Why Does my Child have a Learning Problem? What Makes One Child succeed and Another One Fail?
for Teachers and Parents
Early Childhood (Infant) Reflexes and their Effect on Learning and Behaviour
By Barry Summerfield MA Dip Ed.
(Note the word ‘they’ or ‘them’ is often used to replace the clumsy ‘he/she’)
Why is my child failing when others around them seem to learn easily and in many other respects they seems quite normal? These “puzzle” children often seem ok so we blame them for their unacceptable behaviour or we label them as stupid. These children provide a major challenge for parents and teachers alike and the whole area can be frustrating for both child and adult. The children often grow up into adults with low self esteem and other major problems. The parent/teacher also feel a failure, often having their parenting/teaching abilities questioned, even though they try hard, nothing seems to work that well.
A theory gaining recognition as to why some children develop learning/behavioural problems and others do not is related to an area known as Early Childhood (Infant)Reflexes. These reflexes are essential to the survival of the baby and the young infant. As the infant develops these early reflexes should disappear making way for the development of higher order skills. It is the retention of the early reflexes that prevent the full development of these higher order skills leading to symptoms of learning and behavioural problems. It is critical to understand that these children will not respond properly to the massive effort we put in to teaching them until the issue of retained infant reflexes is addressed.
What are Early Child Hood (Infant) Reflexes?
In a nutshell: Reflexes by definition act automatically. Reflexes develop in utero so when the baby is born they can act instinctively ( by reflex ) for their survival. You may be familiar with some of them, for example, a baby is born with a sucking reflex so they can feed themselves at the breast within a few hours at birth. (Imagine the trauma if the baby had to learn this particular activity). Also the baby has a rooting reflex; if touched on the side of the cheek they will turn their head to that side. Useful for finding which side the food is coming from. These particular reflexes should be inhibited by 3 – 4 months of age. There are many early childhood reflexes and they are fully explained in the excellent book “Reflexes, Learning and Behaviour’ by Sally Goddard (available from the website :-www.braingym.com.au. Look in the left hand column for “Reflexes). As the infant grows older these reflexes become less useful and become integrated into the developing higher functions of the brain. By age 3 years nearly all of these reflexes should be fully inhibited and integrated so they will not be present. Problems arise for the child when for whatever reason this integration and inhibition does not take place. If the reflex is not inhibited it is known as a Retained Reflex. There may be one or several retained reflexes.
During this early stage of our life there is very rapid development and maturation during which the brain has the property of neural “plasticity” that is the ability to rewire itself. It is the success of this rewiring as it moves from reflexive action to higher order skills that has a profound impact on a child’s ability to interact effectively with their social and physical environment. During this maturation phase the higher centers of the brain should take increasing control, the persistence of lower level dominance ( infant reflexes) over certain functions will have an effect on how a child functions behaviourally and their ability to learn.
How can the problem of retained reflexes be addressed?
A physical program of specialized movements which assist the child with the integration process needs to be used on a regular basis to help these children reach the milestones they need to succeed. A program using Brain Gym ( available in the Brain Gym Teacher’s Edition); Balancing Techniques ( found in Movement Based Learning) and other activities ( Get Ready for School DVD) varied with a Music and Movement program ( for example :- Catch a Brain Wave; Rappin’ on the Reflexes; Wombat and his Mates) will go along way for you to help each individual child and put them on the path to fulfilling their potential.
Using these tools you can now provide a programme in the comfort of your own home and/or classroom working with your child/student for 20mins a day. You can feel that you have made a positive difference to their lives.