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There you are, trying to live your best life and do all of the things. You have a routine, you have different activities week to week, and you have hobbies and interests. But then, all of a sudden, something pops up and throws a wrench in the works. Anxiety. Procrastination. Intense emotional reactions. We’re talking about day-to-day activities here. You wake up and stretch your arms out just to find your body filled with anxiety about all the things that could go wrong today. You notice you still haven’t done the laundry that’s been piling up for the past week so now don’t have anything to wear. You spill your coffee and find yourself crying hysterically or screaming at someone who has nothing to do with it.  


Hey, it’s happened to all of us at some point. But there’s also a point when you realize…it might be more than just being tired or stressed or overwhelmed once in a while. This is happening on a daily basis, and it’s making life much harder than it needs to be. Well, you just might have one or more retained primitive reflexes. Don’t worry – you’re not alone! In this blog post, we’ll discuss what retained primitive reflexes are, how they can affect your daily life, and what you can do about it! So read on and find out how to take control of your life once again.


Primitive reflexes are automatic, instinctual movements that are designed to ensure our survival in the first year of life. They begin to emerge in utero and help the baby survive in the first year of life before they have access to the cortex (where we have logic and higher thinking). They work as a team and most of them have a specific pattern for integrating or ”turning off” when the brain is ready to operate from the cortex. These patterns are movements that most babies are wired to do naturally as part of their early development. If these patterns are completed, then by the time we’re about 2 years old, most of our primitive reflexes are lying dormant or have evolved into their respective higher-level versions.


If these movement patterns are interrupted for whatever reason, the reflexes cannot become integrated. That means they are “on” or unintegrated way past the age when we need them to survive. When primitive reflexes are left unintegrated, they can disrupt daily life and put the brain in survival mode. That means that, instead of responding, many of us are left reacting to the world around us.


There are many reasons why we might retain our primitive reflexes. Studies have linked traumatic childbirth early in life or a harsh neonatal environment to possible disruptions in typical development. A lot of the time, retention is caused when there is not enough movement in the first year of life. Tummy time is essential for the development of the lower centers of the brain because it sets the stage for creeping, crawling, and all the important reflex-integration movement patterns. Retained primitive reflexes can also cause babies to skip creeping and/or crawling, which are extremely important milestones in neurological development.


Many studies have found that children diagnosed with ADHD and/or dyslexia are more likely to have retained primitive reflexes, and integrating them has been reported by parents and caregivers to see a significant reduction in symptoms such as:


  • Constant anxiety
  • Mood swings
  • Irrational fears
  • Vestibular challenges
  • Fine motor challenges
  • Struggles with change and transitions
  • Poor hand-eye coordination
  • Controlling behaviors
  • Poor concentration
  • Poor short-term memory
  • Difficulty with handwriting
  • Difficulty reading
  • Visual tracking problems
  • Difficulty crossing the midline
  • Toe-walking
  • Clumsiness


These are only some of the challenges that can arise when primitive reflexes are retained. And yes, retained primitive reflexes in childhood continue into adulthood if not addressed. 


If you identify with the challenges mentioned above, there are two pieces of good news!


  1. There is a reason for these behaviors! 
  2. There’s always time to change!


Let’s talk about the second one for a second. Neuroplasticity has shown us that the brain can change at any point in time. That means that you can integrate retained primitive reflexes at any point in your life! By just re-creating some of the movement patterns that you might have missed as a baby, you’ll be able to integrate those reflexes, get your brain out of survival mode, and say goodbye to all of those challenging behaviors holding you back. 


The first step is to test whether you have any retained primitive reflexes, which can usually be done by an Occupational Therapist. There are also ways to test for retained primitive reflexes at home, which is usually a more affordable and accessible option. 


Once you know which reflexes are retained, the next step is to integrate those reflexes by doing primitive reflex integration exercises. These can be found online – there are tons of YouTube videos guiding you through how to do them. You can also enroll in a movement-based brain reorganization program like ours, which, on top of integrating primitive reflexes, helps develop the primitive brain areas that are underdeveloped and reprogram limiting subconscious beliefs. This is a great option if you’re looking for more guidance, but still want to take charge of your brain at home without breaking the bank. The third option, of course, is to go see an occupational therapist who specializes in primitive reflex integration, and, if you’re an adult, make sure you mention it! Most OTs only work on this with children.