Parents: What You Need to Know About Primitive Reflexes (Part 1)

It’s one of the best moments in life: holding your brand new baby for the first time. That baby automatically knows how to nurse, how clasp their tiny hands around your index finger, and are oh so cute sleeping on their back with their one arm sticking straight out.

Did you know those are all reflexes a baby is born with to ensure immediate survival and to prepare them for voluntary actions later in life? They are called primitive reflexes. These reflexes are important in utero, present in infancy, and should be gone by the child’s first birthday.

If these primitive reflexes are present beyond age 1, though, they can manifest themselves in problematic ways down the road (i.e. the child’s perception of the world around them, their reactions to it, and their ability to perform tasks within it). These reflexes are difficult to detect later in life, however, as they don’t show up as they did in infancy. If your child struggles with gross or fine motor coordination, sensory processing, attention, cognition, emotional regulation, or anxiety, the underlying cause MAY be retained primitive reflexes!

In a recent study of 35 preschool aged children, it was noted that:

  • Over half (65%) had retained primitive reflexes at least at a residual level
  • Eleven percent of them had no retained primitive reflexes
  • From the study, the researchers indicated that 9% of the children were significantly delayed in their development due to retained primitive reflexes, 29% were somewhat delayed, 59% had “normal” development, and 3% had “very good” development.
    (Gieysztor, Choińska, Paprocka-Borowicz, 2016).

This study found a significant percentage of healthy preschool children struggled with the effects of retained primitive reflexes! Could this also be true of your child?

Our encouragement: if you see symptoms (poor social behaviors, academic performance, balance, posture, hand function, etc.) in your child and are concerned, understand that the issue could be something deeper. Occupational therapy can treat the root problem, then outward symptoms can be addressed.

Keep an eye out for our next post, which will delve into each primary primitive reflex, its purpose, and its possible effects on someone if it remains uninhibited. If you are concerned, we invite you to reach out for an over-the-phone consultation and to learn how our services could benefit your child!



Gieysztor E, Choińska A, Paprocka-Borowicz M. Persistence of primitive reflexes and associated motor problems in healthy preschool children. Archives of Medical Science. 2016;14(1):167-173. doi:10.5114/aoms.2016.60503.

Goddard S. Reflexes, Learning, and Behavior: A Window Into the Child’s Mind. Fern Ridge Pres. 2005., ed 2. 

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