Primitive reflexes are automatic, stereotyped movements directed from the brain stem and executed without cortical involvement. What does this mean? It means, that at birth, our brain and body perform certain motions without us having to think. This helps us throughout early life because we are born with certain skills required for survival as a newborn. However, what happens if you are ten years old and still relying on these primitive reflexes? This may mean that part of your brain is still functioning at the level of an infant.
The brain develops from the primitive parts like the brain stem, to more complex regions including the frontal lobe. As a matter of fact, neuroscientists believe that the frontal lobe doesn’t stop developing until the age of 25! At birth, the brain is a blue print for what it is capable of developing into. With nutrition and stimulation, the brain starts to form electric circuits between the primitive sections and the more complex areas.
However, what happens if the foundation of the brain doesn’t develop appropriately? Since the brain develops like a stack of blocks, with one section building off the section beneath it, it is imperative that the foundation is sound. This means that abnormal circuits in the foundation could alter every other part of the brain that sends electric signals through it!
What does this have to do with retained primitive reflexes?
Primitive reflexes should disappear no later than 12 months of age. The frontal lobe will inhibit them so that more sophisticated parts of the brain can develop. If they persist beyond this period, there will be structural weakness in the central nervous system. This results in the lack of development of more complex postural reflexes required to enable a child to interact appropriately with the environment.
What can be done?
Many children with neurodevelopmental disorders and sensory processing disorders display primitive reflexes. The reason is, parts of their brain do not mature correctly. To address this, we need to remove any obstructions to the electric circuits in the brain and prescribe neurological exercises to extinguish these primitive reflexes. Fortunately, the brain can re-wire itself. The principle of neuroplasticity is the key to this. In a nutshell, this means that we can “work the brain out” like we do our muscles. This helps us develop.
In conclusion, primitive reflexes are an integral part of our early life. However, we need them to disappear if we want our brain to develop appropriately! When the foundation of our central nervous system is strong, we can build powerful electric circuits throughout the brain. The proper function of your brain is no different than the proper function of your car – it is dependent on electric signals. Make sure yours are flowing freely throughout the circuits of your brain.