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What is a learning disability?

Learning is a fundamental aspect of our human development. It's a journey that begins in infancy and continues throughout life. However, for some people, this journey can be fraught with challenges.

Learning disabilities are challenges that impact a person's ability to gain and use various skills; particularly those related to reading, writing, and processing information.

In this article, we will explore the subject of learning difficulties delve into the emerging connection between retained primitive reflexes in childhood and the development of learning difficulties.

Children learning

Understanding Learning Disabilities

A learning disability is a neurological condition that affects the brain's ability to process and store information. It's important to note that learning disabilities are not a true indication of a person's intelligence or IQ. People with learning disabilities often have average or above-average intelligence but struggle with specific tasks or skills. These difficulties can manifest in various ways, including difficulties with reading (dyslexia), writing (dysgraphia), mathematics (dyscalculia), and many more specific difficulties that we will highlight another day.

The Spectrum of Learning Disabilities

Learning disabilities exist on a broad spectrum, and their symptoms can vary significantly from person to person. Some common types of learning disabilities include:

  1. Dyslexia: Dyslexia is perhaps the most well-known learning disability. It affects a person's ability to read, spell, and write. Individuals with dyslexia may have difficulty recognizing letters, decoding words, and understanding the sequence of sounds in words. Dyslexia is characterised by other difficulties in sequencing, memory and automaticity as well (which is the ability to recall information quickly from the long term memory)

  2. Dysgraphia: Dysgraphia primarily impacts a person's handwriting and fine motor skills. Those with dysgraphia may struggle to form letters, write legibly, or organize their thoughts on paper.

  3. Dyscalculia: Dyscalculia is a learning disability related to mathematics. It can affect a person's ability to understand numerical concepts, perform calculations, and solve mathematical problems.

  4. Auditory Processing Disorder (APD): APD affects how the brain processes auditory information. Individuals with APD may struggle to understand spoken language, especially in noisy environments.

  5. Visual Processing Disorder: This type of learning disability involves difficulties in processing visual information, which can affect tasks like reading, recognizing shapes, and interpreting visual cues.

While these are some of the most common learning disabilities, there are many others, each with its unique set of challenges. It's crucial to understand that learning disabilities are not simply a result of laziness or lack of effort. They have a neurological basis that makes certain tasks more challenging for affected individuals.

The Role of Retained Primitive Reflexes

One intriguing area of Study Buddy's work is the role of retained primitive reflexes. Primitive reflexes are automatic, involuntary movements that babies are born with. These reflexes serve important functions in early development, such as enabling childbirth and helping babies to latch onto the breast for feeding. However, as a child grows and develops, these primitive reflexes should naturally disappear, making way for more sophisticated motor skills and cognitive functions.

In some cases, primitive reflexes persist beyond their expected developmental stage. This phenomenon is referred to as "retained primitive reflexes." While the reasons for the retention of these reflexes are not fully understood, it is believed to be linked to developmental delays or disruptions in early childhood.

Baby with reflexes

The Connection to Learning Difficulties

The persistence of primitive reflexes can have a profound impact on a child's development, potentially leading to learning difficulties later in life. One theory suggests that retained primitive reflexes can disrupt the development of higher-level cognitive and motor skills. For example, the Moro reflex, which is typically present in newborns, involves a startling response to sudden changes in position or noise. If this reflex persists, it may cause a child to become easily overwhelmed or overstimulated by their environment, making it difficult for them to focus and learn in a classroom setting. This could be seen as behaviours relating to ADHD, anxiety and sensory processing difficulties as the child gets older, and in fact, could be labelled as such when there are retained primitive reflexes that need to be integrated and treated first.

Additionally, retained primitive reflexes can affect motor coordination and balance, making tasks like handwriting and fine motor activities challenging for children. This can contribute to dysgraphia and other related learning difficulties such as traits of dyspraxia.

Assessment and Intervention

Identifying and addressing retained primitive reflexes early in a child's development is crucial to limit their potential impact on learning. Assessment by a healthcare professional, such as an occupational therapist or paediatrician, is essential to determine the presence of retained reflexes. Once identified, a tailored intervention plan can be developed to help the child integrate these reflexes and develop more advanced motor and cognitive skills. An experienced behavioural optometrist with a background in special educational needs will also be able to identify and provide therapy for retained primitive reflexes.

Intervention strategies may include sensory integration therapy, occupational therapy, and exercises designed to target specific reflexes. These interventions aim to retrain the brain and nervous system to mature and develop appropriately, helping the child overcome their learning challenges.

Dyslexia assessment Study Buddy


Learning disabilities are complex neurological conditions that affect millions of individuals worldwide. While the causes of learning disabilities are multifaceted, the role of retained primitive reflexes in early childhood development is an intriguing area of study. Understanding this connection sheds light on how early interventions can help children overcome learning difficulties and unlock their full potential. Did you know we provide an online membership to help educate teachers and parents about learning difficulties?

(In fact, here is a limited time trial offer for you:

It's important for parents, educators, and healthcare professionals to be aware of the signs of learning disabilities and the potential influence of retained primitive reflexes. By providing timely support and intervention, we can empower individuals with learning disabilities to thrive academically and in all aspects of life.

Learning may be a lifelong journey, but with the right guidance and support, every individual has the potential to reach their innate potential.

Here at Study Buddy we provide assessment services for retained primitive reflexes, along with the assessment and diagnosis of other learning difficulties. Just contact us to book an appointment! BOOK HERE

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