Learning difficulties (LD’s), primitive reflexes, and chiropractic!
We are born with a set of primitive reflexes that help us survive in the first 6 months of life. They enable us to be born, find the breast, and summon assistance if stressed. Slowly however, these primitive reflexes are integrated as our brains mature (the mid and fore-brain begin to develop) and postural reflexes are developed that help us live in a gravity-based environment.
Our brain requires 3 things to grow; oxygen, fuel (in the form of glucose from our blood stream), and stimulation or sensory input. Over 90% of sensory input to the brain is from a group of nerves called proprioceptors which reside inside the joints of our body. Movement fires these neurones, which sends sensory input about our environment and the position of our body in space to our brain. Movement therefore enables neurological development ; but it has to be the right kind, in the appropriate order. Each skill builds on the one just gained.
Sometimes primitive reflexes are not fully integrated by the developing mid and fore-brain. This integration is necessary to free the higher centre of the brain for academic learning. This means the lower centres of the brain are not fully mature and don’t automatically pick up and send information to the higher brain centres. The ‘thinking’ part of the brain is being used to do things that should be automatic.
Early childhood motor development has been linked to later cognitive function, with gross motor skills having the strongest relationship. For a range of different reasons these gross motor skills have not been developed in some children. These children often get to school without those physical skills that are needed to ready the brain for academic success. Learning Difficulties have been linked to inefficient use of body senses. With learning difficulties the brain establishes stronger lower brain processing for higher brain tasks such as classroom learning.
Most children with LD’s do not have well-developed gross motor skills. This under-development impedes full integration of the primitive reflexes, which effects higher brain functioning. This also means that the 2 sides of the brain are not working well together. A large percentage of children with LD’s do not have a clearly dominant side of the brain.
Symptoms of specific retained primitive reflexes
Following is a list of human primitive reflexes, and the symptoms following lack of integration:
Constant state of fight or flight. High level of arousal. Over-reactions to stimulation. Anxiety.
Easily distracted by unimportant stimuli. Aggressive, over-reactive, difficulty relaxing.
Due to continued exposure to stress hormones immune system will be under stress.
Palmar and Plantar reflexes
Interferes with refined finger grip.
Accessory movements (particularly the tongue) when concentrating.
Adverse effects on fine motor control, speech, and articulation.
Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (ATNR)
Reading problems – loss of the visual image at the midline (tracking problems)
Tight grip on pen, messy writing.
Difficulty crossing the midline.
Spinal Galant Reflex
Difficulty sitting still. Ticklish. Restless.
Poor short-term memory and concentration.
Posture and gait problems.
Tonic Labyrinthine Reflex
Flexion: floppy child
Extension: rigid child
Symmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex
Poor posture, particularly when writing (arms collapse as neck flexes forward).
History of not crawling.
What can chiropractic do?
Thankfully the brain is plastic! By going back to the basic gross motor patterning / skills you can effectively ‘rewire’ the brain and fill in the gaps that have left primitive reflexes unintegrated.
Designing and implementing a movement-based exercise programme to specifically address any retained primitive reflexes and gross motor skill deficits is integral to increasing brain function.
As mentioned previously, it is sensory input from the proprioceptive nerves within the joints of the body (of which the spine has plenty!) that fuels the brain. Spinal dysfunction (the decrease of movement between two vertebrae, or ‘subluxation’) affects the body’s ability to take up and process information, or distorts information relayed through the nervous system to the brain. By normalising joint movement through chiropractic care you affect the proprioceptive nerves firing into the nervous system.
Working on the cranial and dural systems of the brain in kids can be particularly powerful. It has a positive effect on CSF flow (the fluid that bathes the brain and spinal cord) and vascular supply to the brain. If one side of the brain is found to be underactive in comparison to the other side (usually the right) we can specifically stimulate sensory pathways that end in the right side of the brain with chiropractic techniques, massage, and specific exercises to increase the sensory input to that side.
At Better Health Practices, we take a holistic approach to your child’s health. Chiropractic adjustments, combined with a specific home-based exercise programme, as well as nutritional support form the foundation of the care we offer you and your child.