Plateaux, New Discoveries and Retained Primitive Reflexes

It’s been awhile since my last blog entry. Life has been hectic as it is for so many of us at this time of year. Homework, projects, report card assessments, extra-curriculars, birthday parties, end of the year school concerts on top of vision therapy and life has been a whirlwind of activity! (Seven more days until summer vacation from school!)

We are at 36 weeks in our daughter’s Vision Therapy program. Her reading skills have improved, and she no longer tires after a few lines or complains of a headache and sore eyes. She even said to me the other day that she “loves reading now”. This is progress! We saw Dr. Tai yesterday for the post 30w assessment and while testing indicated that eye tracking and eye teaming have improved greatly, convergence is still being stubborn. My husband and I have been quietly hopeful these past several weeks, encouraging our daughter through her exercises, but admittedly not really seeing any additional improvements. (At least not to the degree we’d been seeing earlier in her therapy.) I refer to it as a plateau. Our Vision Therapist and Dr. Tai both sensed that “something” has created a barrier to our daughter’s success. Yesterday brought a new term to the forefront of my mind:

Retained Primitive Reflexes

While I had heard the term before, I gave it little attention. After all, as an infant our daughter reached   her milestones ahead of schedule. She rolled over, sat up unassisted, crawled, walked and talked earlier than the average, and expressed keen interest in the world around her. All good things, right? Well, yes and no.

What are primitive reflexes?

As I understand it, primitive reflexes are automatic reflex actions that the majority of babies are born with that present in response to certain stimuli.  For a more concise definition, I encourage you to read the following article from Minnesota Vision Therapy.

Eventually, usually by 12-months of age, primitive reflexes go away as new, more sophisticated skills develop. If this doesn’t happen, or there are delays, a child could struggle with reading and learning. This is referred to as “Retained Primitive Reflexes” or RPR for short.  (I am being vague on purpose as I am not an expert on this subject by any stretch of the imagination. Please refer to the following article entitled “Primitive Reflexes” from Lynn Valley Optometry for a better explanation.)

Confused yet? You’re in good company!

Dr. Tai assessed our daughter yesterday and came to discover that she has Retained Primitive Reflexes. As her mother I immediately wondered how that’s possible if she reached all her milestones in record time. Imagine my surprise when I learned that the quality of these skills matters much more than when she actually achieved them! While there are hundreds of reasons why a child (or adult) may have retained primitive reflexes, one possibility is not enough time spent developing a skill. Take crawling for example; while our daughter crawled early, (and did so on all fours versus scooting on her derriere) looking back, she didn’t spend a great deal of time doing it as she moved on to walking soon after. Is this why she has retained primitive reflexes? I have no idea. Admittedly, I’m feeling like a fish out of water as I try to educate myself on this subject.

I do know that if RPR hasn’t been corrected, these retained primitive reflexes can impede the successful outcome of a vision therapy treatment program.

What does this mean?

This new discovery means two things for us, or more specifically for our daughter:

  • Her therapy program has been modified to include a series of physical exercises that will be completed twice per day, every day for the next few months to address the issue of RPR.
  • Her Vision Therapy program has been extended until at least the end of December.

Few journeys follow a straight line to their final destination, and this has certainly proved true for our journey through vision therapy. At first, I saw this as a delay, but upon further reflection it really isn’t. Instead it’s a new direction that will hopefully lead us to helping our daughter reach her full potential.

We’re discouraged, but we’re not out of the game. I can’t tell you exactly why, except that instinct tells me to keep the faith.

(NOTE: Please forgive any errors I inadvertently included above. As I mentioned, RPR and all it encompasses is very new territory for us.)