ATNR: A Hidden Culprit of Poor Handwriting Posture

For most children, following proper writing posture is no problem. But what about Johnny, a bright child in your class who just can’t follow your directions to sit up straight. Is it that Johnny just wants to look cool slouched in his chair, or is something bigger going on?

We know that good posture is important to ensure stress on your muscles, joints and ligaments is distributed evenly across your body. Proper posture when writing is especially important, so it’s no wonder we spend so much time teaching our children what proper handwriting posture looks like:

  • Feet flat on the floor
  • Thighs parallel to floor and knees at a 90 degree angle
  • Back up straight, inclined towards the desk and pivoted from the hips
  • Forearms resting on desk with elbows level with the desktop at 90 degrees
  • Paper stabilized with non-dominant hand
  • Neck and shoulders relaxed
  • Body faces desk squarely so non-dominant arm can support body weight
  • Paper tilted to the up to the right (if right handed) or up to the (if left handed)

For most children, following this posture is no problem. But what about Johnny, a bright child in your class who just can’t follow your directions to sit up straight? Is it that Johnny just wants to look cool slouched in his chair, or is something bigger going on?

In the video below, Kathy Johnson, MS Ed., explores what happens to handwriting when the Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (ATNR) is retained.


This blog was brought to life by PESI speaker Kathy Johnson, MS Ed.

Kathy Johnson, author of The Roadmap From Learning Disabilities To Success, is a nationally recognized expert in multiple therapy methods including: Primitive Reflex Training, Therapeutic Listening, Samonas Listening, PACE, Phono-Graphix, Irlen Syndrome, Brain Gym 101, and An Introduction to Rhythmic Movement.


Dyslexia, Dyscalculia and Dysgraphia: An Integrated Approach

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The Vocabulary of Reading

No one can ever prepare a parent for the confusion that comes when their child appears to learn in a different way from other children. And sometimes, we forget that parents of our students may also be struggling to understand how to help their child. Read more and download a helpful worksheet for parents: The Vocabulary of Reading.

Unlike many skills such as motor development (sitting, crawling, walking) that we are primed to learn via genetic code, reading is a skill we are not born with. Reading is a complex skill that entails understanding symbol-sound relationships, segmenting sounds, using visual-spatial skills to decode,  and attaching meaning to symbols, sounds and words. Last but not least, we have to comprehend the words as they are strung together.

Consider all that can get in the way as we need to see, hear, write, comprehend and speak in order to “learn to read.”

A lot of parents that have children struggling to read wonder, “why is this so hard for my child?”

No one can ever prepare a parent for the confusion that comes when their child appears to learn in a different way from other children. And sometimes, we forget that parents of our students may also be struggling to understand how to help their child.

One way to help engage parents in their child’s educational journey is to make sure they understand the everyday lingo we use in our offices. Words such as phonemes, graphemes, and phonics may be a part of our daily vocabulary, but for many parents these words are foreign.

To help parents understand the components of reading, here’s a worksheet you can provide them. It defines common words in speech language pathology and can help them feel more at ease when talking about their child’s progress.


Download the worksheet: The Vocabulary of Reading


This blog was contributed by PESI speaker Lynne Kenney, PsyD.

Lynne Kenney, PsyD, is a mom, pediatric psychologist, international educator and co-author with Wendy Young of BLOOM: 50 Things to Say, Think and Do with Anxious, Angry and Over-the-Top Kids. Lynne integrates neuroscience, nutrition, exercise and music research to enhance brain function and learning in children. For more “Think it Out” “Walk it Out” and “Play it Out” ideas visit www.lynnekenney.com.


Dyslexia, Dyscalculia and Dysgraphia: An Integrated Approach

A new online course. Earn 6+ CE Hours from the comfort of home. 
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Integrating Tonic Labyrinthine Reflex: An exercise for children with learning disabilities

Do you work with clients struggling with learning disabilities? It could be from a retained reflex.

