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.)  

6 thoughts on “Plateaux, New Discoveries and Retained Primitive Reflexes

    • Hi Katie,

      Thank you for your support and encouraging words. And thanks for noting the typo in the link to the Minnesota Vision Therapy Centre’s web site. I made the correction.

      Take care,


  1. Hi April,
    My son who is now 13, has a very similar history. He walked very early and only crab crawled for a short period as a baby. At 6, he had a mold exposure and he developed an intermittent strabismus of his right eye and we realized that his visual system was weak and that he had extreme farsightedness probably due to his walking early and not crawling but we didn’t know this yet. We did vision therapy and 7 months and $7500 later his eye turn resolved and he was prescribed glasses to help his eyes have less strain at near. Things improved for him academically but he still had problems. About two years ago he suddenly had the eye turn back but now it was mainly his left eye and it is constant although he does alternate and he sees double. Back to vision therapy and 12 weeks and $3,000 later no real change. I had been researching and came across the link between not crawling and near vision and convergence and just about fell out of my chair. My peds had always said how advanced my son was and downplayed my concern over his weird crawl.
    I found Brain Highways and drove 7 hours round trip every week to put him in their program after attending the assessment. it is $500 for the Pons(creeping) class which is 8 weeks. You can take the class online as well. After the Pons class, he could track perfectly….up, down, sideways while answering ?s. We took the second class Midbrain(crawling) on line and we are almost finished. There are so many improvements that they are hard to list but my son, who has always been active and loves to ski and paddleboard and is a red belt in karate working on his black, would never go near a skateboard and Nancy(director at Brain Highways) told me why…….he compensates very well for his lack of vision, but it is very hard to compensate on moving wheels where you have to balance. I am happy to say that two months ago he asked to get a skateboard and he has been riding it every day since.
    We are doing syntonic therapy now and hopefully he will not need any VT or very little.
    I am curious whether you daughter had exposure to antibiotics? That has also been a player in my son’s visual issues.
    Thanks for your are on the right track…..

    • Hi Lynn,

      Thanks so much for your message and for reading our blog.

      WOW – you and your son have been through so much. I am glad that he has been enjoying some of the benefits of his hard work and having fun with his new skateboard. 🙂

      Thank you for mentioning Brain Highways. I’m glad their program is working out for you and your on. We definitely don’t have a location near us, but good to know that their online programs are an option for those who may need it.

      To answer your question, my daughter has only been on antibiotics once. At age 3.5. She hasn’t taken them since.

      I hope everything continues to go well with syntonic therapy and VT ends (or lessens) for your son soon.

      We have a ways to go, but I am confident we’ll get there.

      Enjoy the rest of your summer!


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