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Do Primitive Reflex Movements Work?

01 July 2019
Do Primitive Reflex Movements Work?

The studies author’s (McPhillips et al, 2000) completed a research trial which aimed to determine if persistent primary reflexes have a role in disrupting the development of reading skills. The studied planned to show this by demonstrating that a reflect inhibiting motor programme was effective at reducing the level of ATNR response and that this reduction correlated with an improvement in a child’s reading ability. 

The study recruited children aged 8-11 years from local Dyslexia groups. To join the study the children had to have a reading age at least 12 months behind their age, had a persistent ATNR response and an average verbal IQ. The 60 children were then randomly divided into 3 three groups.

Group 1 – The experimental group – Children in this group completed a motor programme for 10 minutes per day for 1 year. To programme aimed to repeat the primary reflex movements of the ATNR, MORO, TLR and STNR. As they hypothesised that the repetition of the motor patterns played a role in inhibiting the reflex. 

Group 2 – The placebo group. Here the children completed a movement programme, but the movements were not based upon the reflexes.

Group 3 – The control group – Had no intervention and carried on as normal for 12 months. 


The Results

The researchers measured the effect of the movement programme, on reading age, eye-tracking, writing speed, word spelling speed, phonological skills and the level of the ATNR response. The results they obtained can be seen in the image:

The results obtained showed that:

  • The ATNR level significantly reduced in the experimental group.
  • That although all the groups displayed an increase in reading ability, the increase in the experimental group was substantially greater.
  • There was a significant decrease in saccadic frequency (eye-tracking) in the experimental group.
  • That writing speed improved in all groups, but the experimental group had the largest increase (although not a statistically significant difference).


The researchers concluded that: 

  • The repetition of primary-reflex movements plays an important part in the inhibition of reflexes and that this inhibition can be brought on much later in development than generally accepted. 
  • That the retention of the ATNR impacts on cognitive development, as well as the more obvious motor development. 
  • That assessing the underlying neurodevelopmental functioning, in particular the persistence of the primary reflexes when considering the basis of learning difficulties is important.
  • That motor programmes could be a practical technique for the development of reading skills. 



Journal title – Effects of replicating primary-reflex movements on specific reading difficulties in children: a randomised, double-bling controlled trial.

Authors – McPhillips, M, Hepper P.G, and Mulhern, G (2000)

Journal – The Lancet- Vol 355, Feb 12 (2000)

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