Postural Control, Balance and Primitive Reflexes

Why look at Posture?

Posture is the reflexive anti-gravitational adaptation of the living body to the environment that it lives in. Posture depends on reflex actions that happen as the result of many different sensory input integrations, creating rapid adaptive motor reactions involving the visual, proprioceptive and vestibular systems. When reflex actions are occurring efficiently, they free higher cognitive systems in the brain from conscious involvement in the maintenance of postural control. On the flip side, if reflexes are not functioning well, conscious attention must be diverted to the adapting to and maintaining posture at the expense of attention and other cognitive tasks. Posture is also essential to support static balance, to provide coordination and a stable platform for centers involved in the control of eye movements (oculo-motor functioning).

Postural control is linked to 3 perceptual systems- the vestibular system (balance), the proprioceptive system (knowing where your body is in space), and the visual system. Dysfunction in any one of these systems effects that child's perception, and it is this perception that all higher academic skills depend. Posture supports and reflects the functional relationship between the brain and the body, to the extent that it has been that ‘there is nothing in the mind that cannot be seen in the posture. 

Why look at Balance?

Balance is an intricate process that requires the body to be in a good sense of equilibrium to create it. It requires all the muscles of the body to fight against gravity in coordination. It is the end product of cooperation between proprioception, vestibular functioning, mechanoreception and vision, all being mediated by the cerebellum. Posture and balance together provide the basis for motor activities in which all physical aspects of learning depend.

Difficulties that can been seen with an inability to maintain balance are:

-postural control issues

-coordination issues

-control of eye movements (affecting visual perception)

-perception-for example, vertigo, sense of direction and disorientation

-nausea, dizziness, palpitations and hyperventilation

-psychological -anxiety and fear

Balance provides not only physical stability but also acts as one of the main reference points for cognitive operations in space. These include orientation of body, execution of well-controlled movement and directional awareness. Directional awareness is needed for orientation of symbols (examples b and d, p and q, 2 and 50), the mental operations in space involved in mathematics and ability to visualize the motor actions needed for ideation (motor planning). 

Why is static Balance important for learning?

Static (stationary) balance gives your child the ability to create postural fixation (the ability to stay in one place without moving). Kids who have poorly developed static balance find it difficult to sit for long periods of time. This is needed in learning to sit and passively listen in class and during writing. Many of these kids need to be in motion to concentrate and it is many times viewed as fidgeting or inattentive. Some research points to a link between the ability to stand on one foot and specific language disorders. 

The link between Primitive Reflexes, Balance and Postural Control

The ATNR, STNR, and TLR all influence and reflect the function of the vestibular system and its interaction with other position and motion sensors.

Berthoz describes control of motor actions and thinking as a dual process in which posture and motor control are a preparation for action so that even our thoughts and dreams are an internalized simulation of action.

Individuals still under the influence of primitive reflexes do not lack strength or power, rather they lack voluntary control and automated processing of simple tasks and movements. This can affect not only control of voluntary movements and discrepancy between intended movement and performance but also cognitive processes.

Evidence supporting movement program intervention using primitive reflexes to improve reflex status and educational outcomes

The concept of using motor training programs to improve learning is not new either. Kephart, Frostig and Horne, Getman et al., Cratty, Barsch, Ayers, Belgau, Kiphard and schilling all advocated for motor and sensory developmental programs to improve learning outcomes. Blythe and McGlowen specifically designed programs around primitive reflexes that accompanied improvements in coordination and educational measures.

Information for this publication was adapted using the following texts:

Goddard, S. Beuret, L. Blythe, P. and Scaramella-Nowinski, V. Attention, Balance, and Coordination The A.B.C. of Learning Success. Second edition 2017. Wiley & Sons. NJ, USA.

Goddard, S. Reflexes, Learning and Behavior, a Window Into a Child’s Mind. A non-invasive approach to solving learning and behavioral problems. Fern Ridge Press, Eugene, Oregon 2005.

Melillo R. & Leisman G. (2004). Neurobehavioral disorders of childhood. An evolutionary perspective. New York, Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers.


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