Research on Reflexes
Clinical Research Summaries
“In the 1920s the French were among the first to notice a link between ‘motor awkwardness’ and learning disabilities which they sometimes described as ‘psychomotor syndromes.’
In 1940, R.S. Paine described the presence of several isolated motor signs, such as awkwardness, tremor, hyperreflexia or mild impairments in walking in children with specific learning disabilities.”1
Aung Kyaw Sein of the Guillemard Gardens School, Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore did a study in which he found that while an individual reflex abnormality would impair a specific skill, a cluster of more than one retained reflex will have a “predominantly intractable organic problem in children with ID (Intellectual Disability).”2
Gustafsson assessed two groups of children for abnormal reflexes. In one group of 19 “normal” children, 8 were found to have abnormal reflexes. One of these had behavior problems and the other 7 had either reading or writing problems.3
Barbara Rider conducted a study of 38 normal 2nd graders and 20 learning disabled 6-13 year olds. She found:
- The learning disabled students had significantly more abnormal reflex responses than the normal.
- Students who had no abnormal reflexes scored higher on the Wide Range Achievement Test than those with abnormal reflexes.
- The correlation was significant for spelling, approaching significant for reading, but failed to reach significance in arithmetic.
- Boys had significantly more retained reflexes than girls.4
Dr. Miriam Bender found presence of a retained STNR (symmetrical tonic neck reflex) in 75% of a group of children with learning disabilities but not present in any child without a history of learning disabilities.5
The Dala Clinic Report detailed a study of 15 children in Sweden who had failed to respond to previous standard remedial intervention and were given reflex inhibition exercises. Of the 10 students who completed the program, not one was any longer classified as having specific learning disabilities. In addition, those children who had previously been unable to swim, learned to swim and the children who had regular, severe headaches, no longer had headaches.6
Faulkner divided a group of children who had reading difficulties into 3 groups:
- Received conventional remedial help for 5 days over 3 months—these children improved their reading by 5 months
- Received no remedial help but undertook a reflex inhibition program for 3 months—these children improved by 9 months
- Received no intervention—had improved by 3 months, 2 weeks. (The duration of the program was 3 months.)7
Wilkinson reproduced Barbara Rider’s 1971 research. She also found a link between abnormal primitive reflexes and learning disabilities and underachievement. A retained TLR (tonic labyrinthine reflex) appeared to be a central factor, while a retained Moro was associated with problems with mathematical skills.8
O’Dell and Cook found that children who performed exercises to integrate the STNR (symmetrical tonic neck reflex) showed improvement in 11 areas, including attention, reading, conduct, learning, and had less hyperactivity and anxiety.9
Philip Teitelbaum, Osnat Teitelbaum, Fryman and Maurer examined the infant videos of autistic children and found that the movement disturbances in autism and Asperger’s syndrome are related to the sequential development of infantile reflexes.10
In a study of 60 children with reading difficulties and persistent neonatal reflexes, the children were separated into 3 groups of 20: children who were given a reflex integration program, children who were given non-specific movements and the control group had no movements. M. McPhillips, P.G. Hepper and G. Mulhern found that the group given the reflex inhibition program significantly reduced the presence of ATNR, while the other two groups did not show a significant reduction in ATNR.11
Bein-Wierzbinski studied 52 elementary school children in Germany. Half of the children who had abnormal reflexes were given a reflex stimulation/inhibition program and the other half were not. She found improvement in oculo-motor functioning and reading skills as persistent reflexes were corrected. Oculo-motor defects continued to persist in the control group.12
Sally Goddard assessed 54 children with dyslexia for the presence of abnormal primitive and postural reflexes. She found 100% of the sample showed evidence of a retained ATNR (asymmetrical tonic neck reflex) and TLR (tonic labyrinthine reflex); 81% had a residual moro, 72% had an STNR (symmetrical tonic neck reflex), 65% had a spinal galant and 55% had a palmar reflex.13
Taylor, Houghton and Chapman, in a study of 109 boys, aged 7-10, found that boys with ADHD had significantly higher levels of reflex retention (testing the Moro, ATNR, TLR, and STNR) and both a direct and indirect correlation with math achievement.14
McPhillips and N. Sheehy examined 3 groups of 41 students, representing the bottom 10%, middle 10% and top 10% of readers from a sample of 409 mainstream schoolchildren, ages 9-10. They found:
1.The lowest reading group had a significantly higher mean level of ATNR (asymmetrical tonic neck reflex) than the middle and top reading groups.
