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Persistence of Primitive Reflexes in Developmental Disorders

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Purpose of Review Neonates present with a number of primitive reflexes that typically dissipate in later infancy. Persistence of such reflexes past infancy could indicate some type of developmental problem or compromised neurology and therefore might be predictably associated with various types of developmental disorders. The present review sought to summarize key studies investigating the persistence of primitive reflexes in individuals with cerebral palsy, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, autism spectrum disorder, and other developmental disorders. Recent Findings Several studies have shown persistence of primitive reflexes in children with cerebral palsy, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and autism spectrum disorder. Persistence of primitive reflexes varies in relation to the type and severity of symptoms in cases of cerebral palsy and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and with the presence of comorbid intellectual disability in children with autism spectrum disorder. Primitive reflexes have also been shown to persist in adults with Down syndrome. Summary Assessing primitive reflexes may be useful for advancing the understanding and early detection of developmental disorders. Additional research should seek to clarify the relation between the persistence of primitive reflexes and the type and severity of developmental disorders, as well as seeking to identify possible reflex phenotypes. Persistence of primitive reflexes might signal some type of developmental or neurological problem and may negatively impact motor development and learning. Evidence-based interventions to address the persistence of primitive reflexes are lacking, and the development of these should be a research priority.
Persistence of Primitive Reflexes in Developmental Disorders
Jeff Sigafoos
&Laura Roche
&Mark F. OReilly
&Giulio E. Lancioni
#The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2021
Purpose of Review Neonates present with a number of primitive reflexes that typically dissipate in later infancy. Persistence of
such reflexes past infancy could indicate some type of developmental problem or compromised neurology and therefore might be
predictably associated with various types of developmental disorders. The present review sought to summarize key studies
investigating the persistence of primitive reflexes in individuals with cerebral palsy, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder,
autism spectrum disorder, and other developmental disorders.
Recent Findings Several studies have shown persistence of primitive reflexes in children with cerebral palsy, attention-deficit/
hyperactivity disorder, and autism spectrum disorder. Persistence of primitive reflexes varies in relation to the type and severity of
symptoms in cases of cerebral palsy and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and with the presence of comorbid intellectual
disability in children with autism spectrum disorder. Primitive reflexes have also been shown to persist in adults with Down
Summary Assessing primitive reflexes may be useful for advancing the understanding and early detection of developmental
disorders. Additional research should seek to clarify the relation between the persistence of primitive reflexes and the type and
severity of developmental disorders, as well as seeking to identify possible reflex phenotypes. Persistence of primitive reflexes
might signal some type of developmental or neurological problem and may negatively impact motor development and learning.
Evidence-based interventions to address the persistence of primitive reflexes are lacking, and the development of these should be
a research priority.
Keywords Primitive reflexes .Cerebral palsy .Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder .Autism spectrum disorder
The behavioral repertoire of the neonate is characterized by a
number of distinct reflexes [1], which can be defined as auto-
matic involuntary movements that occur in response to a stim-
ulus[2, p. 1]. Indeed, there appear to be at least 27 different
reflex relations that are either present at birth or which emerge
within the first few weeks and months of life [3].
From a developmental perspective, human reflexes could
be classified into those that are durable versus those that are
more transient. Durable reflexes are generally retained
throughout the lifespan. Examples include the patellar tendon
(or knee-jerk) reflex, startle response, eye-blink, gag, sneez-
ing, and yawning reflexes [410]. Such reflexes, while essen-
tially permanent, can diminish or become more pronounced
due to aging, illness, disease, and various neuropathological
conditions [9]. Consequently, assessing reflex strength has
long been recognized as an important part of the neurological
examination process [9].
There is another class of reflexes present at birth or
emerging in early infancy that usually have a more tempo-
rary or transient existence. These more transient reflexes have
been variously referred to as the primitive, neonatal, fetal, or
developmental reflexes [1012]. Table 1describes a number
of primitive reflexes that have been frequently reviewed in the
medical and psychological literature [2,1012].
This article is part of the Topical Collection on Communication Disorders
*Jeff Sigafoos
School of Education, Victoria University of Wellington, Kelburn
Campus Box 600, Wellington, PO 6140, New Zealand
School of Education, University of Newcastle, Newcastle, Australia
Department of Special Education, University of Texas, Austin, TX,
Department of Neuroscience and Sense Organs, University of Bari,
Bari, Italy
Current Developmental Disorders Reports
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Table 1 Examples of primitive/atypical reflex reactions
Reflex Elicitation Reaction Usually disappears by
Asymmetrical tonic neck reflex (ATNR) Turning head/neck to the right or left One arm extends and the other flexes in
classic fencing pose.
