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Year : 2013  |  Volume : 3  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 1-2

A neuro-developmental approach to specific learning difficulties

Neuro-developmental Delay Therapist, INPP, UK Craniosacral Therapist, Craniosuisse, Switzerland

Date of Web Publication6-Feb-2013

Correspondence Address:
Therese Desorbay
Neuro-developmental Delay Therapist, INPP, UK Craniosacral Therapist, Craniosuisse
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/2231-0738.106970

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How to cite this article:
Desorbay T. A neuro-developmental approach to specific learning difficulties. Int J Nutr Pharmacol Neurol Dis 2013;3:1-2

How to cite this URL:
Desorbay T. A neuro-developmental approach to specific learning difficulties. Int J Nutr Pharmacol Neurol Dis [serial online] 2013 [cited 2022 Oct 7];3:1-2. Available from:

There is a list of labels given to children and adults with learning, coordination and behavioural difficulties: Dyslexia, dyspraxia, dysgraphia, ADD, ADHD, and Asperger's Syndrome are some of the more commonly known. Overlap exists between the syndromes and the range within a particular diagnosis can be from mild to severe. These labels allow professionals and families to utilise various techniques and strategies to help manage symptoms e.g., -medication, extra assistance in the classroom, more time allotted for exams, use of laptop computers. This can seemingly make life a little easier but often the diagnosis is associated with exclusion, limited expectations to succeed, low self-esteem and depression. Most treatments for these disorders address the symptoms rather than the cause.

Research at INPP (Institute of Neuro-Physiologic Psychology) indicates that a major cause of learning difficulties is an immature central nervous system with the concomitant presence of retained primitive (neonatal) reflexes. They have devised a therapy based on the under-development of these reflexes which addresses the cause of the above mentioned disorders.

Primitive reflexes are involuntary reactions active from before birth up to the first year of life which are processed in the brainstem. Their purpose is to aid in the birth process, ensure contact with the mother, facilitate feeding and provide the basic training for future voluntary skills. The onset and inhibition of each reflex is related to age and necessary for the development of mature neural networks in the cortex.

The normal stimulation and then inhibition of the reflexes begin during pregnancy. Chemicals such as adrenaline, nor-adrenaline and cortisol released into the baby's system due to stress can interfere with this process resulting in neuro-developmental delay. This stress is the result of trauma to the mother and/or baby during pregnancy, childbirth and during the first year of life. The trauma can be physical or emotional and can include a stressful personal event, infection, high fever, prolonged labour, forceps delivery or caesarean section.

The following are brief descriptions of some of the primitive reflexes that are present in utero and in the first year of life along with specific symptoms that may signal their continued presence.

The Moro reflex is stimulated by sudden movement or noise eliciting the movement of a baby's arms outwards, a momentary freeze and a gasp. It facilitates the first breath at birth and is the baby's involuntary response to a threat. The effect of its retention include overall sensitivity to noise and light, lack of concentration, anxiety, mood swings, hyperactivity, poor stamina, poor sports skills, lowered immunity, timidity and low self-esteem.

The Tonic Labarynthine reflex is vestibular in origin and elicited by movement of the head forwards or backwards in relation to the spine. The earliest manifestation of this reflex is in utero: The flexion of the fetal position and then extension as the baby enters the birth canal; when movement of the head below the spine causes the immediate extension of the arms and legs. Retention symptoms include poor posture, balance and coordination, difficulties with organisation and sense of time, motion sickness, dislike of sports, and visual- perceptual difficulties.

The Palmar and Plantar reflexes are grasp reflexes activated by stimulus to the inside of the hand or bottom of the foot causing a grip reaction. Effects of retention include: Poor pencil grip, manual dexterity and speech articulation and movements of mouth when writing.

The Rooting reflex is activated by stroking the cheek causing the baby's head to turn to that side and open its mouth to feed. The response only occurs when the baby is hungry. Retention can cause hypersensitivity around the mouth, problems with speech and articulation, chewing and swallowing.

The Asymmetrical Tonic Neck reflex is stimulated by the turn of the baby's head causing the limbs to extend on that side and to curl in on the other side. This helps the baby down the birth canal and is strengthened during the birth process. After birth this reflex ensures an open airway for breathing and develops eye-hand coordination. Retention inhibits the development of crawling and later can affect balance, handwriting, sports skills, independent leg and arm movements, visual perception and can manifest itself in mixed laterality.

The Spinal Galant reflex is also involved in the birth process. The reflex is located on either side of the spine between the pelvis and the back. When stimulated the hips rotate, knees and arms bend and the head lifts helping the baby down the birth canal. It is also thought to be involved in the development of crawling. Retention is associated with fidgeting while sitting, bedwetting, un-even gait, dislike of tight clothing around the waist and poor concentration and short-term memory.

The Symmetrical Tonic Neck reflex helps the baby to get from the prone position to its hands and knees. While on hands and knees and head flexed it causes the arms to bend and legs to extend. Head extension causes legs to flex and arms to straighten. Children who retain the reflex have often not crawled on their hands and knees but rather shuffle on their bottoms, "bear walk" on their hands and feet or simply pull themselves to standing and walk. Symptoms suggesting retention include slumping when sitting, "W" leg position when sitting on the floor, poor hand-eye-coordination, slowness at copying tasks, and difficulty learning to swim above the water.

There is no one single answer to approaching treatment for learning difficulties. The correlation between learning difficulties and retained primitive reflexes are a major contributing factor. A child with retained reflexes expends huge amounts of energy and concentration trying to control the effects of immature reflex patterns. This has direct effects on learning and behaviour. While most education and many remedial techniques are aimed at reaching higher centres in the brain, a neuro-developmental approach identifies the lowest level of dysfunction and aims therapy at that area. Studies show effective treatment of the cause of the symptoms in 80% of those following Neuro-developmental delay therapy.

What is neuro-developmental delay therapy?

Neuro-developmental Delay Therapy is a non-invasive programme of exercises which promotes development of the nervous system and the inhibition of primitive reflexes. The exercises are specifically designed to retrain the reflex pathways and improve control over voluntary movements, visual functioning and perceptual abilities.

An initial assessment is followed up with simple, progressive 10-minute daily programme of specifically designed exercises that are monitored and developed over a period of approximately 12-18 months.

The INPP exercise programme gives the brain a second chance to improve the individual's neurological foundation for balance, coordination and postural control.

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