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Dr Jane Williams and Bindy Cummings
Primitive reflexes have been in the news lately as it becomes more widely understood that if babies and young children do not have the movement opportunities and practice to learn to fully control the reflexes, the ‘retained reflexes’ can interfere with later learning and development.
“What is later seen in the classroom as bad behaviour, lack of impulse control, poor social skills and difficulty in learning, despite good intelligence, may, in some cases, be symptoms [of retained reflexes and hence] an underdeveloped central nervous system.”1
Babies are all born with a specific set of primitive reflexes. These reflexes are vital to the survival of newborn babies but also, and significantly, primitive reflexes are responsible for getting babies moving and are of major importance to your babies’ brain development and the development of their balance, muscle tone, head control, vision and even the development of how well they use their hands and feet.
These early movement reflexes are designed to have a limited life span – they help babies learn how to move, however, to be able to move freely and easily babies need to learn to gain control of these reflexes. Once controlled, your baby can then move smoothly to the next level of movement and brain development.
If not fully controlled, children could end up being partially stuck in a lower stage of brain development and this will affect, to some degree, all their future learning.
A large portion of healthy, intelligent children who end up with learning difficulties at school have retained reflexes. These children have not yet managed to bring the primitive reflexes under full control.
Fortunately, the way babies learn to control these primitive reflexes, occurs as a result of going through the normal, natural sequence of developmental movements – that is, through tummy time, head control, learning how to roll, crawl on their tummies, creep on hands and knees, climb and then walk.
It is both fascinating and marvellous how it all happens. Each movement helps babies learn to control one or more of the primitive reflexes.
Our Primitive reflexes video explains everything you need to know about these important reflexes; how they play a part in your baby’s development and what you can do to ensure your baby has the opportunities to fully control these reflexes.
Bindy Cummings (B.Ed hons) is a teacher, GymbaROO early childhood neurodevelopmental consultant, early childhood development lecturer, INPP consultant and iLS consultant. She is the Editor of GymbaROO’s First Steps magazine.
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