RETAINED NEONATAL REFLEXES®
Hands-on therapy developed to facilitate integration of retained primitive reflexes for improved brain-body connection.
In a nutshell:
Retained Neonatal Reflexes 🤯
Integrated Neonatal Reflexes 😎
In the womb and in early life, when the decision making process has not fully developed, your brainstem has several reflexes called ‘primitive’ reflexes. After birth these reflexes can be referred to as ‘neonatal’ reflexes. They help you grow properly and safely. For example, they help you in the birthing process, with breast feeding and when grasping on to things.
As you mature these reflexes are no longer needed so they take a ‘back seat’ and the higher brain takes control. This is a normal and essential stage of your development which allows for you to perform the more complex tasks required in classroom learning, movement control and social interactions.
However, anything that interferes with normal neurodevelopment, such as birth trauma and CNS inflammation, may allow these reflexes to remain dominant. THIS IS A RETAINED NEONATAL REFLEX. This can result in your nervous system having an automatic and inappropriate response to normal day to day environmental stimuli. This is how retained neonatal reflexes can adversely affect your development, learning and behaviour.
Using specific techniques founded by the late Chiropractic Doctor Keith Keen (Sydney, Australia) we can assist the integration of these reflexes that could be holding bright brains back.
Since 1996 RNRs have been taught in many countries around the world including Australia, New Zealand, Canada, USA, Austria, Italy, Belgium, UK, Korea and France. Practitioners who have taken our courses can be located on the map below. We do our best to keep this database up to date, however if you find any of our practitioners have moved location, please advise us. We may be able to locate them a different way.
So, have you retained Neonatal Reflexes?
Information on this website is for educational purposes only. It should not be used for diagnosis. Please consult a primary healthcare professional for full evaluation of your history, signs and symptoms.
LOCATE A PRACTITIONER
KNOW THE REFLEXES
Primitive reflexes are each triggered, or elicited, by a certain stimulus. That stimulus, whether it be a turning of the head, an imposing loud noise, or a sensation on the body, forces the body to reflexly react in a predictable way.
Primitive reflexes are ‘covered up’ or inhibited by the upper cortical brain as it develops. The cortical brain doesn’t just grow as we grow, it develops as we develop. Our movement and enriching experiences create more connections in our brains which strengthens and grows our upper higher brain.
Primitive reflexes can be most evident when the cortex, or higher brain, is lacking integrity or development such as in nervous systems that are:
– Underdeveloped, such as in infancy and when still growing in early childhood. It is important to have these primitive reflexes present in early life and are usually checked for by neonatal nurses and paediatricians. However it’s not usual practice to be assessed to see if these reflexes have disappeared after their ‘usual phase of integration’.
– Degenerating such as in the elderly where the upper, more evolved brain may be suffering from neurodegeneration.
– Damaged such as in the case of head knocks, falls or injuries or in cases where the cerebrospinal fluid which nourishes the brain is not moving effectively for optimal brain development.
Primitive reflexes are predictable.
Stimulus to the body > via the Brainstem > Reflex Reaction
We aim to have the body integrate these reflexes so that the nervous system acts like this:
Stimulus to the body > via the Cortical Brain > Voluntary Response
There is complexity in the human nervous system such that these reflexes rely on the integration of other reflexes to integrate. There can be many reflexes retained or one or two reflexes retained requiring RNR techniques to assist the body to initiate the phase of integration. It is also possible that improving nervous system function and enhancing development in other ways, can allow the body to begin integrating neonatal reflexes too.
Take a further look into each reflex to better understand its purpose.
Your brain is a collective of around 100 billion nerves assembled in a brilliantly organised design. These nerves are compartmentalised into several sections or segments; the largest of which is formed by a fissure that divides the upper brain into two distinct halves. These two half brains are called the cerebral hemispheres, one on the left and one on the right, and they communicate via a thick band of connecting nerves between them.
The left and right hemispheres have very different responsibilities. Generally, one hemisphere will give signals to, and receive information from, the opposite side of the body. For example, when your right arm moves, the movement is controlled by your left hemisphere, and when your right arm is being touched, it is the left side of your brain that interprets the sensation.
The left brain is known for being the most logical hemisphere engaging for tasks such as language, mathematics, writing and reasoning, whereas your right brain is considered the more creative hemisphere used for music, philosophy, facial recognition as well as your imagination.
As practitioners working with the nervous system and overall function of the body, we recognise the importance of minimizing dominance in the function of one particular hemisphere and we have methods of assisting the balance of function.