2.In the lowest reading group 17% had extremely high levels of an ATNR and 24% had no presence of an ATNR. In the middle and top reading groups 0% had extremely high levels of an ATNR and 66% showed no presence of an ATNR.
3. Boys are more at risk for a persistent ATNR.
4.There was a significant difference in motor ability between the bottom and top reading groups.15
In a paper by Sally Goddard-Blythe, she found that children in a reflex integration program (INPP) over a made a gain of 23 months in reading, compared to the control group, which made a gain of 12 months.16
In another elementary school, children in the program (INPP) over a period of 7 months, improved their reading and comprehension age by 14 months, compared to the control group, which improved their reading and comprehension by only 8 months. (Study was 7 months.)16
Jackie Micklethwaite carried out a similar study in Swanwick Primary School. She found:
- Coordination, balance, visual-motor and auditory skills improved for almost all of the children in the INPP program.
- Biggest gains were made by the least able, academically.
“Some individual children who had a history of apparently intractable learning difficulties made remarkable progress in reading. These were in the INPP group.”16
In still another study in Northern Ireland, 672 children were studied, with the following conclusions:
- Elevated levels of retained reflexes are correlated with poor educational achievement.
- For children with high levels of retained reflexes and a reading age below their chronological age, those who undertook the exercise programme made greater progress.16
Dr. Julie-Anne Black followed the progress of 683 children (3-5) and found that a retained ATNR was significantly associated with the reading, spelling and math levels of attainment. Boys were found to be more at risk for a retained ATNR. In addition, reducing the ATNR persistence produced a very significant improvement in reading and math.17
Timothy Wahlberg and Dennis Ireland evaluated 22 students, ages 7-11 with reading and learning disabilities for oculomotilities, tonic reflexes, balance, fine motor skills and headaches. The students performed a reflex inhibition program. They found that the students showed a marked decrease in the presence of primitive reflexes, improved balance and oculomotilities, a decrease in headaches and improved reading fluency.18
In a study of 739 children, ages 7-9, attending a mainstream school, M. McPhillips and J.A. Jordan-Black found:
- The presence of a persistent ATNR (asymmetrical tonic neck reflex) is significantly predictive of achievements in reading, spelling, non-word reading and verbal IQ.
- Males have significantly higher levels of retained reflexes than females.
- Children from socially disadvantaged backgrounds had higher levels of retained reflexes than non-socially disadvantaged.19
Gonzalez, Ciu, Hernandez and Escalante performed a study of 60 Fifth Grade mainstream students. The results suggested that selected residual primitive reflexes were correlated with reduced saccadic accuracy and impaired reading ability, especially with the TLR (tonic labyrinthine reflex) and the STNR (symmetrical tonic neck reflex).20
In an ongoing study conducted by Brain Fitness Strategies, their findings on a group of 8 students, were that those who participated in a reflex inhibition program (Rhythmic Movement Training), 40 minutes per week for 8 months improved their reading fluency an average of 37 words per minute (55% improvement). The control group improved 12 words per minute (16% improvement).21
In The Northumberland Project, Sally Goddard Blythe found a high percentage of children in a mainstream school tested positive for retained reflexes. In addition, she found that reading, writing and math scores improved after participation in a reflex inhibition program (INPP).22
In a separate study she found that in a group of 6 children identified as having difficulty reading, writing, spelling and handwriting, all the children had high scores when screened for retained reflexes. After participating in the INPP program for reflex inhibition, there was significant improvement in their reading scores.22
C.G. Brown found that using a reflex integration program (Primary Movement) with 65 children ages 4-5 years improved their fine motor skills.2
Konicarova, Bob, and Raboch, in a study of 35 girls (8-11 years) with ADHD, found a close link with specific retained reflexes (ATNR and STNR). They hypothesize that the reflexes interfere with higher-level brain functions due to insufficiently developed cognitive and motor integration.24
- Goddard-Blythe, Sally, Assessing Neuromotor Readiness For Learning, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. 2012, p.14.
- Sein, Aung Kyaw, Persistent Primitive Reflexes: A Prognostic Study on School-aged Children with Intellectual Disability, Guillemard Gardens School, Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore.
- Goddard, Sally, Reflexes, Learning and Behavior: A Window into a Child’s Mind, Fern Ridge Press, Eugene, Oregon, USA, 2002, 2005, p. 125.
