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Natural Awakenings Lehigh Valley

Recognizing Developmental Delays in Children

Nov 03, 2011 03:22PM ● By Dr. Jonathan Tompkins

Infants do not come with an instruction manual. The miracle of watching our children develop is one of the most exciting things in the world to observe. We marvel as our children learn to crawl, walk, run, ride a bike, drive a car and eventually leave the house and have families of their own. This destiny seems to be a sure thing—until the day we realize our child is falling behind.

As parents, we would do anything possible to help our children. Fear is in our hearts, if they fall behind in school, have behavior problems, socialization problems or emotional problems. We have seen the reports regarding the increased rates of autism, pervasive developmental disorders (PDD), attention deficit disorder (ADD), and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). We wonder if this could be our child and why we didn’t see it sooner. Most of all, what can we do about it?

To answer those questions, Functional Neurologists focus on the child’s neurological development. Proper development comes in a sequence of steps. Each step or developmental milestone builds on the previous one. If a child misses a step, it is not immediately apparent. It’s only when the child can’t get over the next step that we see a developmental delay. By looking at the neurological development of a child, these missed milestones can be identified and retrained.

Infants are born with a fully functioning brainstem that regulates temperature, heart rate, digestion and other autonomic functions including simple movements. As the baby develops, the motor system kicks in as they learn to move, reach, grab, sit, crawl and walk. Though these are motor functions involving muscles, the main development is in the brain which controls these movements.

All of our movements start with primitive reflexes that guide our development. These movements are used for a time and then are built upon to develop more complex movement patterns. For example, all babies have the palmar grasp reflex. If we touch a baby’s hand, he or she makes a fist and will not let go. As the baby uses this reflex, the brain is stimulated and within two months, this reflex should disappear. After that, the child will be able to grab and let go on its own.

There are 10 main primitive reflexes that should be inhibited, or absent, in the first two to 12 months. These reflexes are inhibited by the development of a more complex movement. Thus the grasp reflex is inhibited by the ability to open and close the hand freely. Infants should be evaluated at three, six, nine and twelve months to ensure that proper development is taking place in the first year of life. If a reflex is slow to be inhibited, specific training can stimulate the higher movement in order to inhibit the reflex.

If a primitive reflex does not go away, there can be long-term effects such as poor balance and coordination, clumsiness and visual perception problems. For example, problems with focusing occur when the child can not ignore irrelevant visual or auditory stimulation in the periphery. So when they should be focusing on the teacher, the child cannot help but to reflexively look at every sound and visual stimulus that occurs in the room. Problems with attention such as these can be traced back to the child’s development, and with treatment focus can be restored.

Symptoms such as difficulty shutting out background noise; mood swings; difficulty making decisions; fidgeting; bedwetting; poor concentration; poor short-term memory; toe walking; poor organizational or sequencing skills; poor posture; or poor sense of time can occur from retained primitive reflexes. Functional neurological protocol can correct these primitive reflexes with treatments directed to specific areas of the brain to increase coordination, timing, fine motor movements and balance. These treatments are updated as the patient masters them. Inhibiting primitive reflexes and developing proper movement patterns and balance, allows the higher brain centers that control focus, attention, behavior, and memorization to work properly.

Dr. Jonathan Tompkins of the Tompkins Institute of Chiropractic in Bethlehem is a Functional Neurologist specializing in treating neurological disorders. For more information or to attend a free ADD/ADHD workshop on August 24 at 6:30, call 484-821-0818 or visit

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