Hemispheric dysfunction may lead to any of the following symptoms:
- Handedness – a clear preference for one hand over the other
- Sidedness – one ear, eye or side of the body dominates the other
- One sided weakness resulting in poor coordination (dyspraxia)
- Poor coordination between both sides of the body affecting sport, dance, play, etc.
- Difficulty processing school tasks such as adding numbers
- Reluctance to hum tunes
- Lack of creative ability
Fear Paralysis Reflex (FPR)
Inside each of us we have an impressive communication network that controls our body without us needing to think about it. There are more nerves in this network than there are stars in our universe. It is totally automatic and works all the time whether we are sleeping or awake. This special part of our wiring is called the Autonomic Nervous System or ANS for short.
There are two main parts of the ANS; one for emergencies that need us to ‘fight’ or ‘take flight’, the other for when we ‘rest’ and ‘digest’ which alows us to build up and save energy for the next emergency. The two parts need to be in balance and when the FPR is retained the balance shifts excessively towards ‘rest and digest’.
When still in the womb, the Fear Paralysis Reflex temporarily causes a cessation of the foetus’s movement in the event of the mother feeling under threat. After birth, if this reflex is retained, you could feel ‘butterflies in your belly’ if placed in an uncomfortable situation. Excessive worry or anxiety are terms used to describe this feeling and the ensuing behaviour. A retained FPR can be responsible for the ‘deer in headlights’ effect when stunned, and can make us move slower and more cautiously when we are uncertain of our surroundings.
You may hear this also referred to as “freeze and appease” reflex because you may oblige and say ‘yes’ to something out of fear of the consequences of saying ‘no’.
Retained Fear Paralysis Reflex may lead to any of the following symptoms:
- Anxiety or hyper vigilance seemingly unrelated to reality
- Low tolerance to stress
- Temper tantrums
- Hypersensitivity to touch, sound or changes in visual field
- Dislike of change or surprise
- Poor adaptability
- Breath holding
- Fear of social embarrassment
- Insecurity / lack of trust in oneself
- Overly clingy or may be unable to accept or demonstrate affection easily
- Compulsive traits / Obsessive
- Negativity or defeatist attitude
- Won’t try new activities, especially where comparison or excellence is expected
- Immediate motor paralysis under stress – can’t think and move at the same time
A newborn baby’s higher centres have not yet developed enough to make a rational decision about whether a circumstance is threatening or not. They are protected by an involuntary ‘one reflex for all occasions’, that is, one set of physical and hormonal events which cover for most eventualities.
The reflex is set off by excessive information in any of the baby’s senses – for example, a loud noise, bright light, sudden rough touch, or sudden stimulation of the balance mechanism such as dropping or tilting. It is the earliest form of the adrenal ‘fight’ or ‘take flight’ response. The adrenal glands are capable of giving your body the extreme energy rush you experience when you get a sudden surprise. This response prepares the body for fighting or running and if not integrated can lead to hyperactivity. As the adrenal glands are a large part of our immune system, constantly being ‘turned on’ can lead to adrenal fatigue and therefore asthma, allergies, and chronic illness.
Retained Moro Reflex may lead to:
- Hypersensitivity to sudden noise, light or movement
- Difficulty with new or stimulating experiences Impulsive behaviour
- Distractibility – having to pay attention to everything
- Anxiety, particularly anticipation anxiety
- Emotional and social immaturity
- Sensitivity to foods or food additives
- Inappropriate behaviour
- Adrenal fatigue, sometimes leading to chronic illness
With a retained Moro Reflex, a child may never have fully experienced the discovery phase of development, otherwise known as the terrible twos. As the Moro integrates after treatment, the person has the opportunity to pass through this important developmental phase.
The terrible twos may not appear appropriate in later years, but it is important that this phase of development runs its course. Emotional ups and downs are common for a short period as the nervous system and hormonal system readjust, but then the benefits of correction shine through.
Babkin Response and Palmomental Reflex
There is a link between the mouth and hands in the early months of life called the Babkin response, seen as kneading movements of the hand associated with suckling. It is considered important during breastfeeding as the baby grasps and stimulates the breast to assist milk flow. We see that as much as the mouth movements provoke hand movements, hand movements can trigger motion at the mouth. The PMR demonstrates how muscles at the mouth can be activated by specific stimulation to the hand.
In some neurodegenerative conditions the lower lip muscles will contract when the palm, at the base of the thumb, is stroked with something sharp.
