The development of a baby or young child is a marvellous thing. It's fantastic to see a parent, grandparent, or anyone witness how the little newcomer explores the world, responds to smiles, and human words. It's an exciting and uplifting feeling to observe how they become more skilled day by day, how they create connections with their environment, and communicate with the people around them..
For a first-time parent, it can be a challenge to assess whether their child's speech and movement are developing appropriately, and whether everything is fine with the baby or young child. Young parents often lack prior experience and may not be familiar with developmental milestones. Without a frame of reference, it's difficult to differentiate between normal variations in development and potential delays or issues that might require intervention.
While there is a wealth of information available about child development on the internet and in the literature, it can be challenging to navigate through the abundance of information. If a child's speech is delayed or there are issues with motor development, parents are often advised to be patient, which may not always be the best approach. One often hears the story about Einstein only starting to speak at the age of four. While this might be true, "Einsteins" are exceptional and very few in number.
Personally, I align with those experts who advocate for the "the sooner, the better" principle when it comes to development and physical therapy. I write more about this in my book "The Stephens-Sarlós Program."
Fortunately, many babies develop at an appropriate pace. However, occasionally there are minor or more significant hiccups along the way. They may not lift their heads, not roll over from tummy to back and vice versa, not sit up when they should already be able, or not start walking. Or perhaps they start walking but go on tiptoes for too long. Their movement may be asymmetrical, they may skip the crawling stage, not start speaking on time, or not speak at all by the age of three. When physical issues are not responsible, the most common cause of these delays is the slower maturation of the nervous system.
The persistence of primitive reflexes beyond the expected age can indicate delayed neurological development or some form of blockage. I wrote about this in a previous blog post.
The timely inhibition of primitive reflexes is crucial for several reasons. Firstly, these reflexes signal the immaturity of the higher cognitive functions of the cerebral cortex. If these reflexes are not inhibited, it suggests a delay in the development of the brain's sophisticated processing capabilities.
Secondly, the timely inhibition of primitive reflexes is closely related to speech development. Reflexes like the sucking and rooting reflexes are necessary for survival in infancy but should gradually "fade" as the child gets older. If these reflexes persist beyond the expected age, they can disrupt the coordination required for speech production, leading to delays or difficulties in language development.
Furthermore, inhibiting primitive reflexes is crucial for proper motor development. As the child grows and gains control over voluntary movements, the cerebral cortex ensures that primitive reflexes "switch off". This facilitates the development of more sophisticated and intentional actions. A properly matured nervous system produces neurotransmitters (e.g., GABA, glycine) that facilitate the inhibition of unwanted reflexes. The absence of these neurotransmitters can hinder the development of fine and gross motor skills, potentially leading to delays in crawling, walking, and other physical milestones.
The persistence of primitive reflexes beyond the appropriate age can also affect behavior. Automatic reactions can disrupt a child's ability to regulate their responses and reactions adequately. This can result in impulsive or hyperactive behavior, which can impact interactions with others and overall social development.
My experience is that in many cases surprisingly little intervention is needed to ensure that a child's development will proceed correctly.
On my website you can find reflex integration exercises that parents can perform with their young children.
I recommend these for children between one and four years old. They may also aid in the development of older children who require significant parental support and are unable to perform more complex exercises.