4 months of age
Babinski Stroke sole of foot from heel to small toe and
then across to hallux with a blunt object
Hallux moves upward and other toes spread The Babinski sign represents an abnormal
reaction to elicitation of the plantar reflex
(see below)
Galant/truncal incurvation reflex Stroking either side of the spine Childs back flexes towards the stimulated
12 months of age
Glabellar Repetitive tapping on forehead Eyes close/blink Usually habituates within 5 taps. Persistent
blinking is atypical (Myersons sign)
Moro Sudden loss of support, such as a rapid
downward movement while being held
Arms spread slowly outwards and then return
to midline. Often accompanied by crying
3 months of age
Palmar grasp Stimulation of the palm by stroking or placing
an object in the infantshand
Rapid closing of fingers in a grasping
4 months of age
Plantar Stroke sole of foot from heel to small toe and
across to hallux with a blunt object
Toes flex downward 2 years of age
Rooting Touching infants cheek, mouth, or lips,
especially with a circular motion
Turnstostimuluswith open mouth and often
sucking motions
34 months of age. Replaced by voluntary
movement to source
Snout Lightly touching or tapping outside of the lips
at midline when lips are closed
Protrusion or puckering (pouting) 34 months of age
Sucking Touch roof of mouth with nipple or finger, or
Child begins sucking 34 months of age. Replaced by voluntary
Symmetrical tonic neck reflex (STNR) With child on hands and knees, the response
is elicited when the childs head flexes
inward or extends outward
Arms bend and legs extend with head flex.
Arms extend and legs bend when head is
extended .
912 months of age
Tonic labyrinthine reflex/extensor tone Holding infant up by the waist or chest
Tilting head back when infant is lying on back
Infant holds head up (superman pose)
Back stiffens and arches, legs stiffen and
feet/toes point forward
4 months of age
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Perhaps the most unique and intriguing aspect of primitive
reflexes is that they typically disappear, or are greatly dimin-
ished, within the first year or two of life [2]. It has been sug-
gested that as the brain matures during infancy, primitive re-
flexes are increasingly inhibited and replaced by voluntary
motor responses [13]. Rousseau, Matton, Lexuyer, and
Lahaye [14] argued that this diminishment or integration of
primitive reflex patterns during early infancy plays an impor-
tant role in childrens motor development. Grzywniak [11]
hypothesized that the transient nature of primitive reflexes
not only facilitates psychomotor development but also learn-
ing. For example, persistence of the asymmetrical tonic neck
reflex might make it more difficult for a child retain hands-on
engagement with their learning materials because the response
of turning the head to the right (or left) would elicit extension
(and flexing) of the respective arms.
Interestingly, while primitive reflexes usually dissipate in
early infancy, they have been reported to persist well beyond
infancy and even into adulthood in some typically developing
individuals [10,15,16]. Usually, however, the persistence or
reappearance of primitive reflexes is considered to be indica-
tive of some type of developmental or neurological problem
[10]. One might therefore expect that individuals with varying
types of developmental disorders would evidence atypical re-
flex reactions, including long-term persistence of one or more
primitive reflexes.
The next sections of this paper summarize key studies that
have investigated the persistence of primitive reflexes in indi-
viduals with cerebral palsy, attention-deficit/hyperactivity dis-
order, autism spectrum disorder, and other developmental dis-
orders. Key studies were located by searching three databases
(i.e., Google Scholar, ProQuest, and Medline) using a combi-
nation of terms (e.g., primitive reflexes and cerebral palsy or
primitive reflexes and autism). Studies had to provide objec-
tive data on the persistence of at least one primitive reflex in
individuals with cerebral palsy, attention-deficit/hyperactivity
disorder, autism spectrum disorder, or another clearly identi-
fied condition associated with developmental disorder. A re-
view of this type is intended to reveal the extent to which
primitive reflexes have been reported to persist in these pop-
ulations. Future research and intervention directions are con-
sidered in light of our review of these studies.
Cerebral Palsy
Cerebral palsy is a nonprogressive disorder caused by lesions
in the developing brain. The condition affects muscle tone,
posture, gait, and the ability to execute fluent motor move-
ment [17]. Several studies have investigated the persistence of
primitive reflexes in persons with cerebral palsy [1822]. In
an early influential study, Capute [18••] described the devel-
opment of a standardized measure (primitive reflex profile)
and showed its utility for rating the strength of seven primitive
reflexes (i.e., asymmetrical tonic neck, symmetrical neck, ton-
ic labyrinthine, positive support, derotational righting, and
Moro and Galant reflexes). In a subsequent study, Capute
et al. [19] assessed 53 children with cerebral palsy using the
primitive reflex profile. They found that the resulting profiles
had discriminant validity with respect to childrens ambulation
ability. These two studies by Capute and colleagues [18,19]
point to the value of adopting a standardized assessment proto-
col as a means of quantifying the persistence and presentation
of primitive reflexes in children with cerebral palsy. The results
also indicated an inverse relation between the strength and the
number of primitive reflexes retained and a childs ambulation
ability. This relation suggests that the extent to which primitive
reflexes persist may indicate the severity of the personsneuro-
logical impairment and extent of functional limitations.
