Baby and Reflexes

Primitive Reflexes and  Effect on Development

Primitive reflexes are automatic movements that support a child’s development, growth, and survival in their first year of life.  Remember how cute your baby looked when his or her arms launched up at with loud noise or coming out of a swaddle?  That’s a reflex…the Moro reflex to be exact! Or while they were sleeping with one arm bend and the other was stretched out?  Again, a that’s a reflex (asymmetrical tonic neck reflex)!  Most of these reflexes begin in the womb or at birth, such as the sucking or grasping reflex, and integrate within the first year of life.  As babies grow and develop these reflexes should integrate, or should no longer be active, and allow the child to reach new milestones, like crawling, walking, self-feeding, or using hands together to accomplish a task. But what happens when these reflexes don’t go away?  How does it affect my child? Will they go away on their own? How can I help?  Did I do something to cause this?

The answer is no.  There really isn’t anything you could have done to prevent these reflexes from hanging around longer than they should.  Retained reflexes are common in diagnoses such as: ADHD and autism and with c-section deliveries and birth of multiples. They can also be associated with: coordination and learning disorders, developmental delays, sensory processing difficulties, lack of self-confidence, poor socialization, and dyslexia. Reflexes that fail to integrate can have long lasting effects and complications on your child’s development.


Some commonly retained reflexes are: asymmetric tonic neck reflex, symmetric tonic neck reflex, tonic labyrinth reflex, and the Moro reflex. Characteristics of each specific, integrated reflexes vary, but several can present functionally as:

  • Trouble with organization
  • Poor sitting posture, slouching, or W sitting
  • Startles easily
  • Decreased strength and balance
  • Toe or ape like walking
  • Delayed crawling
  • Lack of body awareness
  • Trouble coordinating both hands to complete tasks (like tying shoes)
  • Fine motor difficulties (managing buttons or zippers)
  • Difficulty reading
  • Eyes fatigue quickly and poor control of eye muscles
  • Frequent headaches
  • Decreased attention
  • Difficulty sitting still
  • Decreased eye hand coordination


If you are concerned about your child having primitive reflexes, talk to your occupational therapist!  Like most things in life, there is a solution to every problem. Your therapist can test for several of the reflexes and will teach you exercises, different body positions, and games you can use to help them disappear for good!  All these activities or exercises can be incorporated into play and are to be completed 2-3x/day.  The exercises should always be initiated by your therapist in therapy sessions then carried out at home for the most amount of progress in the shortest amount of time.

Visit for more information.