Behind these disorders encountered by many children, there are often several unintegrated primitive reflexes, including the Symmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (STNR). According to a study by Miriam Bender, 75% of children with learning disabilities and/or ADHD have an STNR that is not fully integrated and contributes to the disorder. And that’s without counting the other non-integrated primitive reflexes (such as the Asymmetric Tonic Neck Reflex -ATNR- which I will discuss in another article) which may also be present and play an important role.
What is the Symmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (STNR)?
The STNR is a transitional reflex that appears between the 6th and 9th month of life and whose role is to prepare baby to crawl on all fours.
This reflex is an automatic movement that puts the upper and lower body in opposition: when the upper extends, the lower flexes and vice versa. When this reflex is active, the lower half therefore automatically does the opposite of what the upper half does.
This is an essential reflex for the future because it stimulates the organization and dissociation of movements between the upper and lower body. It has a major impact on the development of good posture, balance, coordination and for visual training.
The baby integrates this reflex naturally by repeatedly pressing his buttocks on his heels. We can see a very nice demonstration of it in the video below:
It’s this rhythmic movement that he will do over and over again to build up momentum and finally get on all fours. The RTSC should normally be integrated at 2 years.
What causes the STNR to be still active in some children?
In the non-integration of the STNR, one often evokes the role of crawling. Because the crossed movements of crawling activate the two cerebral hemispheres, thus making it possible to intensify cognitive functions and prepare for learning.
Many parents tell me in consultation that they do not understand, that their child has crawled normally and that therefore everything should be ok. But first we must distinguish what is an effective crawling (that is to say with crossed movements) from a semi crawling. Like for example a crawling on 3 legs that we can see in this video :
Other babies move forward on the buttocks or crawl well on all fours but in ipsilateral movement, that is, the movements are not crossed.
However, for the STNR to be integrated, it is essential that the baby has gone through a real and effective crawling phase. And second condition, that he has done so for at least 6 months. This shows the importance of this phase. Yet very often these parents who are intrigued by the fact that their child has an active STNR even though he has crawled well enough, tell me that their child walked very early and therefore cut this very important phase short. He therefore did not sufficiently benefit from all the positive effects of this phase. The goal here is of course not to feel guilty but just to identify what could have happened.
Signs that can be observed in children who have a non-integrated STNR
When this reflex has not been integrated, the child’s upper and lower body are not dissociated. Parasitic movements or behaviors follow, independent of the child’s goodwill because we are at a reflex level and not at a controllable level of behavior.
Note also that these are often children who are scolded for their poor posture or for the fact that they constantly squirm. However, the child has no control over these movements since they are automatic. The need to move, to get up, to stretch his upper and lower body comes from the need to dispel these tensions. In addition, these children often have to put in ten times the effort and rarely achieve their goals with ease. Coupled with the fact that they are constantly berated, one obtains in these children a very low self-esteem and a defeatism which is difficult to overcome.
Here are some of the parasitic behaviors that can be observed in these children:
- In the way he sits and moves: constantly gets up and changes position; has difficulty staying in place; squirms; wriggles a lot; sags; wraps his feet around the legs of his chair; lies down to work; works with a slouched or hunched posture; weak muscle tone; sits in W.
- In his writing style: rough handwriting; writes very small or very large; writes slowly; often breaks the tip of his pencil; prefers to write standing up; wriggles while writing; has difficulty copying what is on the board
- In his sense of orientation: has trouble distinguishing his right from his left; needs help to distinguish his right from his left.
- In his coordination: tendency to clumsiness; lack of coordination; difficulty jumping; walking; running; catching; avoids certain sports and in particular ball sports; poor eye-hand coordination.
- In the way he manages his homework: does his homework at full speed to get rid of it or on the contrary takes a lot of time; avoids or delays the time of homework; needs constant help with his homework.
- In his ability to concentrate: has difficulty paying attention and concentrating on a task; has attention that jumps very often; daydreams; easily distracted; plays with objects in front of him.
Note that all of these behaviors do not need to be present for the STNR to be still active.
How to integrate the STNR?
By a specific training composed of movements that will imitate those that the baby does naturally, and with the help of isometric pressures. In my office, I combine this primitive reflex retraining with braingym movements and kinesiology work.
The set will have many benefits including improving self-confidence, emotional stability, posture, improved coordination of the upper and lower body, vision, writing, concentration and memorization. This work is a real gift for the child who will be able to be free from these parasitic movements… and regain his full capacity to learn!
Source: Le réflexe pour la concentration et l’apprentissage – Nancy O’Dell et Patricia Cook – Ed. Ressources Primordiales
For more information on primitive reflex integration: https://blossomtherapies.ch/primitive-reflexes-2/?lang=en
For more information on Kinesiology: https://blossomtherapies.ch/kinesiology/?lang=en