In another exemplary study, Dos Santos and Nogueira
[20] assessed 124 children (3 to 17 years of age) with spastic
cerebral palsy for the persistence of four oral reflexes (i.e.,
rooting, suckle/swallow, biting, and gagging). They found
that retention of the biting reflex was associated with more
extensive motor impairment (i.e., spastic quadriplegia),
whereas this reflex was absent in persons with less extensive
motor impairment (i.e., hemiplegia). Retention of the biting
reflex was also associated with increased risk of oral diseases,
possibly because the biting reflex makes oral hygiene more
difficult. This study is important in showing that retention of
certain types of primitive reflexes might negatively affect the
performance of certain self-care routines and compromise
health outcomes.
Smith, Gossman, and Canan [21••] examined the consis-
tency with which primitive reflexes could be elicited in 10
children with cerebral palsy. The children ranged from 3 to
6 years of age, and all were reported to have spastic quadri-
plegia. The researchers attempted to elicit five primitive re-
flexes (i.e., tonic labyrinthine, asymmetrical tonic neck, sym-
metrical tonic neck, crossed extension, and Moro reflex).
Attempts to elicit each reflex were undertaken when the chil-
dren were exhibiting different levels of alertness. In this study,
the childrens levels of alertness were measured using a be-
havioral state rating scale prior to attempting to elicit each
reflex. It could be hypothesized that ones level of alertness
could impact on the perception of eliciting stimuli. The results
showed that the probability of eliciting a reflex was inversely
related to the childs level of alertness. This finding suggests
that when children are in certain bio-behavioral states, they are
more likely to be responsive to eliciting stimuli. However, this
study might have been assessing something other than the
persistence of primitive reflexes, such as the childrensgeneral
susceptibility to stimulation under different bio-behavioral
states. In either case, the main finding of this study would
seem to highlight the importance of optimizing a childsbio-
behavioral state to ensure an accurate assessment of reflexive
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behavior. Optimizing a childs behavioral state towards higher
levels of alertness would seem especially pertinent for young
children and for individuals with more severe impairments
and/or comorbid intellectual disability, given that such indi-
viduals often show widely fluctuating levels of alertness [23].
In a large-scale prospective study, Zafeiriou et al. [22••]
assessed the primitive reflexes of 204 infants who were con-
sidered at risk for developmental disorders. Fifty-eight of
these children were eventually diagnosed with cerebral palsy,
22 with developmental retardation, and 124 were deemed de-
velopmentally normal at 2 years of age. Eight primitive re-
flexes (i.e., palmar grasp, plantar, Galant, asymmetrical tonic
neck, suprapubic extensor, crossed extensor, Rossolimo, and
heel reflex) were tested at 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, and 11 months of age
and again at 2 years of age. They found that children with the
spastic type of cerebral palsy showed slight retention of seven
of the eight reflexes, whereas children with the athetoid type
of cerebral palsy had a more marked retention of three specific
reflexes (i.e., the plantar, Galant, and asymmetric tonic neck
reflex). These data suggest that the number and strength of
retained primitive reflexes might be a useful diagnostic tool
for early diagnosis of cerebral palsy[22••, p. 151]. The spe-
cific primitive reflexes retained might also be useful in the
early and differential diagnosis of cerebral palsy, such as
distinguishing between spastic versus athetoid cerebral palsy
in infancy. In line with the results of Dos Santos and Nogueira
[20], the results of this study point to an interaction between
the type and severity of cerebral palsy and the probability with
which different primitive reflexes are likely to persist.
Overall, the collective results of these studies [1822]sug-
gest that many children with cerebral palsy are likely to pres-
ent with abnormal reflex reactions, including persistence of a
range of primitive reflexes. If the persistence of primitive re-
flexes does in fact most usually indicate some type of neuro-
logical problem [10], then it is perhaps not surprising that
many individuals with cerebral palsy will retain some primi-
tive reflexes, given that cerebral palsy is caused by lesions to
the developing brain [17]. As Capute [18••] noted, the pres-
ence of an atypical reflex profile might therefore represent one
of the earliest detectable signs of cerebral palsy. With specific
reference to the persistence of primitive reflexes, Gulati and
Sondhi [17] have suggested that the extent to which primitive
reflexes are retained in late infancy might be a useful diagnos-
tic indicator of cerebral palsy.
