Updated: Feb 19, 2021
At the end of May, I ventured up to Portland, Maine (fun fact: that’s where I went to OT school!) to attend a course on Strategies for Reflex Integration.
A reflex is an involuntary movement in response to a stimulus. Humans have protective reflexes (e.g. immediately removing hand upon touching something hot), and deep tendon reflexes (e.g. the patellar knee-jerk reflex that happens when a doctor taps your knee with a rubber hammer), and primitive reflexes.
Primitive reflexes are formed in utero and help a child to develop complex movements and behavior. Primitive reflexes originate in the part of your brain responsible for survival, which when stressed causes a fight or flight response. Reflexes are typically integrated (modified by the brain) within the first year of life, however there are a number of reasons that these reflexes may not integrate. A child with retained reflexes has to work harder against the reflexes, which can often look like challenging behaviors, poor coordination, difficulty with reading and/or writing, and general disorganization.
Occupational therapists are trained to perform primitive reflex screenings for the most commonly retained primitive reflexes, provide modification strategies for home and learning environments, and train the child and family in exercises to perform daily to help integrate the reflex.
The easiest thing you can do at home to work on reflex integration is encourage your child to crawl (yes, even if they can walk, and especially if they skipped crawling all together)! Crawling is important for the vestibular, proprioceptive, and visual sensory systems. Crawling helps with coordination, eye convergence, postural control and upper body strength. You can crawl on the floor, over pillows, in the grass, have relay races, get from one room to another, while playing games – the possibilities and benefits are endless!
Kelsey Bennett, MS, OTR/L
For more information about reflex integration or to find out how these services could benefit your child, please contact a member of our OT team! 781-239-0100