Retained Primitive Reflexes: A Possible Cause of ADHD

January 4, 2010 by Dr.Yannick Pauli

Have you ever tried touching a baby’s hand? Try doing so the next time you encounter a baby, and you’ll notice that he or she will automatically grip your finger in response. This endearing behavior is actually one of the baby’s many neonatal or reflexes – a primitive set of automatic reactions to specific stimuli. Babies’ neonatal reflexes are located in the most primitive part of the brain, the brainstem, and have evolved to protect them from harm and to aid in their neurological development. As the baby grows up, the reflexes in the brain stem comes under the control of regions like the cerebral cortex, which are responsible for more evolved thinking.

Sometimes, the integration between primitive reflexes and higher thinking does not happen correctly, meaning the baby carries the primitive reflexes onto childhood. This occurrence is referred to as retained primitive reflexes. Its causes are unknown, but experts in this field suggest that it might be due to physical, hormonal, or chemical trauma in the womb. Caesarean birth or a traumatic birth (i.e. the use of foreceps) can also contribute to a retrained primitive reflex.

What happens to a child who kept his or her primitive reflexes? The symptoms depend on which specific primitive reflex failed to integrate with the rest of the central nervous system. You’ll notice that many of these problems are among the diagnostic symptoms of ADHD.

• A retained Moro reflex results in the inability to control emotions. The child might be aggressive, insensitive, but also loving and compassionate. This may also cause a hypersensitivity to touch, light, and textures.
• A retained Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex can lead to inattention, the inability to complete writing tasks, and difficulty walking.
• A retained Fear Paralysis Reflex causes fear and anxiety about new environments and situations, making the child withdraw from other children and strangers.
• A retained Spinal Galant Reflex causes hyperactivity, difficulty staying in one place, inattention, and bedwetting.
• A retained Tonic Labyrinthe Reflex leads to a child who has disturbed balance, problems with hearing, difficulties learning to walk and judge distances
• A retained Infant Planter Reflex causes curled toes, which results in issues with balance and walking. Common symptoms are ingrown toenails, shin soreness, and twisted angles.
• Retained Sucking and Rooting Reflexes result in problems with speech, eating, and chewing.

The relationship between retained primitive reflexes and ADHD has not been fully examined until an Australian study recruited 109 boys, 54 of which were diagnosed with ADHD. The boys’ parents were asked to fill the Conners’ Parent Rating Scale to confirm the ADHD symptoms, whereas the boys were asked to do certain reflex tests to check for any retained reflexes. Those without ADHD were found to have fewer symptoms of retained reflexes than the ADHD group, who had higher levels of Moro Reflexes, Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflexes, and Tonic Labyrinthe Reflexes. Although these findings are only preliminary, it shows some support to the relationship between retained primitive reflexes and ADHD symptoms. Retained primitive reflexes can be treated and reintegrated through chiropractic adjustments.