While the available evidence reviewed in this section does
indicate a high retention of primitive reflexes in children with
cerebral palsy, there is considerable scope for future research.
For example, future research could explore a wider range of
primitive reflexes, beyond the relatively few that have been
studied to date. Additional research could also aim to tease out
relations between the persistence of various primitive reflexes
and the type and severity of cerebral palsy using larger sample
sizes that include children with different types and degrees of
cerebral palsy. Studies involving people with cerebral palsy
and comorbid intellectual disability would seem especially
important because a significant percentage of people with ce-
rebral palsy are also likely to have intellectual disability [17].
The presence of comorbid intellectual disability might be ex-
pected to influence the ease and speed with which primitive
reflexes are successfully replaced by functional (voluntary)
motor behavior, if in fact this developmental process is influ-
enced to some degree by a learning component.
Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is character-
ized by distractibility, impulsivity, hyperactivity, and atten-
tional deficits that can interfere with learning and general ac-
ademic, social, and daily functioning [24]. Although the cause
is unknown, ADHD is classified as a neurodevelopmental
disorder and probably has an organic/biological basis [24,25].
Several studies have examined the persistence of primitive
reflexes in children with ADHD [26••,27,2830]. Taylor,
Houghton, and Chapman [26••], for example, looked for reten-
tion of four primitive reflexes in a sample of 54 (7- to 10-year-
old) boys with ADHD in comparison to a sample of 55 typically
developing boys. The Moro, tonic labyrinthine, asymmetrical
tonic neck, and symmetrical tonic neck reflexes were assessed.
The results showed that children with ADHD had significantly
higher reactions across all four tested reflexes compared to the
typically developing children. Interestingly, retention of the tonic
labyrinthine and asymmetrical tonic neck reflexes was associated
with lower mathematical achievement among the boys with
ADHD. The authors suggested that this finding could highlight
the potential significance of reflex retention in predicting vari-
ous learning and behavioural problems experienced by school-
aged children[26••,p.35].
In another relevant study, Konicarova and Bob [27]
sought to determine whether persistence of the Moro and
Galant reflexes play a role in Attention Deficit and
Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)(p. 135). They therefore
tested for the presence of the Moro and Galant reflexes in 20
children with ADHD and 20 typically developing children.
There were equal numbers of same-aged (8 to 10 years of
age) boys and girls in both groups. The results are consistent
with those reported by Taylor et al. [26••]. Specifically, chil-
dren with ADHD showed significantly greater retention of
both the Moro and Galant reflexes compared to the typically
developing children. The authors suggested that persistence of
the Moro and Galant reflexes in ADHD might be due to a
complex process that disrupts the childs ability to inhibit
and regulate neural functions. Somewhat surprisingly, no gen-
der differences were found. This is surprising because girls
with ADHD are generally less hyperactive than diagnosed
boys [28]. The lack of gender differences could possibly
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indicate that the retention of primitive reflexes might have
some type of dysregulation effect on attentional processes
and perhaps also on the overall levels of motor activity.
A second study by Konicarova and colleagues [29]con-
centrated on assessing persistence of the asymmetric tonic
neck reflex in a sample of 60 children with ADHD who,
importantly, had previously received ADHD medication.
The sample ranged from 8 to 11 years of age and consisted
of 33 boys and 27 girls. Thirty typically developing children
(8 to 11 years, 16 boys/14 girls) served as the comparison
group. All children were assessed for the presence of the
asymmetric tonic neck reflex. The severity of ADHD symp-
toms was also assessed using the childrens parent question-
naire (CPQ). Reflex reactions were rated on a 3-point scale
with higher scores representing a more pronounced reaction.
The CPQ [30] contains 93 items that ask informants to rate a
wide range of ADHD symptoms (e.g., conduct problems, anx-
iety, impulsivityhyperactivity, and learning problems). In
this study, parents served as informants for the CPQ. The
authors reported a significant correlation between a childs
reflex scores and ADHD symptoms. That is, children who
showed a more pronounced reflex response were also rated
higher on a majority of ADHD symptoms. The authors
interpreted these data as further evidence that the persistence
of primitive reflexes might indicate a disinhibition process
[27], adding that inhibition problems might stem from fron-
tal lobe damages[29, p. 768]. Establishing the validity of this
claim will require additional research.
A third study by the Konicarova group [31] continued the
theme of comparing the persistence of primitive reflexes in
children with and without ADHD. This third study targeted
the symmetric tonic neck reflex and the asymmetric tonic neck
reflex. The study was unique in focusing only on girls who
had not received any ADHD medication. The samples includ-
ed 35, 8- to 11-year-old girls with ADHD and 30 similarly
aged girls without ADHD. As in the previous study [29], the
girlsreflex reactions were rated on Likert-type scales, and
parents rated the childs ADHD symptoms using the CPQ
[30]. The results were consistent with the teams previous
findings [27,29]. That is, children with ADHD showed
greater retention of primitive reflexes compared to typically
developing children. There was also a significant relation be-
tween the magnitude of the childs reflex reaction and parents
ratings of ADHD symptoms.