Essentially, the hands and mouth mimic each other when we’re very young, and it may continue if the mouth reflexes are retained. Sudden opening of the baby’s hands may trigger opening of their mouth, particularly if they’re hungry, and clenching the fists is often associated with clenching of the jaw. Wriggling the fingers can make the tongue wriggle around uncontrollably. Next time carefully watch the mouth of a 4–6 year old child as they are using scissors, whilst drawing or while learning to write.
Retained PMR may lead to:
- A child’s jaw opening and closing when using scissors
- Children biting others
- Difficulty learning to use cutlery
- Tight pencil grip
- Tension in facial muscles affecting facial expressions, which can influence stuttering
- Clenching the jaw whilst gripping a steering wheel
Juvenile Suck Thrust
A newborn baby projects its tongue forward to wrap around the nipple, then squashes the mother’s teat to the roof of its mouth, drags their tongue backward to draw down the milk before they swallow. In the adult swallow reflex, the tongue should not protrude but simply push upward and backward to push food down their throat.
If a Juvenile Suck Reflex is not adequately integrated, the tongue projects forwards before moving backward in the adult swallow. This tongue thrust continually pushes the front teeth forwards. This can cause a narrow palate (mouth arch) and protruding upper teeth, one of the common problems requiring orthodontics.
Since the tongue persists in pushing forward, braces or a dental retainer may be required for longer periods of time when a Juvenile Suck Thrust is retained.
Having this reflex checked may save the tongue from pushing out the Orthodontist’s good work.
Retained Juvenile Suck Reflex may lead to:
- Speech and articulation problems
- Difficulty swallowing and chewing
- Difficulty speaking or chewing and doing manual tasks at the same time
- Involuntary tongue or mouth movements when writing or drawing
- Overbite of the upper jaw, requiring dental intervention
Light touch of the cheek near the edge of the mouth will cause a baby to turn its head toward that side, open its mouth and extend the tongue in preparation for suckling. This reflex is named the Rooting Reflex.
If retained, there may be hypersensitivity around the lips and mouth. The tongue may remain too far forward, resulting in speech problems, dribbling, or difficulty swallowing and chewing. This may be seen with fussy eaters or thumb suckers.
In some cases the rooting reflex is retained on one side only. One cheek may be more sensitive compared to the other and stimulation to that cheek may trigger a frequent head turn to that side with the urge to put whatever stimulated their cheek into their mouth. Stimulation may be from their hands, their hair, their hat string or collar. Or when in the early months of life and sleeping in a cot, head turn to one side during sleeping on their back may lead to a misshapen head (plagiocephaly).
Retained Rooting Reflex may lead to:
- Chewing on nails, hat strings, collars, or hair
- A preference to turn the head to one side
- Asymmetry of range of movement in neck rotation left and right
- Speech problems
- Hypersensitivity around lips and mouth
- Tongue sitting too far forward in the mouth
- Difficulty speaking or chewing and doing manual tasks at the same time
- Hormonal imbalances
Newborn babies have an active Palmar or Grasp Reflex When the palm of the hand is touched, the three or four small fingers flex toward the palm to grasp. At one month of age the infant’s Palmar Reflex is so strong that many babies can support their own body weight when gripping onto an adult’s fingers. This grasp reflex must integrate to allow for the normal transition to the pincer grip, which then matures further allowing each finger to individually contact the thumb.
If retained as a child they often have poor handwriting and, more importantly, a poor ability to process their ideas and then write them down. That is, copying words may be easy but the task of spelling words is more difficult and messy. This issue may affect them into adulthood.
People with a retained Palmar reflex often require excessive focus and effort to purposefully move their fingers which leads to recruitment and/or fatigue of muscles not primarily needed for the task. Thus the person may slump during tasks like playing piano or making models. They may complain that ‘my back hurts when I type at my computer’, as typing requires controlled independent finger movements.
Palmar Reflex retention may lead to:
- Poor fine motor skills and awkward use of hands
- Inappropriate pencil grip and poor handwriting
- Poor posture when playing piano or working with the hands
- Difficulty processing ideas on to paper or computer
- Poor posture and/or back pain when working at a desk or computer
- Difficulty spelling or writing
The Plantar Reflex is similar to the Palmar Reflex in that stroking or pressing on the underside of the foot causes the foot to flex and the toes to curl, as if to grasp whatever touched the foot.
We gather a great deal of information required for balance from our feet. We rely on independent movement of our toes to keep us steady and balanced. By improving the feedback to the intrinsic muscles of the feet, the muscles supporting the ankles, knees, hips and lower back don’t have to overwork to keep us balanced.
