Reflex maturation stages

Primary Reflexes—emerge early in utero where your baby actively prepares for her journey out to meet you and the world. She uses her primary reflexes to be an active partner in her birth and to initiate breastfeeding, if she has the opportunity to fulfill these mastery activities. Early primary reflexes, including those for breastfeeding, ensure infant survival in the first few months of life. Throughout the first year a series of primary reflexes emerge and mature as they provide training ground for many new activities and skills. Doctors often use these initial primary reflexes to assess how well a baby is developing.

Postural Reflexes—impact posture, movement, and stability. These movements are a sign of increased maturity in the central nervous system. Postural reflexes organize your baby for rolling, crawling and creeping for gross motor milestone movements.

Righting Reactions—are controlled primarily by the mid-brain and assist in bringing the head and torso into mutual alignment. Righting reactions underlie organization of vision and hearing.

Equilibrium Responses—are automatic patterns of response for maintaining balance as a result of the shifting of one’s center of gravity. An example is jumping up to catch a ball. The equilibrium responses “appear in concert with the righting reactions and are integrated primarily by the forebrain.” (Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen, 1992). We all depend on equilibrium responses throughout life to adapt to our shifts in the gravitational field – whether playing volleyball or walking on ice.

Integrated Reflexes—support all successful effortless movement. For every reflex there is an opposite reflex; each shadowing and modulating the other. “Once developed and integrated, a reflex movement pattern will become part of one’s voluntary, automatic movement repertoire.” (Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen, 1992)

Retained or Immature Reflexes —are early reflexes that do not become fully integrated. If early reflexes do not develop properly, then higher righting reactions and equilibrium responses may not fully emerge. Immature past a normal age/stage, retained reflexes are considered pathological in nature and interfere with the ease in learning and often result in immature behavior.

Increasing complexity and choice  As children grow through early childhood from toddlerhood to school age, their movements become increasingly complex. When reflexes have matured, children then have many choices about combining movements, and become more adept with both their bodies and their minds. A child’s attention develops. The core foundation of attentional networks which have been organized through reflexes and developmental movement are the basis for cognitive activity -thinking, creating and problem solving.

Survive? — or thrive?  Primary reflexes can provide a survival fallback of quick reflex action to organize a person in a situation of extreme conditions. However, when a person is chronically stressed, s/he may habituate the primary reflexes as survival strategies. Because a reflex creates an involuntary response neurologically, over the long term, this limits freedom of response and choice making. Retained and immature reflexes are dysfunctional and get in the way of developing increasing complexity and nuance of response.

Reflex integration therapy  The good news is that our brains and neurological systems are malleable throughout life. Playful activities provide both stimulation and freedom to respond in new ways.


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