- Rider, Barbara, Relationship of Postural Reflexes to Learning Disabilities, American Journal of Occupational Therapy, Vol 26(5), July 1972, 239-243.
- Miriam Bender, Bender Perdue Reflex Test, 1976.
- Goddard, Sally, Reflexes, Learning and Behavior: A Window into a Child’s Mind, Fern Ridge Press, Eugene, Oregon, USA, 2002, 2005, p.127.
- Faulkner, P., The Detection of Neuro-physiological factors in Children With Reading Problems, Paper presented at the 2nd International Conference of Neuro-developmental Delay, Chester, UK, 1988.
- Goddard, Sally, Reflexes, Learning and Behavior: A Window into a Child’s Mind, Fern Ridge Press, Eugene, Oregon, USA, 2002, 2005, p.128.
- Nancy E. O’Dell, PhD, Patricia A. Cook, PhD. Stopping ADHD: A Unique and Proven Drug-Free Program for Treating ADHD in Children and Adults, Avery, Penguin Group, New York, 2004.
- Phillip Teitlebaum, Osnat B. Teitlebaum, Joshua Fryman, Ralph Maurer, Infantile Reflexes Gone Astray in Autism, Departments of Psychology and Child Psychology, University of Florida Medical School, Gainesville, FL, and Department of Computer Science, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA.
- McPhillips BSc., P.G.Hepper, PhD., G. Mulhern, PhD., Effects of Replicating Primary-Reflex Movements on Specific Reading Difficulties in Children: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Controlled Trial, The Lancet, Vol. 355: 9203, 12 Feb. 2000, p. 537-541.
- Bier-Wierzbinski, Persistent primitive reflexes in elementary school children. Effect on oculomotor and visual perception. Paper presented at the 13th European Conference of Neuro-Developmental Delay in Children with Specific Learning Disabilities, Chester, UK, 2001.
- Goddard, Sally, Reflexes, Learning and Behavior: A Window into a Child’s Mind, Fern Ridge Press, Eugene, Oregon, USA, 2002, 2005, p. 126-127.
- Myra Tayler, Stephen Houghton and Elaine Chapman, Primitive Reflexes and Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: Developmental Origens of Classroom Dysfunction, The International Journal of Special Education, vol. 19, no. 1, 2004.
- McPhillips, Martin, Sheehy, N. Prevalence of Persistent Primary Reflexes and Motor Problems in Children Wit Reading Difficulties, Dyslexia, vol. 10(4), no. 4, 11, 2004, p. 316-338.
- Goddard Blythe, Sally, Releasing Educational Potential Through Movement, Child Care in Practice 11/4: 415-432.
- Julie-Anne Jordan-Black, The Effects of the Primary Movement Programme on the Academic Performance of Children Attending Ordinary Primary School, Journal of Research in Special Educational Needs, 5(3):101-111, 2005.
- Timothy Wahlberg, PhD, Dennis Ireland, OD, Med, Can Replicating Primary Reflex Movements Improve Reading Ability?, Optometry and Vision Development, vol. 36, no.2, 2005, p. 89-91.
- McPhillips, J-A Jordan-Black, Primary Reflex Persistence in Children With Reading Difficulties (Dyslexia): A Cross-Sectional Study, Neuropsychologia, 45:748-754, 2007.
- Sergio Ramirez Gonzalez, MS, Kenneth J. Ciu reda, OD, PhD, FAAO, FCOVD-A, Luis Castillo Hernandez, PhD, Jaime Bernal Escalante, MS, The Correlation Between Primitive Reflexes and Saccadic Eye Movements in 5th Grade Children with Teacher-Reported Reading Problems, Optometry and Vision Development, vol. 39, No. 3, p.140-145, 2008.
- com, preliminary results, 2009/2010.
- Goddard-Blythe, Sally, Neuro-Motor Maturity as an Indicator of Developmental Readiness for Education, Paper presented at The Institute for Neuro-Physiological Psychology Conference, Miami, Florida, April 11, 12, 2010.
- G.Brown, Improving Fine Motor Skills in Young Children: An Intervention Study, Educational Psychology in Practice, 26 (3): 269-278, 2010.
- Jane Konicarova, Petr Bob, Jiri Raboch, Persistent Primitive Reflexes in Medication-Naïve Girls With Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder, Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat g: 1457-1461, 2013.