Overall, these studies suggest that school-aged children
with ADHD appear to be more likely to show persistence of
the Moro, tonic labyrinthine, asymmetrical tonic neck, and
symmetrical tonic neck reflex when compared to same-aged
peers without ADHD. This finding does not appear to be a by-
product or side effect of ADHD medication but does seem to
relate to the severity of ADHD symptoms. The greater persis-
tence of primitive reflexes among children with ADHD has
been suggested to stem from various possible factors, such as
failure to attain important developmental milestones [27],
delayed cortical maturation [32], and problems with higher
levels of coordination of the central nervous system [29,33].
There are significant limitations in the ADHD/primitive
reflex literature. First, three of the four studies were generated
by the same research team, indicating the need for indepen-
dent replications. Second, a relatively narrow age range (8 to
11 years of age) has been included in these studies. It is there-
fore unclear if the primitive reflexes shown by the children in
these studies would persist into adolescence and adulthood.
Third, it is unclear if the primitive reflexes shown by school-
aged children have been retained since infancy or have
reappeared at some point after having disappeared in infancy.
The reappearance of primitive reflexes has been reported in
the elderly [34] and in persons with age-associated neurolog-
ical conditions, such as Alzheimers disease [35] and demen-
tia [36]. Another gap in the ADHD/primitive reflex literature
is the lack of studies into the effects of retained primitive
reflexes on learning and more general areas of adaptive func-
tioning. An important limitation is that the studies to date have
attempted to elicit a relatively small number of reflexes.
Longitudinal studies by additional research teams in which a
wider range of primitive reflexes are assessed at regular inter-
vals (from infancy to adulthood) and that measure a wider
range of learning and behavioral correlates would be re-
quired to address these gaps and limitations. Comorbidity
would be another important variable to consider in future re-
search. This would be important given that ADHD is highly
concurrent with a range of other conditions, such as develop-
mental coordination disorder, learning difficulties, and
speechlanguage delay. It would be useful to determine if
there are differences in the persistence of different types of
primitive reflexes among persons with ADHD and varying
comorbidities. As yet, these types of relations have not been
widely examined in the literature.
Autism Spectrum Disorder
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental condi-
tion characterized by significant social skills and communica-
tion impairments, repetitive behavior, and a restricted range of
interests [25]. ASD is considered to have a neurobiological
basis related to both genetic and environmental factors
impacting on the developing brain [37]. Despite the increasing
numbers of children being identified with ASD and an explo-
sion of research into its nature, assessment, and treatment [37,
38], there is surprisingly little research into the persistence of
primitive reflexes in individuals with this diagnosis, although
this phenomenon has been widely recognized by autism re-
searchers [3942].
In an important early study, Minderaa and colleagues [43••]
reported on the persistence of primitive reflexes in samples of
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children and young adults with and without ASD. The ASD
sample (n= 42) consisted of 31 males and 11 females ranging
from8to28yearsold(meanage19.5 years). The control group
also had 42 people (30 males and 12 females) of comparable age
(range = 7 to 29 years old, mean = 19.6 years). Eight reflexes
were tested (i.e., snout, sucking, tactile rooting, visual rooting,
grasp, palmomental, glabellar, and nuchocephalic). Significant
differences were found with respect to the persistence of the
snout and visual rooting reflexes. Specifically, these two reflexes
were observed in 81% (male) and 78.6% (female) of the individ-
uals with ASD but only in 14.3% and 0% of the controls, respec-
tively. There were no significant differences on any of the other
reflexes. This probably reflects a floor effect as these reflexes
were reported for very few participants overall. In the ASD
group, age, gender, and use of medication were not significantly
related to the presence or absence of these primitive reflexes. In
an insightful discussion point, the authors speculated that the
high prevalence with which these two oralreflexes persisted
might have some significance for understanding the speech and
language deficits associated with ASD [43••,p.414].Inlinewith
this suggestion, it could be useful to test for persistent primitive
reflexes as part of a more general speech language assessment.
An interesting comparison by de Bildt et al. [44] examined
the persistence of the visual rooting reflex in 155 individuals
with ASD plus intellectual disability versus 65 individuals
with intellectual disability only. Both samples were predomi-
nantly male (72.9% and 64.6%, respectively) and included a
fairly wide age range (3 to 20 years with a mean of 11 years).
