Reflex Therapy: What Parents Need to Know
Many parents come in with questions about reflexes, reflex integration and reflex therapy. We want to give you some background information about reflexes to help you make educated decisions about what therapies to pursue those reflex issues.
The Two Types of Reflex Therapy
1. Postural reflexes. One example of a postural reflex is the reflex that has you put your hands out to catch yourself if you start to fall. This is a very vestibular and proprioceptive action that involves neck muscles and head position. This is something you watch your kiddos develop. A lot of kids who don’t have a lot of movement experience, or they’re still stuck in only frontal movement, don’t have these postural reflexes to the back or to the side. So what we’ll do is we’ll work with them on movement on dynamic equipment like swings. This gives them that sensory input and helps them to develop those postural reflexes.
2. Primitive reflexes. The other type of reflexes is primitive reflexes. These are reflexes that you’re born with, and they help you become more engaged with your environment. For an infant, these can be anything from reacting to sounds to eliciting postural tones, so that you as an infant can become engaged with your environment. As you grow up you integrate those reflexes. What that means is you take those reflexes and you build off of them, so when you have that environmental input you don’t have the reflex anymore—instead, you have a more mature motor pattern.
What’s happening now, and it’s a common trend, is that many kids are coming in with unintegrated reflexes. They should have been using those reflexes to build more mature motor patterns, but instead, they’re still relying on those reflex patterns, or they haven’t had a movement experience to build off of and make more mature ones.
Many people are coming in and saying that their children have unintegrated reflexes because they have difficulties with this reflex pattern, or poor handwriting, etc. Some studies have shown a relationship between reflexes and those behaviors, but it’s much more complex than that.
What We Do
What we do here is use a very simple test to test a lot of the primitive reflexes. When that primitive reflex is elicited, we make sure we move in patterns to integrate those reflexes. But we don’t stop there! We build off of those so that they become much more mature in their motor patterns, and then they’re able to use functional movements.
What To Watch Out For
Companies that come in and say, “You need to do reflex therapy,” often don’t take into account that you can’t stop at that basic level of reflex integration. You have to build off of it. We think that’s one benefit of OT has when it comes to the reflexes.
So if you have concerns about your reflexes, or your child having primitive reflexes still there, you really need to communicate that to your OT. She can do a simple test and she can show you the reflexes that aren’t integrated, and then she can give you a home exercise program to integrate them. But everything we’re doing in the gym, the exercises that cross the midline, the equipment we use, is to help integrate those reflexes. So we don’t think it’s a choice as to whether to choose OT or reflex integration. The two are married together and should be done together. If you have any questions, please give us a call.