This reflex is commonly regained from long term disuse after injury and from the use of footwear with inflexible, stiff soles particularly in the early, formative years of development.
Plantar Reflex retention may lead to:
- Difficulty learning to walk
- Poor balance
- Toes curling under when putting on shoes causing difficulty getting the foot into shoes
- Problems with sports that require balance and co-ordination while running
- Lower back pain while walking and/or standing
- Recurring ankle twisting or shin soreness
- Difficulty walking in the dark (feet alone cannot properly maintain balance – vision is required to assist and, of course, vision cannot assist balance in the dark)
Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (ATNR)
When a newborn’s head is turned to one side, the arm and leg on the side to which the head is turned straighten, while the opposite arm and leg flex to shorten. This reflex activates whilst still in the womb and should be fully present at birth. It assists the baby’s active participation in the birthing process. When a newborn displays the ATNR their hand will move in conjunction with their head. This connection between touch, sight and vision helps to establish distance perception and hand-eye co-ordination.
In the early months, the ATNR locks baby’s vision on to anything which catches his or her attention. If inappropriately retained, the person can be easily distracted by anything that attracts their gaze. If the ATNR is retained, the hand and eyes want to move together, making it difficult to look up at a blackboard, or up at a computer, while writing. With a retained ATNR, looking at the hand tends to compromise the strength of other muscle groups, which can affect one’s ability to catch a ball or participate in other sporting activities. Interestingly for some individuals with a retained ATNR, the natural motion of turning the head during walking may upset balance and normal walking.
ATNR retention may lead to:
- Hand-eye co-ordination difficulty (needed for catching and throwing balls)
- Judgment of distance may be affected
- Poor handwriting or awkward pencil grip
- Balance may be disturbed
- Difficulty copying from a blackboard
- Inability to cross the vertical midline (for example, a right-handed person may find it difficult to write on the left side of the page)
- Discrepancy between spoken and written performance
- Disturbance of the development of visual tracking, so they may miss parts of a line when reading (leading to poor comprehension)
- Bilateral integration (integrated use of the two sides of the body) may be poor. This can affect sporting abilities
- Establishment of a dominant hand, eye or ear may be difficult
- Chronic shoulder and/or neck problems
Lateral Tonic Labyrinthine Reflex (LLR)
The vestibular system is the system that provides the body with a sense of balance and assists you in working out your position in space. It enables your body to keep centred while you move.
As the labyrinthine system, located in the inner ear and part of the vestibular system, senses a shift in body position, it communicates to postural muscles to keep you steady. It also works with the eye and jaw muscles to ensure balance is maintained.
When the body moves due to being on an unsteady surface, such as when you’re in a car or on a boat, the vestibular system works tirelessly adjusting neck and body muscles to keep your eyes level with the horizon. When the Tonic Labyrinthine Reflexes are poorly integrated motion sickness is often experienced.
A young child who still has a retained LLR when starting to walk cannot acquire true standing and walking security and may experience difficulty in judging space, distance, depth and speed.
Retained Lateral Tonic Labyrinthine Reflex can be associated with:
- A ‘floppy’ baby or child
- Poor balance
- Motion sickness
- Orientation and spatial difficulties
- Visual problems
- Difficulty judging space, distance, depth and/or speed
Sagittal Tonic Labyrinthine Reflex (SLR)
There are two main benefits related to the SLR correction. It helps concentration and posture when working over a desk and it helps the body to co-ordinate movement, allowing it to move more efficiently.
Retained SLR can make concentrating difficult and working at a desk uncomfortable. The discomfort stems from holding postures where their head is hanging forward, so they often slump when sitting at a desk or table resting their head on their hands. They may sit on their legs, generally twist and turn, resulting in what appears to be inattentiveness or over activity. Because of this they may be quite slow at copying tasks.
Some people get around this by studying lying down on their stomachs, propped up on their elbows as they read. This naturally has the head maintain a more neutral position and can be an effective way to maintain focus in those who lose concentration with their head forward due to the retention of this reflex, or because of other neck alignment issues.
It can also affect the integration of movement when using the upper and lower limbs at the same time, such as in swimming or walking. When young they are often diagnosed with dyspraxia (poor gross co-ordination) and can be seen by others as being clumsy. It is common to see people improve their personal best sporting performance after this correction has been performed.