Do you have students who….

  • Are very disorganized?
  • Can’t tell a good story from beginning to end?
  • Can’t read an old fashioned clock?
  • Mix up words related to time like yesterday and tomorrow?
  • Have skinny arms and legs?
  • Have no muscle tone and are weak in their upper body?
  • Find it most comfortable to slouch in their chair?
  • Hate to lie on their tummies to read or watch TV?

If you responded yes to several of the above questions, the child may have a retained Tonic Labyrinthine Reflex (TLR).

What is Tonic Labyrinthine Reflex?

TLR is a primitive reflex in newborns. Normally, a baby spends time on their tummy with head and arms up and out. While doing this, a baby develops the muscles in their neck, shoulders, and back. These muscles are necessary for later stages of development. If a child has a retained TLR, they may have passed too quickly through this stage of development in infancy and retained the TLR.

What does this mean?

During the time TLR is developing, other areas in the body are also growing and maturing, including:

  • The vision system for convergence – the ability to refocus near to far and back again easily
  • The ability to use the entire foot for walking (instead of toe-walking)

A later stage of development, Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (ATNR), is integrated by doing combat crawl. In order to do this, the baby needs to have developed strong muscles during the TLR stage to be able to pull herself across the floor. Crawling requires even more muscles as the arms must be able to hold up the weight of the body.

In order to have healthy and complete development, the stages must be adequately entered and worked through. When TLR is retained and the muscles haven’t properly developed, a child may appear uncoordinated in their movement, have a tendency to walk on their toes, and hang their head forward while sitting (making concentration difficult and uncomfortable for a learning child).

TLR and Brain Development

During TLR, the connections to the temporal lobe are starting to be developed, setting up the brain to be able to sequence. We use sequencing for reading (keeping sounds in order), writing (keeping letters, words, and thoughts in order) and math (step-by-step directions, counting, telling time).

A retained TLR can lead to difficulties learning reading, writing and math.

What to do?

By replicating the stage of development and completing easy, daily exercises, we can train our body to work through the retained TLR. While 30 days of exercise may be enough to make changes in a child’s sequencing ability, it may take up to six months of daily exercise to fully develop the muscles.

Here’s one daily exercise to help integrate TLR:

Simple Fly to the Moon exercise to integrate Tonic Labyrinthine Reflex

  1. Every day, have the student lie on their stomach, up on their elbows. Hold for 30 seconds at a time, working up to 3 minutes a day.
  2. In order to isolate the muscles in the upper body, the legs and buttocks should be resting. It may be very difficult at first—have the child do this at their own capability, but each day challenging for more.
  3. This must be done at least 5 days a week in order to make real changes in the brain and the body.
  4. When the child is ready, have them see if they can hold both elbows up off the floor, causing the entire upper body to be off the floor.
  5. Start with however long they can accomplish this—even if only 10 seconds. Challenge each day to go a little longer.

The goal is to be able to sequence well, and most children achieve this in 30 days. Physically, the goal of being able to hold up the upper body without pain for 3 minutes may take longer, as much as 6 months.


Dyslexia, Dyscalculia and Dysgraphia: An Integrated Approach

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This blog was brought to life by PESI speaker Kathy Johnson, MS Ed.

Kathy Johnson, author of The Roadmap From Learning Disabilities To Success, is a nationally recognized expert in multiple therapy methods including: Primitive Reflex Training, Therapeutic Listening, Samonas Listening, PACE, Phono-Graphix, Irlen Syndrome, Brain Gym 101, and An Introduction to Rhythmic Movement.

Kathy started The Hunter School of Ballston Spa where struggling third through eighth grade students received required academics along with intensive therapy. She is also the owner of an educational consulting business to screen and remediate student struggles individually. Kathy earned her Master’s degree from the State University of New York at Albany where she instructed faculty and staff, was an adjunct professor at Schenectady County Community College, and taught at The Adirondack School of Northeastern New York.