In line with Minderaa et al. [43••], a significant percentage of
the ASD participants showed persistence of the visual rooting
reflex (43.9%). Indeed, the ASD plus intellectual disability
group was significantly more likely to have the visual rooting
reflex (43.9%) than the intellectual disability only group
(24.6%). However, for both groups, the reflex was more often
present in those with severe/profound versus mild/moderate
intellectual disability. Comorbid intellectual disability would
thus appear to be of relevance to the persistence of the visual
rooting reflex in people with ASD.
In a more recent study, Accardo and Barrow [45] assessed
toe walking and the tonic labyrinthine reflex in a sample of 61
children newly diagnosed with ASD. The children ranged in
age from 19 to 36 months of age (median = 31 months), and
most (88%) were boys. The tonic labyrinthine reflex was rated
as abnormal in 23 of the 61 children (37.7%). Of significance
is that children with an abnormal tonic labyrinthine reflex
were twice as likely to be rated as having moderate to high
levels of toe walking. The researchers suggested that persis-
tence of the tonic labyrinthine reflex might hinder the devel-
opment of normal/fluent ambulation and ...contributeto
persistent toe walking[45,p.608].
In another more recent study, Chinelloa, Valentina Di
Gangib, and Eloisa Valenzab [15] studied 34 infants (15
boys/19 girls) ranging from 12 to 17 months of age. Infants
were tested for the presence of the grasping, rooting, and
sucking reflexes. They found an inverse relation between in-
fantsmotor skill development (e.g., fine motor skills and
gesturing) and persistence of primitive reflexes. They also
found a relation between parental autism traits and infants
reflex reactions. Specifically, infants who had parents with
higher levels of [subclinical] autistic traits showed more per-
sistent primitive reflexes. However, it is important to note that
this study included infants who did not have any diagnoses.
Therefore, these results might not be applicable to children
later diagnosed with ASD. Caution should also be taken be-
cause, with an upper age limit of 17 months, the researchers
might have identified delays with respect to disappearance of
primitive reflexes rather than longer-term persistence of prim-
itive reflexes. Still, the relation to parental traits suggests that
the persistence or delayed disappearance of primitive reflexes
might serve as an early indicator of some possible familial link
to the autism spectrum.
The overall results of these studies suggest that the snout,
visual rooting, and tonic labyrinthine reflexes might persist in
some children diagnosed with ASD. The presence of such
reflexes could possibly therefore represent an early sign of
ASD. An intriguing finding was the relation between the se-
verity of comorbid intellectual disability and the likelihood of
retaining the visual rooting reflex [44]. Future research
should examine if any similar such relations might exist be-
tween the persistence of primitive reflexes and the severity of
ASD symptoms.
Other Developmental Disorders
There appear to be relatively few studies into the persistence
of primitive reflexes among individuals with other types of
developmental disorders. Sand, Mellgren, and Hestnes [46]
reported higher rates of the palmomental (47% of sample) and
snout (14% of sample) reflex in a sample of 30 adults with
Down syndrome, compared to 45 control participants (7 and
0% of the sample, respectively). Bilbilaj, Gjipali, and Shkurti
[47] reported high retention rates (ranging from 57% to 100%)
for eight different reflexes (asymmetric tonic neck, tonic lat-
eral, symmetrical tonic neck, Galant, Moro, rooting, sucking,
and Palmar) in students with various learning disorders.
However, this study should be interpreted with caution be-
cause the sample was relatively small (n= 14) and included
students with a wide range of conditions (i.e., ASD, ADHD,
dyslexia, and oral disorder). Another study examined primi-
tive reflexes in 67 high-risk infants due to being premature or
needing intensive care [48]. Abnormal reactions to elicitation
of the Moro, Babinski, and sucking reflexes were common,
highlighting the clinical relevance of reflex reactions in iden-
tifying infants at risk for developmental delay/disorder.
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Overall, there is a need for additional research into
the persistence of primitive reflexes among individuals
with, or at risk for, developmental delay/disorder. A
good starting point would be to include participants
representing a range of syndrome conditions and risk
factors. For example, it could be informative to compare
the range and extent to which primitive reflexes are
retained in individuals from different syndrome groups
(e.g., Angelman, fetal alcohol, fragile X, 22q11.2 dele-
tion, and Williams syndrome). Such studies might lead
to the discovery of reflex phenotypes, which could be
useful for early and differential diagnosis.
The results of the studies reviewed in this paper suggest
that primitive reflexes are likely to persist in some in-
dividuals with cerebral palsy, ADHD, ASD, and proba-
bly also in people with a number of other developmen-
tal disorders. Absent, persistent, or atypical reflex reac-
tions might provide a useful indicator of risk for devel-
opmental delay, developmental disorder, learning prob-
lems, and likely functional limitations. Early, regular,
and comprehensive assessments of childrensreflexre-
actions, including assessment of primitive reflexes,
might provide useful diagnostic information and there-
fore should be encouraged.