Retained Sagittal Tonic Labyrinthine Reflex can be associated with:
- Poor concentration
- Fatigue while reading, working, or studying at a desk
- Bad posture when working over a desk
- Difficulty co-ordinating movement between arms and legs
- Sports performance below capability
- Hard to kick legs and stroke arms while swimming
Sagittal Tonic Neck Reflex (STNR)
The STNR is most evident just prior to crawling as the baby rocks forward and backward when on all fours.
When the baby flexes their neck forward when they’re on all fours, their elbows bend, low back curls forward, their knees straighten and their eyes focus on the floor. The baby then straightens their arms, which reflexively tilts the neck backward and they focus their vision to the distance. At the same time their knees bend
and they crouch.
This phase of development is important for refining near-far accommodation of the eyes, and therefore its integration can assist those whose eyes fatigue when copying things down off the blackboard or when driving (glancing from the speedometer to the road).
While it is normal for children to be slightly long sighted, this correction may assist those who have a marked tendency for long sightedness.
Malfunctioning STNR symptoms may include:
- A child crawling later than normal
- Poor hand-eye co-ordination
- An ape-like walking pattern
- Tendency to slump at a desk and/or poor posture due to a decrease in muscle tone, especially of the spinal muscles
- The eyes fatigue sooner than normal when focusing on near then far objects (copying from the blackboard may be slow and tedious, thus missing a lot of information gathered in class)
- Poor organisation and planning skills
Stepping and Heel Reflexes
Our bodies engage varying postural muscles to shift our balance should our body position change. Our postural muscles are cued to fire differently if we were to stand with our weight over our toes, or instead, over our heels.
A reasonable amount of the information we take in from our environment is through vision, so where we hold our head (tipping too far forward or back) has a tremendous influence on our posture.
The structural corrections which assist the integration of these two reflexes, aid in balancing the connection between the input from our eyes and the feedback from our feet. They help to remove tension from the muscles of the lower leg to allow for increased ankle movement, and establish ideal posture integrated with our vision. Interestingly, many people retain both the Stepping and Heel reflexes.
Stepping Reflex retention may lead to:
- Toe walking – ‘running like an ostrich’
- Tight calf muscles
- Poor balance and muscle control
- Feet and ankle problems with pain and dysfunction
- Recurring hamstring injuries and mid-low back strains
- Visual problems due to an altered perception of the horizon – head tilts forward and eyes look upward.
Heel Reflex retention may lead to:
- Heavy heel walking – ‘walking like a baby elephant’
- Heel pain, Achilles tendonitis, Shin splints
- Poor core stability
- Balance problems
- Visual problems due to an altered perception of the horizon – head tilts back and eyes look down.
The Suprapubic Reflex is present at birth. The reflex is elicited when pressure is detected at the pubic bones and the body responds by tipping the pelvis forward, straightening both legs. If the skin over one pubis is firmly touched, one hip moves backward and the other moves forward. The opposite pattern is seen in the upper body, enabling the baby to initiate commando crawling before the Symmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex activates to allow them to straighten their arms and legs to crawl on all fours.
There appears to be a firm association between a retained Suprapubic Reflex correction and bladder and kidney function, tone of the pelvic floor, and the reproductive system.
It seems also to link into one of the most ancient parts of the brain, the hypothalamus, which controls body temperature, appetite and urges, and the glandular activity in the body, which regulates our unique biochemistry.
Suprapubic Reflex retention may lead to:
- Bladder problems
- Pelvic floor problems
- Sugar handling imbalances
- Imbalances in the hormonal systems
- May affect walking pattern and posture
- Difficult or recurring ankle, hip or shoulder problems
In a newborn baby, stroking the lower back on one side (about one inch out from the spine) will result in contraction of the underlying muscle. It makes the baby flex to the side of stimulation with rising of the pelvis on the same side. It appears to take an active role in the birth process, with movements of the hips helping the baby to work its way down the birth canal.
Stimulation down both sides of the spine simultaneously will activate a related reflex, which may cause urination.
If the Spinal Galant is retained it may be elicited at any time by light pressure on the lower back region, causing uncontrollable spinal movement.
The stimulation by bed sheets or pyjamas may activate the related urination reflex, causing bedwetting long after toilet training.
Spinal Galant retention may lead to:
- Inability to sit still (the person with ‘ants in the pants’ who wriggles, squirms and constantly changes body position)
- Attention and concentration problems
- Difficulty co-ordinating normal walking movement
- Bladder control
- Can contribute to the development of scoliosis (curvature) of the spine
- Clumsiness while trying to manipulate objects
- May affect fluency and mobility in physical activities or sports
AT HOME TESTS
Here is a collection of tests for you to do at home. They are designed to indicate the likelihood of retained neonatal reflexes.
