My interest and curiosity in the STNR (Symmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex) is not new to you all. I wonder if it really does bridge the Primitive reflexes with the Postural’s, or if it is solely a Primitive reflex. In addition to this I ponder about the retention of the reflex and how this impacts subsequent reflexes (namely Postural’s). If there is a STNR still present in children, it is said that the Postural reflexes will not be as well developed as is necessary. Also, does it mean that that child will struggle with top and bottom integration for the rest of their lives? Will there come a time whereby their age allows developmental maturity and the STNR no longer ceases to be in control despite its presence in assessments and posture. From my own experience, I know I function competently but probably not ideally, and I am constantly aware of and adjusting my own posture.
I was re-assessing a child just yesterday. I watched intently as I assessed for the STNR which is conducted in a table position (on hands and knees). One thing to note in this assessment is convergence of the eyes upon movement of the head. I watched the feet, arms, elbows, back and neck position. Thinking that this child would most probably register as having a partial STNR. It wasn’t until I positioned myself by the head of the child and watched what happened to the eyes that I was astounded. I mean, it was something out of the poltergeist! Truly, I had not noticed this before if it was present. And I have not seen this in any other child. As the head lowered from looking at the ceiling to the placement of their hands the eyes suddenly converged half way down, making cross eyes. The eyes stayed there – much to my surprise – until the child blinked and refocused.
To see this was both amazing and astounding. Wow. Really! As the reflex came into effect the lack of control of the child’s eyes was plain to see. I didn’t know that the eyes did this so strongly with this reflex, and to think how it must have felt for the child is quit disturbing. As someone who is prone to travel sickness I am aware of the feeling of visual vestibular mismatch. This would have been exactly the same feeling. The brain would not have processed the same sensations through her vestibular input as well as visual. And to think this is most probably occurring on a daily basis. The impact on the educational achievement and physical coordination is huge. Every time this child would move her head up and down her eyes would change. Imagine this in the classroom where they have to look at whiteboards then books, the teacher then pupils and more books. The head is constantly moving and this is why active primitive reflexes have such a detrimental effect. Even on the sports field where they have to move to catch balls, the eyes would change, and unfocus and the child would spend so much time gaining control over their body that there would be little time left for actual learning.
However, the impact of Primitive reflexes in older children is not always so accepted and is often disputed. But upon seeing how it impacts a child’s body, completely outside of their control, I honestly wonder why. It is obvious that reflexes play a part in normal childhood development. Yet why do we refrain from acknowledging their impact on coordination and academic success later in life.
How can we help? What can I do? These are questions of practicality. Not theory. Though both are important and valid. What can we do to help children in our care better their physical coordination so that reflexes are ‘put to sleep’ and controlled coordinated movements are made?
One of the first things we can do is to ensure our children are moving. Moving every day. Moving more than they are sitting, especially in the early years. Any kind of movement is beneficial. For the STNR particularly it is the coordination of the upper and lower parts of the body. Imagine that the child is cut in two along the line of their tummy button. Can their arms and legs perform coordinated movements at the same time? Can they go left – left and right – right then in opposites left and right together without thinking? This crossing the mid-line and bi-lateral integration is indicative of a brain that can coordinate efficiently between the two hemispheres of the brain.
Let’s move! Simply move. Run, (because that uses both sides of the brain), crawl (because that coordinates both top and bottom), and do strength based exercises which allows the increase of extensor muscle tone (muscles on the back) as well as arms and core. These muscles are essential for static balance and good posture when sitting still. We can use this as a time together, playing and having fun. Let’s not become too busy to play and move with our children. Remember; a well coordinated body means there is a well coordinated mind! Happy moving!