An important intervention objective would be to minimize
any negative impact on development, learning, and adaptive be-
havior functioning that might arise should primitive reflexes per-
sist past infancy or reappear at some later stage of development.
At least three possible intervention approaches could be
envisioned: (a) preventing elicitation, (b) teaching individuals
to inhibit their own reflex reactions, and/or (c) shaping existing
reflex reactions into the service of a functional (voluntary) re-
sponse. While each of these options has been mooted [2,14,49],
well-controlled intervention studies are lacking and could thus be
seen as a priority area for future research.
Acknowledgement Appreciation is extended toPeterB. Marschik for his
helpful comments on previous drafts of this paper.
The authors have complied with the relevant ethical standards of their
respective universities.
Conflict of Interest The authors declare no competing interests.
Human and Animal Rights and Informed Consent This article does not
contain any studies with human or animal subjects performed by
any of the authors.
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Full-text available
Theories of learning and engagement in persons with profound intellectual and multiple disability (PIMD) are essential as a basis for empirical investigations into the effectiveness or otherwise of educational and other interventions. In this paper, a selected descriptive analysis of observational data on the social and communicative experiences of a sample of eight school students aged between 5 and 13 with profound intellectual and multiple disability is reported. The observed frequency of various socio-communicative phenomena as well as potential relationships amongst social groupings and communication indicators in two types of school settings are outlined. These results inform a concluding discussion of theoretical perspectives on the nature of inputs to, and responses indicative of learning in this population of individuals with high and complex support needs.
Full-text available
Humans and animals have reflexes to help protect them from danger. Reflexes are unconscious responses, which means they are automatic and do not require the brain to create the action. There are many different types of reflexes, but the most basic is called a simple reflex. A simple reflex contains only one space where information in the spinal cord travels between two nerve cells, called neurons. The space between two neurons is called a synapse. Thus, a simple reflex is called monosynaptic, where “mono” means “one.” There are four parts to a monosynaptic simple reflex. The first is a sensor, which senses what is happening to the body, the second is a sensory neuron to carry that information to the spinal cord, and the third is a motor neuron to transmit information away from the spinal cord to the fourth part, which is the muscle that creates an action. Doctors will test reflexes by tapping the tendon just below the knee, and this causes the leg to kick out. This knee-jerk reflex is an example of a simple monosynaptic reflex.
Objective: A meta-analysis was carried out to determine whether there are sex differences among children and adolescents with ADHD on the primary symptoms of ADHD and on executive and attentional functioning. Method: Studies published from 1997 to 2017 comparing boys and girls with a valid ADHD diagnosis were retained. Results: The meta-analysis found boys with ADHD to be more hyperactive than girls with ADHD and boys to have more difficulties in terms of motor response inhibition and cognitive flexibility. Results also confirm that youths with ADHD have more executive deficits than non-ADHD peers have, but there is no sex difference in this regard. Conclusion: Results show that there are sex differences in the behavioral expression of the difficulties related to ADHD. This highlights the importance of pursuing research to refine the profile of girls with ADHD and to develop diagnostic criteria adapted to each sex.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by deficits in social communication and the presence of restricted interests and repetitive behaviors. There have been recent concerns about increased prevalence, and this article seeks to elaborate on factors that may influence prevalence rates, including recent changes to the diagnostic criteria. The authors review evidence that ASD is a neurobiological disorder influenced by both genetic and environmental factors affecting the developing brain, and enumerate factors that correlate with ASD risk. Finally, the article describes how clinical evaluation begins with developmental screening, followed by referral for a definitive diagnosis, and provides guidance on screening for comorbid conditions.
Blinking is one of the motor acts performed more frequently by healthy human subjects. It involves the reciprocal action of at least two muscles: the orbicularis oculi shows a brief phasic activation while the levator palpebrae shows transient inhibition. In clinical practice, noninvasive recording of the orbicularis oculi activity is sufficient to obtain useful information for electrodiagnostic testing. Blinking can be spontaneous, voluntary, or reflex. Although the analysis of spontaneous blinks can already furnish interesting data, most studies are based on reflex blinking. This article is a review of some of the alterations that can be observed in blinking, focusing in four patterns of abnormality that can be distinguished in the blink reflex: (1) afferent versus efferent, which allows characterization of trigeminal or facial lesions; (2) peripheral versus central, which distinguishes alterations in nerve conduction from those involving synaptic delay; (3) upper versus lower brainstem lesions, which indicates the lesions involving specific circuits for trigeminal and somatosensory blink reflexes; and (4) asymmetric abnormal excitability pattern, which shows a unilateral alteration in the descending control of excitability in brainstem circuits. The blink reflex excitability recovery curve to paired stimuli may provide information about other modulatory inputs to trigemino-facial circuits, such as those proposed for the connection between basal ganglia and trigeminal neurons. Finally, prepulse inhibition of blink reflex reflects the motor surrogate of subcortical gating on sensory volleys, which is still another window by which electrodiagnosis can document motor control mechanisms and their abnormalities in neurologic diseases.
