Persistent primary reflexes affect motor acts: Potential implications for autism spectrum disorder

Res Dev Disabil. 2018 Dec;83:287-295. doi: 10.1016/j.ridd.2016.07.010. Epub 2016 Aug 29.


In typical motor development progress in use of goal-directed actions and communicative gestures depends on the inhibition of several primitive reflexes, especially those that involve the hand or mouth. This study explored the relationship between the persistence of primitive reflexes that involve the hand or mouth and the motor repertoire in a sample of 12- to 17-month-old infants. Moreover, since children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) often have difficulty in performing skilled movements and show poor gesture repertoire, and since ASD represents the upper extreme of a constellation of traits that may be continuously distributed in the general population, we investigated the relationship between the persistence of primitive reflexes in the same sample of infants and the subclinical autistic traits measured in their parents. Results revealed that the persistence of the primitive reflexes correlated with motor repertoire irrespective of infant's age, and it was greater among infants whose parents had more subclinical autistic traits. Our findings suggest that the persistence of primitive reflexes might alter the developmental trajectory of future motor ability and therefore their evaluation might be an early indicator of atypical development.

Keywords: Broader Autism Phenotype; Communicative gestures; Motor acts; Primitive reflexes.

MeSH terms

  • Aptitude
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder* / diagnosis
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder* / physiopathology
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder* / psychology
  • Child Development*
  • Female
  • Gestures*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Motor Skills*
  • Nonverbal Communication
  • Reflex*