Primitive & Postural Reflexes
At birth a baby has no control over voluntary movement.
The baby responds to environmental stimuli through the
primitive reflexes which are automatic stereotyped responses.
These primitive reflexes provide the training ground for many
aspects of later functioning.
As the infant begins to grow and mature during the first
six months of life, so the Central Nervous System also begins
to mature. Higher, more sophisticated regions of the brain
begin to override the primitive reflexes. As this occurs
early survival patterns are inhibited or controlled to allow
more mature patterns of response (postural reflexes) to
develop in their place.
The postural reflexes are regulated by higher centers in
the brain involved in the production of voluntary movement.
It is only as postural reflexes replace primitive reflexes
that the infant begins to gain control of the body and body
movements. A child who has cerebral palsy never makes the
transition from primitive to postural reflexes, and so
movements remain random and uncontrolled. To this extent at
birth we are all born mildly cerebral palsied, but in the
early months of life we rapidly gain control of the primitive
reflexes, and thus lay the foundations for later voluntary
Some children fail to gain this control fully in the first
six months of life and continue to grow up in a reflexive
"no man's land", where some of the primitive reflexes remain
present and the postural reflexes do not develop fully. These
children do not have cerebral palsy, but they do have enormous
difficulty with voluntary movement patterns as the body
remains under the influence of involuntary response.
Retained primitive reflexes will affect a child's sensory
perceptions, causing him to be hypersensitive in some areas
and hyposensitive in others.
If both sensory input and motor response are impaired,
conceptualization of certain movements can be affected.
This can affect not just arms and legs, but eye functioning,
visual perception, balance and the processing of auditory
It is hardly surprising therefore, that many of these
children experience difficulties at school, or that some
adults cannot cope well with stress.
Rickard Rehabilitation Services, Inc.