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If a newborn’s head is turned to one side, the arm and leg on the side of the body the head is turned towards will straighten, while the opposite arm and leg will pull in. This reflex should be fully present at birth and appears to assist the baby’s active participation in the birthing process.

What this means is, the hand moves in conjunction with the head. This connection between touch and vision helps to establish distance perception and hand-eye coordination. However, if this primitive reflex is retained, the hand and eye want to move together, making it difficult to look up at a blackboard and write at the same time.

When walking, turning the head results in the straightening of the arm and leg on the same side, upsetting balance and normal walking pattern. It can also affect a person’s ability to catch a ball and may hinder other sporting activities.

In the early months, Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex locks vision on to anything which catches the attention. If retained, the child (or adult) is easily distracted by anything that can attract their attention (sometimes known as ‘shiny object syndrome).

A retained Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex retention may lead to:

  • Hand-eye co-ordination difficulty.
  • Poor handwriting.
  • Awkward pencil grip.
  • Difficulty copying from a blackboard.
  • Missing parts of a line when reading.
  • Difficulty catching a ball.
  • Unable to cross the vertical midline (for example, a right-handed child may find it difficult to write on the left side of the page).
  • Discrepancy between oral and written performance.
  • Disturbed development of visual tracking (which is necessary for reading and writing).
  • Balance may be disturbed.
  • Bilateral integration (integrated use of the two sides of the body) may be poor.
  • Establishment of a dominant hand, eye or ear may be difficult.
  • Judgment of distance may be affected.
  • Poor at sports.
  • In adults there can be chronic shoulder and/or neck problems.

How to Test for the Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex at Home

  • Ask your child to get on all fours with their arms straight, fingers pointing forward and the head in neutral.
  • With their weight over their hands, rotate your child’s head left or right. If their elbow bends on the opposite side of head rotation OR their weight shifts off or away from their hands, then this reflex is probably present.
  • Alternatively, have your child stand with arms straight out in front of them at shoulder height. Ask the child to turn their head fully to the left or fully to the right while maintaining the position of the arms out front.
  • If their torso and arms turn in the direction of the head or if the arms drop, this reflex is likely present.
  • This signifies that your child has not yet disassociated neck movement from shoulder movement.

(P.S. these tests work on adults too!)

What to do about it?

A Kinesiology balance can identify and rectify retained primitive reflexes, including the Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex. If you think you, your child, or an adult in your life may have a retained Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex, give us a call or book an appointment so we can test and balance the primitive and postural reflexes.

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