Reflex Integration

The following descriptions are from Athena Oden’s book, Ready Bodies, Learning Minds, A Key to Academic Success, Second Edition.  Copyright 2006. Published by:

David Oden
Ready Bodies, Learning Minds
20475 Highway 46 West, Suite 180-144
Spring Branch, Texas 78070-6124

“Reflexes” are God-given movement patterns that are stored in each of us.  They are normal, innate, involuntary patterns that teach our children to roll and crawl. These “pre-fabricated” movement patterns appear in the child’s infancy and disappear as the child is in motion and learns new skills.  Integrated reflexes are those reflexes that no longer involuntarily control our movement.  Through time and use they have become incorporated into the repertoire of movements available to us.  If for some reason a reflexive pattern lingers beyond the accepted time, it can begin to interfere with a child’s ability to develop an appropriate foundation for stability and mobility.  Yet, the child WILL continue to learn to move.  Unfortunately, he will be building his knowledge of movement on a faulty and adaptive pattern of stability.  As he grows and learns more complex skills, this adaptive pattern may not provide him with the foundation he needs to be successful.

Following are the four reflexive patterns we work on during the warmup:

ATNR (asymmetrical tonic neck reflex) ROCKING HORSE

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When the child’s head is turned to the right, muscle receptors in the neck stimulate straightening of the right arm and leg, and bending of the left arm and leg.  This response will occur in either direction.  If these reflexive patterns are not well integrated into voluntary movements, a child’s head movement will have a functional effect on his arm movement.  If he is writing at his desk and turns his head to see the board or respond to the teacher, his writing arm will flex or extend slightly.  He has then lost his place on his page.  He begins to build the skill of handwriting on a faulty and adaptive pattern of tight grip and locked arm.

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Your child and ATNR

With the child in the “cube” position, bring his head down so that the back of his head is level with the back of his body.  Gently turn his head to the right or left, with the chin approaching the shoulder. Hold that position for ten seconds.  If the elbow on the side he turns away from bends, the ATNR pattern is more controlling than it should be.

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STNR (symmetrical tonic neck reflex) GIRAFFE

If the infant extends the neck lifting his head and looking up, his arms extend and his legs and hips bend.  If he bends his neck putting his chin close to his chest, his arms will bend and his legs will extend.  If a remnant of the STNR remains in the school-aged child, the child’s sitting posture will suffer because the upper and lower parts of the body are not synchronized and working together.  He will also be clumsy, often landing on his face and elbows when he falls.

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Your child and STNR

Using the cube position, have the child lift his head so the neck is extended.  With the chin in the air and the back level, ask him to lean forward without moving his hands. His shoulders should move forward past the position of his hands on the floor.  He should be able to hold that position for ten seconds, twice in a row.

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LRPE (labyrinthine reflex prone extension) SUPERMAN

During this reflexive pattern and that of the supine flexion mentioned below, the position of the head in space and the position of the body in relationship to gravity supply the impulse to drive the response.  Newborns naturally curl into a flexed ball when placed on their stomach.  The flexion pattern of the labyrinthine reflex should integrate, allowing the child to stretch his arms and legs out.  At the final stage he will be able to extend his lower trunk while on his stomach, and lift his legs, hips and arms into extension.

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Your child and LRPE

Lying flat on his stomach, have the child raise his chin off the floor, bring his extended arms overhead close to his ears, and lift his straightened legs off the floor.  His body should be taut, only touching the floor at the midriff.  A school-aged child should be able to hold this for 20 seconds.

LRSF (labyrinthine reflex supine flexion) POPCORN

In this reflex, when the newborn is on his back, he extends his arms and legs and arches his trunk. At the final stage, a child will be able to bring his knees to his chest, wrap his arms around his legs, lift his head with his eyes close to his knees and hold that position without rocking for 20 seconds.

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Your child and LRSF

With the child lying flat on his back, ask him to bring his knees to his chest, wrapping his arms around his legs.  He should then lift his head, trying to keep his eyes close to his knees, and hold for 20 seconds. The child should not roll to either side, but maintain this position without difficulty.

If you observe your child having difficulty with any of the movements listed above, the reflex patterns have not been properly integrated and may be affecting school performace.  We perform the exercises described below weekly in the lab. These movements would be very beneficial if repeated at home as often as possible; ideally, daily.

At the Brain Train Depot, our name for the Ready Bodies, Learning Minds lab, we begin each session with the reflex exercises designed to allow the child to integrate those reflexes into voluntary movement.  Your child knows these movements by the name rocking horse, giraffe, superman, and popcorn.

Rocking Horse – The child gets on their hands and knees with their back straight (cube position). They bring their head down to look at their fingers and then turn their head to one side with their chin at the shoulder.  In this position, without bending their elbow, they lean forward and back to neutral 10 times.  They then turn their head to the other shoulder and repeat.

Giraffe – The child gets in the cube position.  They stretch their neck tall and lean forward and back to neutral 10 times.  They should be careful to go only to the neutral position and not sit back on their heels.  They should be able to do this without sitting on their heels or their knees pulling forward.

Superman – The child lays on his stomach with his arms and legs extended.  On the signal, the child raises his head, arms and legs off the ground without bending his arms or knees and holds for a count of 20.  We repeat this for total of three times.

Popcorn – The child lays on his back with his knees bent toward his chest and his arms resting on top of his knees.  On the signal, the child lifts his head off the floor by tucking his chin toward his chest.  He holds this position for a count of 20 without rocking side to side.  We repeat this for a total of three times.





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