Tippy Toes and Learning Challenges

Starbuticks is one of my favorite writing spots because 1) it’s acceptable to sit there alone with your computer, and 2) there are no interruptions.  And okay, 3) I like the drinks!

So I was sitting at Starbucks the other day when two different families came in with their toddler boys who were almost exactly the same height and age (tiny, adorable, and about 2 years old).  Both were wearing cute little tennis shoes.

What caught my attention was that one of the little boys was walking completely on his toes.  He wasn’t playing.  He was just holding his dad’s hand, walking along on tip-toe. The other little boy was walking by his mom with a typical heel-to-toe gait.

Which of these little guys is more likely to have learning problems?

ANSWER:  The toddler on tip-toe

Toe walking is not necessarily something to be alarmed about, and in many cases, it goes away all on it’s own, but according to Expert Answers on BabyCenter.com:

“Toe walking with no accompanying physical problems is called idiopathic toe walking, and is frequently seen in children with language or other developmental disorders, though we don't know just why.”

Actually, we do have an idea why…

Toe walking is a symptom of a retained primitive reflex – the Tonic Labyrinthine Reflex (TLR).  This reflex becomes active at birth and integrates, or quits firing because it is no longer needed at 4 - 6 months of age.  It plays a vital role in developing correct alignment of the head with the rest of the body.  This is necessary for balance, eye tracking, auditory processing, muscle tone and organized movements - all of which are essential to the development of our ability to focus and pay attention and learn.

Some possible long-term effects of an unintegrated TLR are:

  • Difficulty following verbal directions
  • Poor reading comprehension; letter reversals
  • Trouble copying from board
  • Disorganized, forgetful
  • Speech and language problems
  • Balance and coordination difficulties
  • Hunched posture
  • Toe walking

We see many children and teens at Stowell Learning Center who have retained primitive reflexes contributing to their challenges with attention and learning.  By using specific movement exercises and/or light therapy techniques, these reflexes can be integrated, allowing students to be calmer, less anxious, more attentive, and more mentally available for learning.

Integrating the reflexes won’t teach a struggling learner to read or do math, but with the removal of the neurological interference caused by retained reflexes, the remediation of academic skills goes more quickly and easily and sticks!

For more resources, go to StowellCenter.com/community to find information about correcting learning challenges.

Do you have SPECIFIC QUESTIONS you'd like answered?  Click Here

Retained Reflexes FAQ - 

What are primitive reflexes?

Primitive reflexes are completely involuntary motor responses that start in the brain stem.  They are present at birth and in very early childhood development.  Their purpose is to help the baby survive. Pediatricians routinely test for the basic reflexes at birth or soon afterward. 

What is an example of primitive reflexes?

The Moro Reflex acts as the baby’s primitive fight or flight reaction.  It is a survival mechanism that helps initiate breathing at birth and which occurs as a reaction to potential danger, such as a sudden change of head position, a loud sound, a frightening visual stimulus, or an unpleasant touch.

The baby’s Moro reaction is characterized by first taking a deep breath and stretching the arms and legs out away from the body, head back; then pulling the arms and legs into the middle of the body and starting to cry.

The Moro is fully present at 30 weeks in utero.  The absence of the Moro in newborns is abnormal as is the continued presence after 4 months of age.  The Moro reflex is replaced by the adult startle reflex.

What are the 9 basic reflexes?
  • Here's a quick list of some of the primitive reflexes: 
  • Sucking
  • Plantar reflex
  • Rooting
  • Galant
  • Moro (startle)
  • Palmar grasp
  • Stepping
  • Asymmetrical tonic neck reflex (ATNR)
  • Tonic labyrinthine reflex (TLR)
  • Symmetric tonic neck reflex (STNR)
What happens if primitive reflexes don't go away?

If Primitive Reflexes don’t integrate (in other words, they are retained) past about age 1, they can interfere with many parts of life including social, academic, and motor learning.

Do people with ADHD have retained reflexes?

Recent research seems to indicate that there is a strong connection between retained primitive reflexes and symptoms of ADHD such as fidgeting as well as great difficulty concentrating. Remember, these are unconscious muscle movements that happen in response to specific stimuli. It’s just like when you touch a hot stove, your body jerks your hand away automatically.

What happens if the ATNR is not integrated?

Both ATNR & STNR are reflexes that are most essential for a child's learning and development. If these two reflexes are not integrated, it can lead to difficulties concentrating, difficulties with auditory processing, as well as coordination issues.  What may look like clumsiness is quite possibly a retained reflex.

Are primitive reflexes bad?

It depends on what you mean by “bad.”  What we know is that retained reflexes often interfere with many other aspects in life including balance, attention, and academics. Sometimes retained primitive reflexes are a result of a problem at birth or during those first few months of life. You can observe them by noticing something that seems minor, like being slow to crawl. On a more severe level, something like a head injury or fall, could cause those reflexes to re-emerge or not to integrate. To sum up, primitive reflexes are signs of a healthy newborn.  After one to three years old, they should be integrated.  If they’re not, find a program that will integrate them so that children can attain their full potential. 

Can adults have retained primitive reflexes?

Every day we see adults and teens who experience symptoms from retained primitive reflexes. They often figure out compensation strategies to try and get around the roadblocks these retained primitive reflexes cause. The trade-off is that accommodations and compensations usually require more effort and energy which results in frustration, exhaustion, and low self-esteem.

At what age do reflexes disappear?

Many of the reflexes disappear in infants by approximately 6 weeks of age. Some take a little longer to integrate naturally, but typically primitive reflexes have integrated or been replaced by more mature reflexes by 12 months - 3 years of age. 

What does integration mean with primitive reflexes?

Reflex integration is a process to help a neurological arc that has both a specific stimulus and a predictable response or responses work more efficiently. Primitive reflexes lay the foundation for the nervous system and continue to work in concert with it throughout our lives

How long does it take to integrate primitive reflexes?

The kicker here is that these primitive reflexes do not stay forever; they should integrate - go away - typically around 12 months of age, some closer to two or three years old. When a primitive reflex integrates, it makes way for new, more mature movement patterns and higher-level learning to develop

There are a number of different reasons why primitive reflexes fail to integrate. 

One of the biggest factors that cause reflexes to be retained is a traumatic birthing process. This can include prolonged or premature birth, breach position, births involving forceps or suction, and Cesarean section births.

Does primitive reflex integration work?

Yes!  There are programs that we have developed specifically to integrate these reflexes so that they no longer interfere. The aim is not to get the movement “right.” We are not interested in training in a “splinter” skill that a student can execute but not apply. We are looking to build mental flexibility that is permanent and automatic.  The technical term is that by using “innate neurodevelopmental movements” we can create measurable, beneficial outcomes. 

Can adults integrate primitive reflexes?

Absolutely.  Adults and teens can experience the very same symptoms as children do when they have retained reflexes. And the same movement programs can integrate those reflexes no matter how old the individual is.

How do you know if a reflex is integrated?

A trained professional can administer an evaluation that will help determine which retained reflexes are present and how to get them integrated.

For more on primitive reflexes, CLICK HERE

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