexes-Learning-Behavior-Non-Invasive-Approach/dp/0976454300