The Weakness that Can Contribute to Reading & Writing Difficulties


“He barely crawled.”

“She was an early walker.”

“He didn’t crawl.”

“Her crawl was more of a shuffle.”

I hear this all the time when it comes to kids with learning and behaviour difficulties. It’s the reason why retained primitive reflexes can wreak so much havoc on a child’s ability to read, learn, write and focus.

The STNR Reflex

Often when I screen kids with these challenges, they have a retained Symmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (STNR). Where the ATNR (which I talked about last week) helps to establish the midline and separating the left and right side of the body, the STNR develops next and assists with using the top and bottom half of the body separately.

This reflex helps the baby to move against gravity by going from being on their belly to being on their hands and knees where they learn to creep and eventually crawl. Both creeping and crawling are essential for vision training, developing near and far vision, the eyes’ ability to cross the midline smoothly and hand-eye coordination.

How Crawling Develops Vision and Skills for Reading & Writing

Crawling in particular is essential for brain development and the visual system. When an infant crawls, and looks ahead at their hands as they advance, they are tracking their hands and this helps to develop hand-eye coordination and in particular the eyes’ ability to cross the midline.

This skill is essential for good reading and writing. Studies have found that literacy skills like reading and writing can be seriously impacted when children do not crawl or for long enough since the distance of the hands to the eyes for crawling is approximately the same distance in which we read and write.

When hand-eye coordination is weak, kids easily lose their place when reading and have difficulty writing and tracking the hand that they are writing with.

Crawling also assists with development of the left and right brain hemispheres as well as the corpus callosum (CC). The CC is the band of neural fibre between the left and right brain hemisphere. The development of this band is crucial for information to be efficiently transferred and processed between the two brain hemispheres.

When the STNR Fails to Integrate

This reflex should disappear at around 6-9 months. If it does not disappear then it can impact your child’s ability to crawl on their hands and knees. Instead, a child might crawl atypically and do a ‘bum shuffle’, they might do a ‘bear walk’ or skip crawling and go right into walking.

Both reading and writing are often affected when the STNR is not integrated since so many skills in reading and writing like visual coordination, the ability to track words, copying notes from the board, short term memory as well as focus are all skills that the STNR helps to develop.

Even math can be a challenge if there is poor visual development since numbers can be hard to see correctly, or a child might have difficulty lining up their numbers or organizing their written work on the page.

What a Retained STNR Looks Like

Often times these kids have poor posture and are easy to pick out in a classroom because they are the ones who slouch at their desk or even lay their head down to write.

At home they often prefer to lay down to work then to sit on a chair. Sitting cross-legged such as carpet time in school can be uncomfortable and cause them to fidget which can look a lot like ADHD.

A constant feeling of needing to fidget or not being comfortable when sitting can lead to not only fidgeting but poor focus and therefore decreased attention to learn. These are the kids who are more likely to be labelled with behaviour related issues because their inability to sit and learn often leads to a dislike for school and results in them acting out in class and even playing the class clown.

Signs of a Retained STNR

A 2004 study found that kids with ADHD or who were impulsive often had a retained STNR. The signs of retained STNR are:

  • ADHD, dyslexia, dysgraphia
  • Poor posture, slumps at desk
  • Learning disabilities
  • Skipped crawling or didn’t crawl long or ‘typically’
  • Poor hand-eye coordination
  • Fidgety
  • Poor coordination, clumsy, messy eater
  • Problems copying from the board
  • Difficulty catching a ball
  • Ape-like walk, sits in ‘W-position’
  • Poor binocular vision, eye-tracking or vision problems
  • Low muscle tone
  • Prefers to lay down to read or do schoolwork
  • Difficulty going from near to far sighted such as copying notes from the blackboard
  • Difficulty learning to swim
  • Wraps feet around chair legs when sitting
  • Poor depth perception and spatial awareness

Integrating the STNR Reflex

If your child has a retained STNR, they will need targeted exercises to integrate that reflex to help improve their ability to read and write optimally and to improve general learning ability and focus.

Keep in mind that addressing learning and behaviour difficulties is not usually as simple as integrating one reflex. These kids often have numerous retained reflexes and other factors need to be considered as well when it comes to brain organization such as poor vestibular function as well as a brain hemisphere that may be underdeveloped.

To learn more about how to improve your child’s learning, reading and behaviour so they can regain their confidence and reach their full potential, book a free Clarity Call to find out if my 6-month program the Full Potential Formula is right for your child.