Retained Reflexes

What Are Retained Reflexes?

We 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, primary reflexes develop as a way to help the baby grow and mature in their environment in their first year of life.

Examples of primary reflexes are those for:

  • Flight or fight
  • Breastfeeding
  • Grabbing an object
  • Moving the head
  • Crawling

Causes of Retained Reflexes

As babies mature, they develop postural reflexes that are much more mature patterns of reflexes to help control balance, coordination and sensorimotor development. In some cases, babies retain their primary reflexes past the first year of life because they fail to integrate them well with the rest of their nervous system. These are called retained reflexes. This may happen when there is too much overload and stress for the nervous system to handle and process.

Retained reflexes can cause developmental delays that may lead to disorders such as:

Here are some of the reasons why babies may have retained reflexes beyond the first year of life:

  • Low birth weight
  • Traumatic birth
  • C-section birth
  • Required resuscitation
  • Incubation
  • Blue baby
  • Distorted skull
  • Prolonged jaundice
  • Feeding issues during first six months of life
  • Illness with high fever
  • Delirium or convulsions in the first 18 months of life
  • Adverse reactions to toxins
  • History of recurring ear, nose and throat infections
  • Severe allergic reactions

What Your Doctor May Tell You about Retained Reflexes

Your child’s pediatrician will likely 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 primary reflexes, is one of the most prevalent issues in children with learning disabilities and developmental delays. 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 primary 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 believe that retained reflexes are really sensory processing issues which he or she might believe 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 reflexes are a sign of neurodevelopmental damage caused by the above-mentioned traumas. In some cases, this damage is similar to what happens to an adult who has had a stroke, so think of rehabilitating your child in a similar fashion, although with the added complexity of the damage happening at a time of profound development in the brain and nervous system.

Your child may have some or many of the developmental delays found in retained primary 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
  • Poor concentration
  • Panic attacks
  • Hypersensitivity
  • Hyperreactivity
  • Speech problems
  • Articulation problems
  • Impaired social learning
  • Impaired emotional learning
  • Impaired intellectual learning

Integrating Retained Reflexes

One of the most effective ways of integrating retained primary reflexes is to do a reflex-integration program, which can help to extinguish or integrate the primary 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 integrate their retained primary reflexes. Your child can 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 Masgutova Educational Institute 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 primary reflexes with therapeutic interventions, it would be helpful to address many of your child’s biomedical issues such as:

  • Microbiome imbalance
  • Organ stress
  • Food allergies and intolerances
  • Fatty acid deficiencies
  • Oxidative stress
  • Detoxification of pathogens

It would also be helpful to include some other additional therapies that can enhance the improvement and progress of your child’s developmental delays. You can learn more about reflex integration here.

Retained Reflexes Healing Checklist

Make Lifestyle Changes

  • Get a good night's sleep
  • Get outside every day
  • Get an hour of exercise or movement per day
  • Sync circadian rhythm by getting up when the sun does and going to bed after it sets
  • Limit screen time as much as possible
  • Use blue-blocking lightbulbs and glasses at night, especially when looking at screens
  • Put bare feet in wet ground when possible
  • Drink half body weight in ounces of water

Eat a Clean Diet

Use Only High-Quality Fats

  • Coconut oil
  • Olive oil (unheated)
  • Avocados
  • Medium-Chain Triglycerides (MCT) oil
  • Grass-fed ghee
  • Duck fat
  • Grass-fed beef tallow
  • Cod liver oil (unheated)
  • Walnut oil (unheated)

Remove Vegetable Oils and Trans Fats

  • Canola
  • Corn
  • Soy
  • Safflower
  • Sunflower
  • Hydrogenated vegetable oils (Crisco, etc.)
  • Margarine

Include High-Quality Protein with Every Meal

  • Pasture-raised eggs, chicken and other fowl
  • Grass-fed beef, lamb and other red meats
  • Wild-caught fish
  • Legumes
  • Nuts

Eliminate High-Glutamate Foods

These foods and ingredients can exacerbate neurological symptoms because of the excitoxicity they cause in the brain. These are some of the most-common, high-glutamate foods to remove:

  • Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
  • Hydrolyzed vegetable protein
  • Soy protein isolate
  • Yeast extract
  • Gelatin
  • Barley malt
  • Bouillon
  • Natural flavors
  • Artificial flavors
  • Soy sauce
  • Corn starch
  • Others

Add Fermented Foods and Probiotics

These will keep the gastrointestinal system and microbiome healthy and strong which in turn will keep the immune system strong.