If these reflexes have been retained, recruitment patterns can usually be seen when doing these tests. This can give clues as to how their neurological wiring may present in their everyday activities.
Look with eyes that see. Keep your eyes open and you’ll begin to see these signs in yourself and others and it can give you a window into potential areas of difficulty while performing a seemingly simple task. Understanding can open our eyes to see that you are not failing to perform due to lack of trying, but due to a lack of communication between brain and body.
Here are some questions to ask yourself (or your Mum if you don’t know your own birth story). Some at home tests can help to discover if you have retained the impulsive muscle pattern of the reflexes. These tests were modified from ‘Attention, Balance and Coordination: the ABC’s of learning success’ by Sally Goddard Blythe (2009) and ‘Primitive Reflex Training; Visual Dynamix’ by Lori Moybray (2010) – a great source for corrective exercises targeting the primitive reflexes.
During ALL these tests it is ok to ask the person being tested to try and hold the desired posture. You can not do these reflex tests on yourself, so pair up and have some fun exploring what you find in each other when doing these tests.
Questions to Ask
Some questions that might be asked by your RNR practitioner that will help them paint the picture of the likelihood of retention of retained neonatal reflexes are –
- During your mother’s pregnancy were there any medical problems?
- Were you delivered at full term or early/late?
- Was the birth process unusual in any way? (forceps, suction, C-section, induction, long, short)
- Was your birth weight low or were you small for term?
- Were there any unusual physical signs? (jaundice, bruising, distorted skull)
- Was there any difficulty feeding or keeping the milk down? Did you easily feed off both breasts?
- Between 6 and 18 months of age were you very active or demanding? Or particularly quiet and unresponsive?
- Did you develop a violent rocking motion when standing or sitting (when 6-18 months of age)?
- Were you a ‘head-banger’ at any stage?
- Did you start walking before 10 months or after 16 months?
- Did you bum shuffle or commando crawl or skip the cross crawling stage?
- Were you late when learning to talk (2-3 words by 2 years)?
- Did you experience any serious illness or seizures in the first 18 months of life?
- Were there any signs of eczema or asthma?
- Did you have any adverse reactions to toxins or allergens?
- Did you have difficulty learning to dress yourself?
- Did you suck your thumb past the age of 5?
- Did you wet the bed regularly past the age of 5?
- Did you suffer from travel / motion sickness?
- Did you have trouble establishing hand dominance or crossing the midline with objects?
- Did you have problems learning to read and / or write in the early years at school?
- Did you have difficulty telling the time on an analogue clock?
- Did you have difficulty riding a bicycle?
- Did you suffer from recurrent sinus or ear infections or headaches?
- Did you have difficulty catching a ball?
- Were you unable to sit still? Were you described as having ‘ants in the pants’?
- Did you make numerous mistakes when copying from the board?
- Did you occasionally miss letters or write them backwards?
- Did you have an awkward pencil grip?
- Had you ever been described as low muscle tone, or lacking attention / focus, or hyperactive?
- Do you remember if there was sudden noise would you over-react?
If you have answered yes to some or all of these questions then it is possible that further investigation from an RNR practitioner will reveal an immature central nervous system indicating the retention of some primitive reflexes.
These questions have been modified from ‘Attention, Balance and Coordination: the ABC’s of learning success’ by Sally Goddard Blythe (2009).
Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (ATNR)
A. Ask the person to get on all fours with the arms straight, fingers pointing forward and the head in neutral. With their weight over their hands, the Examiner rotates the head left or right. If their elbow bends on the opposite side of head rotation (as would in the infant) OR the weight shifts posteriorly (i.e. off the hands) then the reflex is probably present.
B. Alternatively, have the person stand with arms straight out in front of them at shoulder height. Ask them to turn their head fully to the left or fully to the right while maintaining the position of the arms out front. If the torso and arms turn in the direction of the head or if the arms drop this reflex is likely present. This signifies that they have not yet disassociated neck movement from shoulder movement.
The Mouth Reflexes
These are the Rooting, Babkin and Juvenile Suck reflexes.
Lightly stroke (with a brush or finger tip) from the outer corner of the nose downward beyond the corner of the mouth.
- Movement of the mouth or turning of the head indicates the rooting reflex.
- If either hand moves then this indicates the Babkin reflex.
- If stimulation above the central area above the top lip results in pursing the lips this indicates the juvenile suck reflex may be retained.
