Delays Throughout History

Underlying Neurological Dysfunction and Learning Problems

Recognized in the 19th Century


The French were the first to notice a link between Moro awkwardness and learning disabilities, which they sometimes described as psychomotor syndromes.


R.S. Paine described isolated motor signs such as awkwardness, tremor, hyperreflexia or mild impairments in walking, in children with specific learning difficulties. He also found problems with recognizing visual information and abnormalities in hearing. Other things he found were diminished attention span, an inability to understand where their bodies were in space, and difficulties with abstract thinking, along with learning disabilities.


The term Minimal Brain Dysfunction (MBD) started to be used and defined in 1966 by Samuel Clements. He describes it as average or above-average intelligence with certain mild to severe learning or behavioral disabilities characterized by deviant functioning of the central nervous system. This involved impairment in visual or auditory perception, conceptualization, language and memory and difficulty controlling attention, impulses and motor function. He found more than 99 possible symptoms listed as diagnostic criteria for MBD by the 1970s - so it was found to be too broad and was rejected as a diagnosis.


OTs at the University of Kansas carried out a study comparing reflex levels of a group of neurologically impaired children with a group of children with no known neurological impairment. Every one of the group diagnosed with impairment had abnormal Reflexes. 8 out of 19 in the normal group also had some abnormalities in reflexes affecting their behavior, reading or writing ability.

Rider, at the University of Kansas, did a study on 2nd grade kids and compared them to learning disabled group of the same age. She found the learning disabled group to have significantly more abnormal reflex responses than normal children. Also the kids that have well developed reflexes scored significantly higher on the Wide Range Achievement Test (WRAT) than children with abnormal reflexes.

At the University of Purdue, Miriam Bender examined the effects of one abnormal reflex called the symmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (STNR) on education. She found the STNR was present in 75% of the learning disabled group, but not present in any of the comparison group of children without a history of learning disabilities. She then designed a series of exercises to help inhibit the STNR and observed many children's full symptomatic improvement.


Wilkinson carried out a replica study of Rider’s and found not only a connection between residual primitive reflexes and specific learning difficulties, but she also identified a connection between residual primitive reflexes and educational underachievement. Her findings indicated that one reflex- The Tonic Labyrinthine Reflex (TLR) -underpinned many of the presenting educational difficulties and that there was another relationship between the continued presence of the Moro reflex and specific problems with mathematics.

Goddard, Blythe and Hyland investigated the early development of 72 children with specific learning difficulties and compared them to children with no specific learning difficulties. They found significant differences in the developmental history of the two groups. The specific learning difficulty group had higher signs of delays in motor and language development and factors related to the functioning of the immune system. Delays in learning to walk and talk were particularly significant in the group with specific learning difficulties.

Other studies have shown a link between the Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (ATNR) and children with reading difficulties, as well as a cluster (3 or more) of abnormal primitive and postural reflexes present in a sample of children diagnosed with dyslexia and in children with attention deficit disorder.

Investigation of abnormal primitive reflexes in a sample group of 672 children in seven mainstream schools in Northern Ireland between 2003 and 2004 revealed that 48% of Children aged 5-6 years and 35% of children 8-9 years still had traces of primitive reflexes. Fifteen percent of 8-9 children had a reading age below their chronological age. Of these, 28 had elevated retained reflexes. Elevated levels of retained reflexes were correlated with poor educational achievements at baseline. In the founder group it was found that retained primitive reflexes correlated with poor cognitive development, poor balance and teacher assessment of poor concentration/coordination.

Empirical Findings also suggest that improvements in markers of neuromotor maturity (primitive reflex status) is associated with improvement in behavioral problems in some children.


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