  • Eat kefir yogurts, if dairy is tolerated
  • Eat fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut and kim chi
  • Eat umeboshi plums, which are very alkalizing
  • Eat miso soup, if soy is tolerated
  • Take a quality probiotic, such as VSL #3, Gut Pro, Dr. Ohirra’s Live Cultured Probiotics, Garden of Life, Klaire Labs. Work with your practitioner for a more targeted probiotic.

Optimize Blood Sugar

Blood sugar that is too high can lead to excess inflammation and hormonal imbalances.

Blood sugar that is too low can lead to attention and behavioral problems.

We recommend keeping blood sugar optimized so that it's neither too low nor too high.

Do an Elimination Diet

Children with chronic health conditions often have hidden food sensitivities and intolerances that exacerbate their symptoms. With an elimination diet, remove potentially inflammatory foods such as:

  • Casein
  • Gluten
  • Soy
  • Corn
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Shellfish
  • Nuts
  • Peanuts

Clean up Your Environment

  • Identify and remove possible environmental triggers, such as mold, dust, pet dander, and electromagnetic fields (EMFs)
  • Identify and remove possible toxic exposures in the home from purchased products, such as detergents, soaps, lotions, and other cleaning and personal care products
  • Remove animals (both live and stuffed!)
  • Remove carpets
  • Use non-toxic cleaners
  • Use non-toxic building materials

Lower Stress Levels

Viruses, bacteria and other pathogens become more active when the body is in a state of stress.

By teaching your child ways to self-regulate with practices such as prayer, reiki, meditation, yoga, qi gong, tai chi and the Emotional Freedom Technique (tapping), they can become good advocates for themselves and become active participants in the recovery process.

Practitioners of techniques such as EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Retraining) and jin shin jyutsu can lower stress levels for your child, as well.

See a Homeopath, Naturopath or Homotoxicologist

These practitioners can diagnose and treat gastrointestinal disorders naturally so that the child’s immune, sensory, neurological and nervous systems develop without being compromised.

Ask Your Practitioner to Run Some Laboratory Tests

  • Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay (ELISA) for possible food sensitivities and allergies
  • Nutritional deficiencies in vitamins and minerals, especially vitamin D
  • NutrEval by Genova Diagnostics Labs for malabsorption, gut dysbiosis, cellular energy, mitochondrial metabolism, neurotransmitter metabolism, vitamin deficiencies, toxin exposure and detoxification need
  • Organic Acid Test (OAT) for yeast overgrowth, other microbial infections and oxalates
  • Inflammation markers such as C-Reactive Protein (CRP)
  • Fasting blood sugar and insulin levels
  • Comprehensive Digestive Stool Analysis (CDSA)

Have Your Child Tested for PANS/PANDAS

Pathogenic infections and environmental offenders can cross the blood-brain barrier and cause neurological symptoms known collectively as PANS/PANDAS. However, not many practitioners know how to test for and treat these conditions. Common tests are:

  • Serum Anti-Streptolysin O (ASO) titer
  • Serum Anti-Streptococcal DNase B (ASDB) titer
  • Cunningham panel
  • Lyme disease and Lyme co-infections
  • Specific viruses, especially herpetic viruses
  • Mycoplasma pneumoniae infection
  • Heavy metals and other toxins
  • Mold

Use Digestive Aids with your Practitioner's Guidance

  • Betaine hydrochloric acid
  • Digestive enzymes with DPP-IV for gluten and casein intolerances
  • Proteolytic enzymes
  • BiCarb
  • Bromelain
  • Papaya

Use Supplements with Your Practitioner's Guidance

Always work with your practitioner to determine the brand, type and dosage of supplements. Common supplements include the following:

  • Cod liver oil
  • Probiotics
  • Vitamin D3
  • Methylated B complex vitamins
  • GABA, especially PharmaGABA
  • N-acetylcysteine (NAC)
  • Magnesium, zinc, selenium, iodine and other minerals
  • Others

Help Your Child Detoxify

  • Make sure your child is pooping every day. Learn more about how to clear up constipation and diarrhea.
  • Have your child exercise or move every day. Sweating carries toxins out of the body.
  • See a homotoxicologist, naturopath or homeopath for drainage remedies and detoxification aids.
  • Optimize blood sugar to allow the liver to spend more time detoxing rather than processing sugar.
  • Ionic foot baths can help detox unwanted pathogens and are easy to do with children.
  • Infared saunas can detox heavy metals through the skin by sweating. However, this form of detoxification may not be suitable for young children who lack the ability to sweat.
  • Epsom salt baths add sulfur transdermally to help with detox.

Integrate Retained Primitive Reflexes

Most, if not all, children with neurodevelopmental disorders including learning disabilities, have retained primitive reflexes.

Find a therapist that is trained in integrating primitive reflexes, which can cause imbalances in the way your child's brain performs.

See a Chiropractic Neurologist

Chiropractic neurology is patient focused and utilizes the latest assessment techniques to create an individualized protocol to rehabilitate the central nervous system and develop neuroplasticity (changes in the brain) when addressing neurological conditions.

Children with developmental delays, cognitive issues and deficits have improper communication between the right and left sides of the brain.

See a Behavioral/Developmental Optometrist

A developmental optometrist can check for convergence and tracking problems with your child's vision. He or she can correct these issues with vision therapy, lens and prisms. Doing so can improve hand-eye coordination and school performance.

See a Craniosacral Practitioner

Craniosacral therapy can reestablish central nervous system functioning. These practitioners use approaches rich in vestibular, proprioceptive and tactile input and may also do oral motor therapy.

See a Neurofeedback Practitioner

Neurofeedback is approved as a level-one intervention by the American Academy of Pediatrics for ADD and ADHD, which are learning disabilities.

Even if your child doesn't have ADD or ADHD, they may still benefit from neurofeedback.

Find a practitioner that can perform a QEEG (quantitative electroencephalograph) brain map first so you can understand how your child's brain works.

See a Sensory-Integration Occupational Therapist

These occupational therapists address a variety of sensory issues with a child using hands-on equipment. This type of therapy calms down the nervous system to help integrate the senses and retained reflexes.

See a Chiropractor

A chiropractor can perform spinal cord adjustments, which can improve communication in the nervous system.

See an Auditory Therapist

Many children with learning disabilities have auditory processing problems that may be causing problems with focus and concentration.

An auditory therapist can devise a listening program that is specific to your child's needs. These programs can retrain the brain, calm down the nervous system and reduce sound sensitivities.

Find a Brain Gym Practitioner

A Brain Gym practitioner can have your child do exercises for sensorimotor coordination, self-calming and self-management.

Work with a Health Coach

Our Epidemic Answers health coaches are trained to understand the root causes of your child's chronic health condition.

They provide hands-on helping with the practical matters of healing such as cooking healthy foods, removing toxins from the household and helping you work more efficiently with your practitioner.

See an Acupuncturist

Acupuncture can help lower stress and anxiety associated with sensory processing. It can also help with blood-sugar and hormonal regulation.

See a NAET or BioSET Practitioner

Children with chronic health conditions typically also have food allergies and/or food sensitivities and intolerances.

NAET (Namudripad's Allergy Elimination Technique) and BioSET are two non-invasive methods of allergy elimination.

Use Sensory Therapies and Tools

Still Looking for Answers?

Visit the Epidemic Answers Practitioner Directory to find a practitioner near you.

Join us inside our online membership community for parents, Healing Together, where you’ll find even more healing resources, expert guidance, and a community to support you every step of your child’s healing journey.

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Institute for Neuro-Physiological Psychology

Masgutova Foundation

Masgutova Method

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Move To Learn

My Child Will Thrive: Primitive Reflexes Cheat Sheet

Rhythmic Movement Training (RMT)

Quantum Reflex Integration

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