Primitive and postural reflexes…. Milestones and development! What does it all mean? What’s the best way to help parents get their head around it all?
In this video I take you through the explanation I use when I’m working with a young family.
I remember when I first started really looking into paediatric developmental care in much more detail than we went through at uni. I was so inspired at one paediatric seminar in particular. I remember being amazed at these chiropractors who could recite the primitive reflexes and when they should disappear by, what the postural reflexes were and how to test them. They then went through incredible stories about all the children they worked with and the amazing results they saw, they explained how kid’s brains and bodies worked better. I just wanted to be a part of all of that. I wanted to help children like they did. I wanted to really change their health and development for the better.
From there I started reading, and reading and reading. And I am not someone who enjoys reading a lot – but the process of discovery was amazing. I was into OT text books, reading every paediatric chiropractic textbook available. I even tried my hand at the heavier neurology texts and without a directed learning – that was hard going. And what I came up with was a vast knowledge of how a child’s brain develops. But it was all in details and I started to become overwhelmed.
I started thinking – How on earth can I sum up all of the information up into an easy to understand format for parents. , For them to understand the importance of testing and monitoring their child’s progress and how chiropractic can help.
So I started to wonder – what is important to parents & what do they already focus on? If I just join the dots for them by adding in easy analogies – will I have the answer?
So over 6 years of trial and error I have worked out the best way for me to do this.
Here is what I say to parents – Please understand that what I will say is close but is not 100% neurologically accurate, but for the purpose of getting the concept across this is the way I word it.
Think of development as a pyramid. There are layers that are built based on the layers below. We have our primitive reflexes down the bottom and they are the basic instinctual behaviours babies are born with.
A baby startling when they cry and a baby knowing instinctively how to suck are examples of primitive reflexes.
These are inbuilt and were there when your baby was born. As a baby experiences the world, her brain is taking in an enormous amount of information. This helps her brain grow and develop and the nervous system communicates between her body, organs and brain.
If everything is going well and there hasn’t been anything that has altered the nervous system function, at around 6 months the brain gets smarter and starts making more connections. Those primitive reflexes should start to disappear and be replaced by the postural reflexes. These reflexes are helping your baby understand where her body is and how to hold it up against gravity.
These postural reflexes need to come in properly for the baby to sit, balance and ultimately crawl and walk.
During this time your baby starts to find their hands, then their feet and they have more control with what they do with them, rather than those previous jerking movements. This is where we see motor development – this means they have purposeful control of their body.
Then we finally see gross motor and then fine motor skills come in. We see rolling, sitting, crawling, holding things, playing and walking.
Sometimes we find that little steps along the way have been skipped, because everything should happen in a specific order and that makes the bottom of the pyramid a little shakey. For some kids that isn’t picked up until they get to school and start reading and writing. Our job is to work out if there are any small problems now so they will get to school and hit the ground running without any major dramas later.
Of course we can go into more detail, and to be honest I tend to go lighter than I have just here. At the end of the day, you need to be able to translate the scientific language into language that not only makes sense but actually means something to the parent. So that means talking about the big milestones like sitting, crawling and walking.
What do you do in practice? How do you explain primitive and postural reflexes and development to parents?
I would love to hear your thoughts below.