This article discusses problems such as learning difficulties and behavioural problems that children may experience when they have retained primitive reflexes, which are typically only present in the first few months of life. The authors outline different types of primitive reflex present in infants and how each may affect a child when retained beyond the time when they are normally inhibited. Where relevant health professionals with expertise in this area are not available, children’s nurses may need to assess and manage children with retained reflexes. This article explains how a nurse can assess a child for each primitive reflex and describes exercises that can be taught to a child and his or her parents to carry out at home to reintegrate the reflex.
Within the context of early infant-caregiver interaction, we review a series of pivotal transitions that occur within the first 6 months of typical infancy, with emphasis on behavior and brain mechanisms involved in preferential orientation towards, and interaction with, other people. Our goal in reviewing these transitions is to better understand how they may lay a necessary and/or sufficient groundwork for subsequent phases of development, and also to understand how the breakdown thereof, when development is atypical and those transitions become derailed, may instead yield disability. We review these developmental processes in light of recent studies documenting disruptions to early-emerging brain and behavior mechanisms in infants later diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, shedding light on the brain-behavior pathogenesis of autism.
Cerebral palsy (CP) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by abnormalities of muscle tone, movement and motor skills, and is attributed to injury to the developing brain. The clinical features of this entity evolve over time and the specific CP syndrome may be recognizable only after 3–5 y of age; although suggestive signs and symptoms may be present at an earlier age. The management involves neurological rehabilitation (addressing muscle tonal abnormalities, and devising physical and occupational therapies) and diagnosis and management of co-morbidities (including epilepsy, impairment of cognition, vision, hearing, and disturbances of growth and gastrointestinal function). The management, therefore, is multidisciplinary involving the treating physician working with a team of rehabilitation-, orthopedic-, psychologic-, and social care- providers.
The paper aims to show that the children with learning diabilities have a high level of unconstrained primitive reflexes and that their undeserved suffering also comes from the increased presence of instinctive reflexive movements. This qualitative study is conducted with 20% of the children with learning disabilities 6-10 years old,in the city of Vlora,Albania. Also their cognitive development is held “as hostage” by stumbling power of the reflexive movements for the creation of new nerve pathways and schemes. The study is represented by a rich references with contemporary information on the role of primitive neurological reflexes in utero, in the first years of life and the non-integration consequences within their biological time. The study primarily measured the primitive retained reflexes in children in the study. As an instrument for measuring primitive reflexes, the study used "home test" developed by Sally Goddard Blythe. Measurements were made in just eight primitive reflexes based on the work of Petter and Sally Goddard Blythe; Moro, Rooting, Sucking, ATNR, TLR, Handheld, Galant, and STNR. Data were collected from the measurements on the type and percentage of the retained primitive reflexes. It was proven that children with learning disorders have a high level of retained primitive reflexes compared to other children. The findings of this study lead to the need for scientific research to inhibit the primitive reflexes at a young age, but also when they are present beyond their biological age.
Background: The aim of this paper is to present the occurrence of primitive reflexes in children with learning difficulties, and, in particular, to establish whether these are the vestigial forms of primitive reflexes occurring in the case of children at school age suffering from learning difficulties. Material/Methods: The research group included 27 school children, including 11 male attendees and 16 female children (the average age: between 7.0 and 18.2 years) from the Complex of Educational and Care Facilities in Cracow suffering from learning difficulties and with different intelligence quotient levels. In the investigation, applied was the diagnosing program developed by S. Goddard and intended to be used with children above the age of 7 years; this being composed of large muscle coordination tests and tests of balance, ones investigating the reflexes, and also of the Tansley Test and the Bender-Gestalt Test. Results: It was found that the vestigial primitive reflexes occur in the case of school-age children suffering from academic difficulties. Those reflexes do not decrease simultaneously with the passage of time, but rather become more intensified. In children with low IQ, the vestigial form of preserved primitive reflexes occurs more frequently, and are more intensified. The number of primitive reflexes is not on the decrease simultaneously with the passage of time in the two studied groups. In the case of children whose intelligence quotient is at a lower level, the vestigial form of primitive reflexes occurs more frequently and is more intensified. Conclusions: In school-age children with learning difficulties, primitive reflexes occur in their vestigial form. Those reflexes do not decrease simultaneously with the passage of time, and it rather seems that they have become more intensified.