Primitive Reflexes Stress and Trauma

Published on 11th January 2019


Many children  (and adults for that matter) find it difficult to regulate their emotions, process information and interact with others appropriately. They can:

Be under or over responsive/reactive to sensory input (sounds, smells, tastes, other people)

Struggle with reading and writing, concentration and behaving at school

Have issues with physical activities such as riding a bike, swimming or climbing.

Such developmental delay has been attributed to trauma and lack of stimulation as well as living in non stimualting environments before and after birth. However there is another cause to add to the mix, and one that can be easily rectified.

We are all born with primitive reflexes that are usually integrated within the first year or so of life as they no longer serve us. Think of infant reflexes such as sucking and rooting and the plantar grasp where the toes curl when the foot is stroked.  Two reflexes prevalent in our children are the moro (startle) and fear paralysis reflex which if not integrated are believed to contribute to learning challenges, behavioural challenges, anxiety, emotional imbalances and overwhelm*. These reflexes are closely related to our stress response. The moro is linked to the fight and flight part of the response and the fear paralysis to the freeze. By repeating simple movements usually done in infancy through the guidance of a Rhythmic Movement Consultant** these reflexes can be integrated and our children more regulated.

A very simple yet unbelievably powerful first step is to make sure children know how to crawl. “Proper” crawling is done contralateral ie diagonally across the body- left leg + right arm.

So many children who are carried around in car seats and not left on the floor, miss this vital piece of neuro-development. They bottom shuffle or crawl homolaterally (same side arm and leg).

According to Occupational Therapy for Children:

Crawling helps to develop balance, strengthen muscle tone and develop eye-hand co-ordination. This is necessary for future reading writing and physical activities. Bilateral integration is improved through crawling as both hands, legs, eyes and ears are required to work in synchronisation, increasing left and right brain co-ordination. The crawling movement is repetitive and this stimulates brain activity to develop cognitive processes such as concentration, memory, comprehension and attention.  

Crawling allows for the integration of sensory information. This allows the baby to have a complete picture of his environment. He learns spatial concepts and develops the visual and auditory systems. As the baby crawls he will use both ears simultaneously for reception to develop binaural hearing. Both eyes are also used to begin to develop binocular vision.

Crawling stimulates the inner ear of the vestibular system whilst the baby. This will help improve balance. Crawling will also give the baby sensory stimulation through his hands and knees as he weight bears through them. This is essential for gross and fine muscle development. He will also receive different tactile sensations as he crawls over different textured surfaces.

Of course crawling is just the first step in helping our children calm their hyperactive and immature neurological systems. Rhythmic Movement Training would be the next piece in a childs’ development puzzle and I believe far more beneficial to do before therapeutic interventions such as DDP. It aids development of executive functioning and the ability to concentrate to engage with the DDP in a much more effective way.

To find out more about Rhythmic Movement Exercises 


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