Early Childhood (Infant) Reflexes and their Effect on Learning and Behaviour
By Barry Summerfield MA Dip Ed.
Why does my child find learning difficult
when others around them seem to learn easily? These “puzzle” children often seem ok in all other aspects and so we blame them for their unacceptable behaviour or we lower our expectations of their intellectual potential. These children provide a major challenge for parents and teachers alike and the whole area can be frustrating for both child and adult. The children often grow up into adults with low self-esteem and other major problems. The parent/teacher may also feel a failure, often having their parenting/teaching abilities questioned; even though they try hard, nothing seems to work that well.
A theory gaining recognition as to why some children develop learning / behavioural problems and others do not is related to an area known as Early Childhood (Infant) Reflexes. These reflexes are essential to the survival of the baby and young infant. As the infant develops these early reflexes should disappear making way for the
development of higher order skills. It is the retention of the early reflexes that prevents
the full development of these higher order skills, leading to symptoms of developmental delay / learning difficulties, and/or behavioural problems. It is critical to understand that these children will not respond properly to the massive effort we put in to teaching them until the issue of retained infant reflexes is addressed.
What are Early Child Hood (Infant) Reflexes?
In a nutshell: Reflexes by definition act automatically. Reflexes develop in-utero so when a baby is born they can act instinctively (by reflex) for their survival. You may be familiar with some of them; for example, a baby is born with a sucking reflex so they can feed themselves at the breast within a few hours of birth. (Imagine the trauma if the baby had to learn this particular activity). Also the baby has a rooting reflex; if touched on the side of the cheek they will turn their head to that side, helping them to find which side the food is coming from.
These particular reflexes should be inhibited by 3 – 4 months of age. There are many other Early Childhood Reflexes that help with many of the major developmental stages of early childhood, but they all eventually should become integrated into the child’s central nervous system as higher order parts of the brain take control.
By 3 years of age nearly all of these reflexes should be fully inhibited and integrated so they will not be present. Problems arise for the child when for whatever reason this integration and inhibition does not take place. If the reflex is not inhibited it is known as a Retained Reflex. A child may have more than one retained reflex.
During the early stages of life there is very rapid development and maturation during
which the brain has the property of neural “plasticity”; that is the ability to rewire itself.
It is the success of this rewiring as it moves from reflexive action to higher order skills
that has a profound impact on a child’s ability to interact effectively with their social
and physical environment. During this maturation phase the higher centres of the brain
should take increasing control; the persistence of lower level dominance (infant
reflexes) over certain functions will have an (often deleterious) effect on how a child functions and their ability to learn.
How can the problem of reflexes be addressed?
A physical program of specialized movements which assist the child with the integration process needs to be used on a regular basis to help these children reach the milestones they need to succeed. A program using Brain Gym exercises, balancing techniques and other activities will go a long way to help a child and put them on the path to fulfilling their potential.
Better Health Practices screens for, and has programs to help with any retained reflexes that may be inhibiting your child reaching their full potential.