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Primitive Reflexes

A reflex action is a stereotyped, automatic response to a particular stimulus. As babies we are born with over one hundred primitive reflexes to aid our movement learning.  The baby needs to learn more complex movement patterns from the primitive reflexes to gain gross and fine motor skill, and to gain voluntary control of movements.

Where the learning form the primitive reflexes has been incomplete then as the child (or adult) makes a movement part of the response will be from the primitive reflex and that will cause the movement to be inaccurate, jerky or take great effort.  This can be seen in a small child as clumsiness and in a school age child as difficulties with movements, particularly with eye movements, tracking, reading and hand writing.

I always test for primitive reflex responses as part of my assessment of the patient’s vision in a full assessment.  I particularly look at five primitive reflexes which affect the learning of vision – the Tonic Labyrinthine Reflex, the Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex, the Symmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex, the Spinal Galant and the Moro Reflex.

The good news is that as vision is a learned process in the first place, with brain plasticity we can go back and learn, or relearn, the movement patterns we may have missed. So, with Optometric Vision therapy we can put in place any missed learning from the primitive reflexes and improve gross and fine motor skill and vision.  This in turn will help visual performance, general movement skill as well as the skill needed for school and work.

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