Primitive reflexes and the development of the visual system

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by Dr. Melodie de Jager.

Vision is a complex skill

A substantial body of science points to the fact that vision is a complex marvel that involves not only the eyes but the whole body, emotions, perceptions and thoughts. For the purposes of this article the focus is on the neurological substructure of the visual system and at a basic level only.

The way the eyes see and the way in which the world is perceived through the eyes is the result of a complex network of neural connections.  These connections depend on the maturation of the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) as well as the peripheral nervous system (sensory- motor).

The neural networks supporting vision are complex as the eyes are the last of the senses to mature, building on the structure and functioning of the vestibular system. This becomes clear when we consider that visual input is modulated by the vestibular system; influenced by the limbic system (emotional brain) and controlled by the cerebral cortex. The complex networks of the eye develop as a result of a variety of stereotypical movements, called primitive reflexes and postural reactions.

When vision is unclear, it does not only affect your ability to see, but it also tends to impact on your sense of self.  It influences who you are, what you can do, the clarity of your thinking and confidence in yourself.  It may affect academic performance, performance at work and interpersonal relationships.

Dawkins, Edelman and Forkiotis (1991) go further to say: “your vision system affects your posture – and your posture affects your vision system. Warps, gaps or lags at any point in the vision system will distort the neurological impulses going to the neck and back. Usually such distortions lead to muscle tension, chronic muscle aches, dizziness, teeth grinding, bed-wetting, claustrophobia or travel sickness”.


Primitive reflex system and postural reactions

The primitive reflex system is essential to the baby’s survival since primitive reflexes act as basic training for all later skills, such as listening, talking, drawing, reading, writing, paying attention, playing and performing.  During the course of normal development, primitive reflexes emerge sequentially. They then strengthen to fulfill a function before inhibiting again. The responsibility of continued development is then passed on to the next reflex. This process is similar to a relay race, where an individual athlete runs flat out before passing the baton to the next athlete, and then is able to relax on the track.

Primitive reflexes are specifically designed to have a limited lifespan. Once they have completed their developmental function, they retire and allow the rational brain to take control. However, when a primitive reflex does not completely fulfill its function, it remains active and acts as a signal indicating that there is a neurological weakness.

The primitive reflex system develops chronologically, and in turn develops and matures the nervous system (central and peripheral) in a chronological sequence, which implies that specific milestones should be achieved by a certain age. Infant developmental milestones, such as neck muscle strength, or the ability to roll, sit, crawl, walk and talk, are clear signals indicating the effectiveness of the baby’s neurological development. Failure to reach these milestones can be viewed as an indication of neurological immaturity while subsequent neurological development may be built on weak foundations. The correct sequence is therefore crucial to neurological development, which in turn is a vital precursor to motor, perceptual, emotional and cognitive development.

According to Goddard (2002), any interruption in the sequential attainment of developmental milestones will result in earlier reflexes remaining active in the system, disturbing the emergence of subsequent primitive reflexes. When the primitive reflex sequence is interrupted, the body attempts to compensate, which requires a tremendous amount of energy, effort and concentration. When a person (irrespective of age) feels stressed and tired, he might not have enough energy to compensate, and tend to loose concentration and struggle to cope. This is why under stressful circumstances the reflexive behaviour often becomes more noticeable.

In order to understand what goes wrong when reflexes do not retire, but remain aberrant, it is important to understand the function of each individual reflex. This article focuses on the development of vision.

The master blueprint for vision (and reading) unfolds in the period after the following primitive reflexes emerge and before they retire. This unfolding process may be accompanied by certain signals, which serve to alert you to the fact that an aberrant reflex is still present, indicating a structural weakness (De Jager, 2019).     


The following primitive reflexes are involved with visual development:

The following bridging reflexes are involved with visual development:

The following postural reactions are involved with visual development:

The postural reactions can only emerge once the primitive reflexes have fulfilled their developmental functions. Therefore visual skills such as binocular vision, vertical tracking, fixation and visual attention may be compromised when one or more of the primitive reflexes remain aberrant (active).

The vestibular system is at the core of vision. The vestibular system develops at 8 weeks in utero, becomes operational at 16 weeks in utero, and is myelinated at birth. The development of the vestibular system is associated with development of proprioception and touch. These two sensory systems (proprioception and touch) are operational at approximately five weeks after conception, when the embryo responds to stimuli by withdrawing with a total body reaction. Body reactions and posture are mediated by the cerebellum (responsible for movement), together with the vestibular system (responsible for balance, direction and orientation). Underdevelopment of proprioception, touch, the cerebellum and/or vestibular system will affect all subsequent sensory systems as well as posture “because all sensations pass through the vestibular mechanism at brain stem level before being transmitted elsewhere” (Goddard, 2002).

King and Schrager (1999) reiterate the importance of the vestibular involvement in vision by stating that 90% of the cells in the visual system respond to vestibular activation. Both the vestibular and the reflex systems act as substructures upon which ocular-motor, visual-perceptual skills and eye-movements are built (Goddard, 2002). It then follows that specific movements (as stimulated by the reflex system) develop and strengthen the complex nerve networks, which are at the foundations of optimal vision and improved posture.

Mind Moves® and the development of the visual system

If primitive reflexes are still active (aberrant) in a person older than 12 months, a reflex inhibition program is recommended to develop the corresponding immaturities in the nervous system (Blythe, 1979; De Jager, 2019; Goddard, 2002).

Mind Moves is such a reflex inhibition program, using simple physical movements to mimic the natural reflexive patterns seen in infants. As each reflex is responsible for the development of a specific part of the nervous system, the purpose of Mind Moves is to activate those aberrant reflexes that are associated with specific neurological immaturities.  With repetitive activation of the aberrant reflex(es), the corresponding parts of the nervous system (central and peripheral) can be developed, and the function of the reflex be fulfilled. The reflex would then become inhibited, and stay in a state of rest, ready to be reactivated should injury to the nervous system occur.

As with emotional or mental barriers to clear vision, neurological immaturities cannot be addressed with lenses only. Lenses may enable a person to compensate for neurological immaturities, but to promote a flexible visual system, a reflex inhibition program is recommended. The following Mind Moves may form part of a more comprehensive reflex inhibition programme (De Jager, 2019).

For a glimpse on the Mind Moves Institute’s approach to a reflex inhibition programme, kindly follow this link and download a complimentary chapter of this book

Recommended Mind Moves for Ocular Stability:

Mind Moves Massage


Mind Moves Rise and Shine

Mind Moves Core Workout

Mind Moves Bilateral Integrator

Mind Moves Visual Workout

Mind Moves Focus Adjuster

Mind Moves Mouse Pad March

Mind Moves Mouse Pad

Once you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.

Blythe, P. & McGlown, D.J. 1979. An organic basis for neuroses and educational difficulties. Chester: Insight Publications.

Dawkins, H, Edelman, E. & Forkiotis, C. 1991. Suddenly Successful: How behavioral optometry help you overcome learning, health and behavioural problems. Santa Anna: Optometric Extension Program Foundation.

De Jager, M. 2019. Mind Moves – removing barriers to learning. Johannesburg: Mind moves Institute Publishing


Goddard, S. 2002. Reflexes, learning and behavior. Oregon: Fern Ridge Press.


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