Many of the “higher” processes of learning, such as reading, writing, solving mathematical problems are rooted neuro-physiologically in systems involving postural control and the reflexes play an important part in supporting and facilitating stability and flexibility in postural control.
Reading requires the development and control of smooth eye movements, writing requires eye-hand coordination, aspects of math require spatial skills. These are all motor skills.
These motor skills are honed through repetition of specific developmental movement patterns that help create and strengthen neurological pathways to higher brain centers.
Fidgeting, poor posture, an inability to focus and follow simple directions are usually symptoms of neuro-motor immaturity and can be corrected through a motor training program that addresses the child’s specific needs.
What are Reflexes and what do they have to do with learning?
Learning challenges are frequently the result of retained primitive reflexes. Primitive reflexes are movements that are hard-wired into the system and managed at the brainstem level. They develop in the womb, are present at birth and become inhibited during the first 6 months of life.
Postural reflexes are responsible for helping maintain balance and postural stability. They are mediated at the midbrain level and develop as the primitive reflexes go dormant. When children miss motor milestones – creeping, crawling, rolling, scooting – it is often a sign that the midbrain isn’t developed enough to do its job correctly. Additionally, neurological pathways to the cortex – the part of the brain responsible for learning and understanding often don’t get built properly. To compound the issue the Cortex is called upon to help maintain balance and motor function – something it is not designed to do. Learning, emotional and behavioral challenges are frequently the end result.
What do Retained Primitive Reflexes look like?
· Known as the fight or flight reflex
· Response to sudden loss of support
In the school-aged child, a retained Moro Reflex can result in
· Trouble sitting still
· Increased distractibility
· Over-reactive startle response
· Increased propensity to anxiety
Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (ATNR)
· Plays a part in spontaneous movements
· Early training for eye-hand coordination
· Early training for bi-laterality
In the school-aged child a retained ATNR can result in
· Difficulty controlling upright balance
· Inability to cross the midline of the body
· Poor eye-hand coordination
· Poor lateral eye movements
· Difficulty writing
· Difficulty reading
Symmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (STNR)
· Helps the body divide in half at the mid-line
· Assists in crawling
In the school-aged child a retained STNR can result in
· Poor sitting posture
· Slumping over desk
· Eye-hand coordination
· Difficulty copying from board or books
· Difficulty with math
Tonic Labyrinthine Reflex
· Primitive reaction to gravity
· When head is lowered below spine, limbs extend
· When head is elevated above spine, limbs flex
In the school-aged child, a retain TLR can result in
· Problems with balance
· Muscle tone issues
· Control of eye movements
· Difficulties with reading, writing, copying and math
· Spatial skills
What’s the solution?
The solution is movement; It’s a child’s first language, it helps map the brain and integrate sensory experience.
5 simple movement activities to help children in the classroom
1. Use opposites – reach high, reach low
2. Incorporate three-part moves – beginning, middle, end
3. Incorporate eye/hand coordination activities – crawling & hand-clapping games
4. Marching – arms high, arms low
5. 10-minute dance breaks that end in a calm manner