After teaching for over 20 years and always being fascinated with why some children learn easily while others struggle I came across the work of Sally Goddard who is now one of my “heroes”.
This introduction to Primitive and Postural reflexes opened my eyes to possible causes of learning difficulties and how the brain actually learns.
Primitive Reflexes are the first part of the brain to develop and should only remain active for the first few months of life. In typical development, these reflexes naturally inhibit in sequential order during the first year, and replacement reflexes, called postural reflexes, emerge. Postural reflexes are more mature patterns of response that control balance, coordination and sensory motor development
Retained primitive reflexes can lead to developmental delays related to disorders like ADHD, sensory processing disorder, autism, and learning disabilities. The persistence of primitive reflexes contribute to issues such as coordination, balance, sensory perceptions, fine motor skills, sleep, immunity, energy levels, impulse control, concentration and all levels of social, emotional, and academic learning.
The first reflex I read about was the Spinal Galant Reflex because one of the symptoms of it was bed-wetting past the age of 5 years. Other symptoms of a retained Spinal Galant include poor attention, inability to sit still, poor co-ordination, clumsiness and making buzzing or humming noises. The purpose of this reflex is to assist the baby during birth as it is involved in the final push. Retention of this reflex is often caused during the birth process if the birth is assisted such as caesarian birth, forceps or suction caps because the baby doesn’t get to use the reflex.
The Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex is another reflex that can interfere with learning. This reflex should be inhibited by 6 months old and if retained has an impact on hand – eye co-ordination.
The Palmer Reflex also interferes with learning. It is involved in grasping and finger dexterity so impacts handwriting and fine motor skills if retained.
The Moro Reflex is a complex reflex. It starts as a baby’s fight or flight response and should be replaced by 4 months of age with the adult startle reflex. A retained Moro reflex can show as over sensitivity to sensory stimuli, poor impulse control, anxiety, social immaturity, motion sickness, poor balance, poor co-ordination and easily distracted. Many adults still retain this reflex which was evident in my training - in a group of 12 adults only two did not show signs of retention.
It is important to note - The testing of reflexes should be done by a trained professional as they can be difficult to identify and older children can develop ways to cover up their retained reflexes, often unconsciously.
Lots more information is available at