What Causes Retention of Primitive Reflexes?


Every baby is born with some primal involuntary reflexes. While these infant reflexes normally vanish in the first few months of life, they can lead to a range of neuro-behavioral delays and disorders like autism and ADHD if they are retained. Here’s an overview of this important brain condition:


  • Very low birthweight: Babies who are born weighing less than 3.3 pounds are classified as “very low birthweight.” A study of 127 such infants when they were four months old found that they retained more primitive reflexes than full-term infants. This study, in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, also found “a clear association” between delayed motor development and the retention of these primitive reflexes.
  • Head injury or circulatory problems in the brain: The clinical presence of retained primitive reflexes is often an indication of birth injury, head trauma or cerebral pathologies, according to an article published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry.
  • Neurologic disease: Four specific primitive reflexes (sucking, rooting, palmomental and grasp reflexes) are associated with frontal lobe disorders and certain forms of neurologic disease, according to a Clinical Methods text listed by the National Institutes of Health.


Each type of retained reflex leads to slightly different symptoms during childhood and adulthood. Here’s an overview of the most common symptoms that may indicate that your child has retained some primitive reflexes:

  • Hypersensitivity: A strong reaction to unexpected sounds, touches, bright light, movement or other sensory stimulation.
  • Poor fine motor coordination: Difficulty with visual tracking, hand-eye coordination, trouble holding a pencil or other tasks involving manual dexterity.
  • Balance issues: Difficultly learning to walk, problems with sports, shin and ankle pain, tight calf muscles, a tendency to experience motion sickness or poor spatial judgment.
  • Excessive fatigue: Slumping, eye-rubbing or difficulty sitting still or concentrating.
  • Unusual mouth issues: Involuntary tongue movements, trouble chewing or swallowing, articulation problems, biting or jaw clenching.
  • Delayed or missed developmental milestones: including motor, cognitive and social developmental milestones


In a study conducted at the University of Western Australia, children who had been diagnosed with ADHD were found to have a much higher incidence of four specific infantile reflexes. Other scientific investigations have noted a link between autism and primitive reflexes. An extensive research survey by Dr. Robert Melillo explores the demonstrated relationship between the retention of infant reflexes and a wide range of neuro-developmental disorders.

These research developments provide important information for parents who are seeking methods to improve their children’s brain function. Once your child has been assessed for primitive reflex retention, targeted therapeutic interventions are available to improve their neurological development.

Leave a Comment