A. Standing with the feet together, elbows bent and away from body with palms facing upward. Gently stroke along the creases of the palm from between the thumb and index finger toward the heel of the hand. Repeat 2-3 times. If the thumb, fingers or elbows move inward then this reflex is probably present.
B. Keeping the arms straight out in front, ask the person to wriggle all ten fingers as though they were playing a piano. You want to see all ten fingers move randomly and independently. You do not want to see them just open and close their fingers in unison. Watch for excessive wrist flapping being used instead of the smaller finger curling and straightening muscles. Also watch for movement of the tongue and mouth. This reflex, if retained, can contribute to difficulty in writing and increased energy expenditure while writing or performing manual tasks.
Sagittal Tonic Labyrinthine Reflex
A. Lying face down on the ground with palms facing down ask the person to hold the head off the ground and raise the legs simultaneously keeping the legs straight (aka the superman).
B. Alternatively, place a like-coloured sticker on the person’s right hand and left knee and a different like-coloured sticker on the left hand and right knee. Ask the person to march on the spot as they tap their hand to their opposite knee as to match up the colour of the stickers. If they turn on the spot, their rhythm is off, or if they begin to tap the same-sided leg, this reflex is likely to be retained. This is a great way to detect gross motor control issues.
You could do this test to music and if the person displays more difficulty when moving to the beat of the music it may signify auditory processing issues and further assessment would be advisable.
Symmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (STNR)
With the person on all fours with the weight forward over their hands, the parent flexes the neck fully (looking down) and hold for 5 seconds, then slowly extend the neck (looking up) and hold for 5 seconds. Repeat 3 times. If the child alters their body position in any way then the reflex is probably present.
- shifting of weight backward
- arching back
- bending arms
Testing for isolated upper and lower body movements
By age 8-10 years a person should be able to isolate their leg rotation from that of their upper body. This isolation of muscle control relies on postural reflexes and appropriate tone in the body’s extensors (i.e. the muscles that keep them upright, mostly placed on the backside of their body)
A. Ask the person to walk forwards and backwards with their feet turned outwards (aka duck walk). If you notice any of the following it would indicate poor upper/lower body dissociation and body awareness.
- they can’t turn their feet outward
- bending forward
- arms / hands turning outwards
- an inability to walk smoothly
B. Ask the person to walk forward and backward with their toes pointing in (aka pigeon walk). If you notice any of the following it would indicate poor upper/lower body dissociation and body awareness.
- they can’t turn their feet inward
- bending forward
- arms / hands turning inward
- an inability to walk smoothly
If you have any suspicions that you are reflexively reacting to the stimulus in these tests by performing some of these at home tests, go ahead and look at the information in ‘Know the Reflexes’ section.
It is our belief that although specific exercises will help, true primitive reflex integration comes from the Retained Neonatal Reflex technique. Exercise programs work exceptionally well by reinstalling the software, and is best done after the hardware has been sorted out by manual therapy focussing on functional neurology. The RNR technique addresses one of the primary reasons the primitive reflexes failed to be integrated – poor cranial movement and neuro-dural tension. Biomechanical contribution to behavioural and learning difficulties has gained acceptance by health professionals worldwide.
Rehabilitating people with an immature central nervous system (CNS) can require the assistance of many health practitioners. These include but are not limited to Behavioural Optometrists, Occupational Therapists, Physiotherapists, Dieticians, Naturopaths, Sound Therapists, Psychologists, Play Therapists, Paediatricians and General Practitioners.
Cerebellum: balance and co-ordination
Your brain’s reaction time
Handbrake in your brain
What is a retained reflex?
To be perfectly precise, primitive reflexes remain hard wired into our nervous system and function neurologically all our life. In fact, at some stages of development some may be used as a test of normal neurological function. Thus, in this sense, they are always ‘retained’.
It is the neonatal display of these brainstem reflexes continuing after normal time of integration that may cause the problems in behaviour, perception, learning, hormonal function etc that are covered here.
For example, it may be normal as a person rotates their head to the right for the muscle that pulls the right arm backward and those that pull the left arm forward to contract to allow them to twist their body toward what they see. This action relies on the foundational neurological wiring of the Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex. It is problematic however if this pattern of turning the neck is unable to be accomplished without the accompaniment of twisting the torso (beyond the third year of life), to experience distractibility, clenched pen/pencil grip, handwriting problems, poor comprehension, momentary disappearance of parts of the visual field, poor hand-eye co-ordination etc.
