Underdeveloped Protective Reflexes = Underdeveloped Hand/Fine Motor Skills

Protective reflexes kick in when you fall down and your arm reaches out to break your fall. This is the hands supporting reflex at work on your behalf without you thinking about it. In a more dramatic situation, say, you fall over-board and you need to pull yourself back into the boat or hold onto a rope for dear life that your friend has thrown you. You would need to have developed hands pulling and hands grasping protective reflexes for this situation to work out in your favor.

Thank goodness these situations are rare, but we do need protective reflexes in our regular everyday life. Having a fully developed grasp reflex allows us to effectively hold our pencil and apply the right amount of pressure to the page. Having fully developed grasp reflex allows us to button our clothes easily, tie our shoes and open food containers at lunch time without asking for help. Hands pulling reflex helps us get from lying to sitting position, so we get out of bed in an organized fashion. It helps to organize our movement patterns necessary for the acquisition of other skills. Hands supporting reflex allows us to move our bottoms back in our chair for more upright sitting, but also helps protect our heads from the books falling out of the bookcase. There are many more uses for protective reflexes, but you get the idea.

The child who has not developed these reflexes fully often avoids work requiring hand use, especially fine motor skills. They are a contributing factor to poor legibility of handwriting and awkward grasp of the pencil. Many children with poor protective reflexes, especially hands grasping reflex avoid use of the thumbs during functional tasks altogether. Children with poorly developed protective reflexes often complain their hands are tired and want to give up quickly on the activity being performed.

The developing child gains protective reflexes with experience through the use of their bodies in different positions, exploration and manipulation of the environment. These things naturally occur when a child plays. Here are some of the top practical and simple solutions for gaining protective reflexes:

  • Play tug of war with a thick rope or towel. Make sure the thumb is in an active position in opposition to the long or ring fingers. If the thumb is sticking up in the air or sitting pretty next to the index finger, correct the position and continue tugging.

  • Provide projects requiring tool use. It’s hard not to use your thumb when you are using tweezers, pliers or screwdrivers.

  • Wheelbarrow walking. Walk on hands with someone else holding the feet.

  • Pulling up on monkey bars or other climbing apparatus at the playground. Encourage the child to climb up the slide they just slid down.

Have a play filled day,