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Infant Reflexes


Why repetition is vital for your baby


Your baby is born with a set of infant (primitive) reflexes. These are automatic, are in-built, and are designed to ensure they survive the important first months of life (such as rooting: baby turning head, pursing lips in readiness for food). Many reflexes are developed in-utero, they have a variety of functions and some are specifically designed to deal with the traumas of the (natural) birth process itself. Primitive reflexes are automatic movements controlled by the brain-stem. These reflexes are elicited by specific sensory stimuli. For example, at birth, if an infant is having trouble nursing, a midwife would know to stimulate the palm of their hand to, in turn, stimulate the sucking response (Babkin response).

These reflexes should integrate and become non-observant after the first year of life. It’s absolutely vital that the infant reflexes whether formed in-utero, shortly after birth or in the next few months are replaced by the more mature adult responses. If the majority have not been replaced by six or 12 months they will interfere with the child’s neurodevelopment and potential to learn. During this first year, babies engage in a variety of rhythmical movements that allow them to practice and wire their brain for the next step. For example, when a baby is on their hands and knees, they will rock back and forth. This practicing allows them to gain conscious control of their body.   As the reflex pattern is integrated, the limbs are no longer tied together and movements can be done at will. All reflexes should be gone by 18 months (although may still be seen during sleep). In many cases the reflex replacement happens naturally but it is not an automatic process.

At Baby College we encourage the development of the whole sensory system through a series of exercises that are repetitive. Why? Because that is how we learn. It’s only the constant repetition that leads to the positive building of the correct neural pathways in the brain. These are absolutely vital both for early learning skills and also to ensure that the babies are making and consolidating their brain development through the building of strong neural pathways (the more an action is repeated the stronger the connection grows).  This practise means that more mature, adult patterns can take over from the infant patterns until everything becomes automatic.


Many children do not have fully integrated reflexes. Correct crawling for at least six months, for example, is critical for the integration of the Symmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (STNR). However, many children, skip the crawling stage and go right to walking.


Piaget (1952) maintained that children have to pass through and successfully master lower level skills before being able to attain higher level ones, because deficits at the lower levels affect higher levels of functioning (O’Dell & Cook, 2004).


This means that if an infant reflex is retained it will hinder the development of higher levels of learning later in life. There are exercises that can be performed with older children later which can help integrate these reflexes. This is a slow process, which requires the exercises to be repeated daily for many, many months – to break existing patterns and help the development of new, strong neural pathways.


Our innovative programme includes repetition both in structure and exercises to give all our babies the best opportunity to develop naturally.


References:

Reflexes, Learning and Behaviour by Sally Goddard Blythe. www.wholechildlearningsolutions.com

Piaget, J., & Cook, M. T. (1952). The origins of intelligence in children. New York, NY: International University Press.

Cook , P.A. & O'Dell, N.E. (2004). Stopping ADHD. Avery.



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