For this reason the term ‘Retained Neonatal Reflexes’ has been coined by Dr Keith Keen DC DO and became a registered trademark in 2009. It indicates that the neonatal display of a primitive reflex has been retained beyond the normal time of integration for that individual’s nervous system.
What do they look like and what are they for?
As higher brain centres begin to mature enough for conscious control of activity, the involuntary, uncontrollable reflex responses are no longer needed. If they are elicited inappropriately beyond the relevant age for integration, the automatic response may be inappropriate, undesirable or even
The reflexes anatomically and neurologically stay for the remainder of our life. But for mature voluntarily directed responses to take place, the neonatal display of the reflexes must be integrated or controlled by higher centres.
The YouTube channel BetaPics has a great collection of primitive reflexes being elicited in infants prior to the usual age of integration. They also have some of the original footage by Myrtle McGraw who studied twins Jimmy and Johnny from birth through to their 20s.
Can I learn the RNR™ Technique?
RNR Seminars have been approved as an Advanced Applied Kinesiology course by the International College of Applied Kinesiology (ICAK).
Seminars are restricted to those who have completed Professional Applied Kinesiology (PAK) Certification course. To attend the PAK course you must meet the credentials required by the ICAK. Professional Applied Kinesiology is taught to health professionals only with at least 3800hrs of university training.
We welcome your enquiry about seminars if you already meet these pre-requisites.
What should I expect during my appointment?
All certified Retained Neonatal Reflexes (RNR) Practitioners are qualified Chiropractors, Physiotherapists, Osteopaths or Medical Practitioners. You can feel safe knowing that they have been awarded their healthcare qualifications after years of University study. After these degree/s were accomplished they undertook further study in manual muscle testing techniques, such as Applied Kinesiology through the International College of Applied Kinesiology (ICAK), allowing them to further specialise in the developing field of retained neonatal reflex patterning.
Manual Muscle Testing (MMT) is used to test the body’s functioning neurology. For this reason you can expect that your practitioner will test your muscles for optimal function. Once your nervous system is operating in a suitable manner, your practitioner will further challenge your nervous system by asking you to maintain strength while performing specific tasks. If your brain has trouble processing the specific task your brain will let you know this by failing to maintain strength. This is also known as poor sensory motor integration.
Improved brain function and sensory motor integration is achieved by optimising cranial and sacral function, easing tension of the dura mater (the sheath enveloping the brain and spinal cord) and enhancing cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) flow. This involves light pressure on the head (a highly specific and advanced form of cranial massage), holding specific meridian points (acupressure) on the body, and gentle adjustments to the spine and feet.
Signs and symptoms
Primitive reflexes ideally begin to function in a particular order and their neonatal display is integrated in a specific sequence. If they are retained out of sequence, they may disturb the development and integration of other subsequent reflexes. If they are retained beyond their normal age of integration they can disturb some or all of the functions of higher brain centres, which include:
- gross motor co-ordination
- fine motor co-ordination
- auditory perception and integration
- visual function
- vestibular (balance) integration
- tactile perception and integration
- HPA (hormonal) and neurotransmitter (brain transmitter) balance
- cognition and expression
- social and behaviour
Basically, the perception of our inner and outer environment and our response to it may be disturbed; that is, conscious life may be disturbed.
An individual case may vary from a single neonatal display remaining, which may result in an immature pattern of behaviour or immature system prevalent despite the acquisition of many mature skills, through to many retained neonatal reflexes (termed a “cluster”) which affects the smooth transmission of information through most systems of the body.
Clinical experience has demonstrated that in procedures related to neonatal reflexes, the order of treatment best follows the natural sequence of their integration with a couple of exceptions. For this reason people under therapeutic care for these reflexes usually undergo a series of treatment sessions.
Who may benefit from RNR technique?
The benefits of RNR procedures are widespread and varied. It is attracting an ever increasing interest about an inexhaustible but intricate list of patient concerns.
It is possible that if you have suffered from birth trauma, developmental delays or poor sensory motor integration then several reflexes could be active.
It is common that those who have been diagnosed with Low Muscle Tone (LMT) usually have difficulty maintaining strength with the majority of tasks given. These same people are often diagnosed with dyspraxia because they display poor motor co-ordination (gross and/or fine) and should benefit from the RNR technique.
Those who display appropriate muscle tone and strength can find isolated tasks challenging. For example, the person who engages their tongue and jaw while using the fine motor control of their hands is displaying retention signs of the Palmar reflex and may benefit from our correction to assist in its integration.