Did you know that when we are in the womb and shortly after we are born, we have a range of primitive reflexes that help us grow? Before our higher brain has developed the ability to make decisions, these reflexes help our body move and respond to different stimuli.
The Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (ATNR) should be fully present at birth and assists in the baby’s active participation in the birthing process. When a newborn’s head is turned to one side, the arm and leg on that side straighten while the opposite arm and leg bend. The ATNR reflex is important in babies for establishing the connection between touch and vision which will have a huge role in our distance perception and hand eye coordination as we grow.
In early months, ATNR locks vision on to anything which catches the attention. If inappropriately retained, the child (or adult) is easily distracted by anything that attracts the attention. Results of a recent study show that ADHD symptoms are closely linked to persisting ATNR, which indicates that ADHD symptoms may present a compensation of unfinished developmental stages (1).
A persisting ATNR in people with ADHD may occur as a response to various stimuli. This is due to a conflict between higher (more developed) and primitive level (less developed) areas of brain function and decision making (2).
If the ATNR is retained, children may find it difficult to look up at a blackboard and write, maintain normal walking patterns, balance, co-ordination in sport and in adults, there can be chronic shoulder or neck problems.
Here are some easy ways to test for an ATNR at home:
A. Ask your child to get on all fours with the arms straight, fingers pointing forward and the head in neutral. With their weight over their hands, rotate the child’s head left or right. If their elbow bends on the opposite side of head rotation (as would in the infant) OR the weight shifts posteriorly (i.e. off the hands) then the reflex is probably present.
B. Alternatively, have the child standing 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 the torso and arms turn in the direction of the head or if the arms drop this reflex is likely present.
If you suspect that yourself or your child has a retained ATNR, call our practice now for further assessment.