#149 - The Palmar Grasp Reflex

by Jessica Hill, COTA/L & Rachel Harrington, COTA/L, AC April 21, 2021

#149 - The Palmar Grasp Reflex

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The Palmar Grasp Reflex

Today’s episode is all about another primitive reflex: the palmar grasp reflex. These reflexes impact so many things, so be sure to check out the entire five-episode podcast series on primitive reflexes we did a while back, as we continue on our mission to get this information out there to everyone! The palmar grasp reflex happens when you put pressure on an infant’s palm and they reflexively curl their fingers to grasp whatever is in their palm. Tuning in, you’ll hear about all things related to this particular primitive reflex, including the three key related learning disabilities, when it emerges and integrates normally, what happens when it does not integrate, and how it is correlated to speech, hand and mouth, feeding, and overflow associated movements. We also discuss reasons behind why it doesn’t integrate and end off the episode with loads of different activities that can help your kiddos integrate their reflexes and assist in their development. Tune in and enjoy!

Key Points From This Episode:

  • What the palmar grasp reflex looks like: put pressure on an infant’s palm and see how their fingers reflexively curl to grasp whatever is in their hand.
  • Hear about these three key terms: dyslexia, dysgraphia, and dyscalculia.
  • When the palmar grasp emerges and integrates: 11 weeks in utero and two to four months.
  • When it’s activated: whenever something causes pressure, touches, or strokes the palm of the hand and when nursing or drinking from the bottle.
  • Learn about the integration and development of the grasp as the baby ages.  
  • When the palmar grasp reflex isn’t integrated at the appropriate age; fine motor skill issues.
  • The potential correlation with speech issues; the relationship between hand and mouth.
  • More on overflow associated movements into the mouth during fine motor tasks; as well as opposite hand movements during novel or complex tasks.
  • Why the palmar grasp reflex may not have integrated, like toxins in utero, trauma, insufficient tummy-time, or fetal alcohol syndrome.
  • The correlation between the palmar grasp reflex, the rooting reflex, and feeding.
  • Some activities to try if you think your kiddos palmar grasp reflex has not integrated.

Highlights:

“Primitive reflexes play a huge role in [these] three learning disabilities: dyslexia, dysgraphia, and dyscalculia.” — All Things Sensory[0:05:25]

“I think that it is important to keep in mind that simplicity is the highest form of elegance — and that’s oftentimes the best way to naturally integrate these primitive reflexes.” — All Things Sensory[0:14:04]

Links Mentioned in Today’s Episode:

Harkla

All Things Sensory on Instagram

All Things Sensory on Facebook

Primitive Reflex Series: The Moro Reflex

Primitive Reflex Series: The Tonic Labyrinthine Reflex

Primitive Reflex Series: Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex

Primitive Reflex Series: The Spinal Galant Reflex

Primitive Reflex Series: The Symmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex

Kathy Johnson on LinkedIn

Pyramid of Potential

FULL SHOW TRANSCRIPT

[0:00:01.4] RH: Hey there, I’m Rachel.

 

[0:00:03.1] JH: I’m Jessica, and this is All Things Sensory by Harkla. Together, we’re on a mission to help children, families, therapists, and educators live happy and healthy lives.

 

[0:00:12.2] RH: We dive into all things sensory, special needs, occupational therapy, parenting, self-care, and so much more. In each episode, we share raw, honest, fun ideas and strategies for everyone to implement into daily life.

 

[0:00:24.6] JH: Thank you so much for joining us.

 

[0:00:29.5] JH: Hey everyone. We have some super exciting news to share with you today. April is Autism Awareness month so we at Harkla are celebrating by giving you 15% off your entire order with Harkla.

 

[0:00:42.4] RH: Woot-woot! We want to celebrate everyone, whoever you are by sharing this discount with you, you can grab a swing, compression vest, a weighted blanket, supplements, a course.

 

[0:00:56.5] JH: Anything from Harkla basically.

 

[0:00:59.7] RH: Enjoy that 15% off because we rarely give that big of a discount.

 

[0:01:04.8] JH: Now, the sale only runs from the 19th through the 23rd of April so make sure you go to Harkla.co and get it before the sale is over.

 

[0:01:15.7] RH: Okay, happy shopping and happy celebrating. 

 

[INTERVIEW]

 

[0:01:18.4] RH: Hey everyone. Welcome back to another episode of All Things Sensory by Harkla. You are listening to your good friends, Rachel and Jessica. 

 

[0:01:27.8] JH: We’re so excited you’re here and, today, we are going to talk about a primitive reflex, which we talk about them a lot because we’re obsessed with them because they impact so many things and we did an entire five-episode podcast series on primitive reflexes a while back.

 

[0:01:52.3] RH: Yeah, we’re on a mission to spread the word to get this information out there to everyone. Everyone like doctors, school teachers, therapists, everyone, parents. I forgot parents, we want you to know about these as well. So maybe before you even listen to this episode, if you haven’t already listened to our five-episode series on the primitive reflexes, which was like episode 100 through 105 go back and listen to those ones first and then come back and listen to today’s episode.

 

[0:02:27.7] JH: Yeah, those episodes, we talked about the Moro, the TOR, ATNR, STNR and the spinal, which if you don’t know what those are then you’re going to go listen to those episodes so you do know what they are. We did not address the palmar reflex because at the time, neither Rachel or I knew a lot about it. We hadn’t done any courses on them, we hadn’t done a research on it but we knew a little bit about it but now we know more.

 

[0:02:57.2] RH: We knew the basics, yes, we knew the basics but not enough to really make a difference for you guys to give you enough information to go do something with it.

 

[0:03:09.5] JH: Yeah. Basically, the palmar reflex is a reflex that infants have and it looks like this: You put pressure on an infant’s palm and they will reflexively curl their fingers to grasp whatever is in their palm and I mean, it’s a death grip. If you think about these infants that grab your hair, your finger, your clothes and they won’t let go, that’s the palmar reflex.

 

[0:03:37.1] RH: Yes. That’s really all we learned in school, unfortunately, was just that. This is the reflex, this is what happens when you stimulate it, and good luck.

 

[0:03:51.4] JH: Good luck.

 

[0:03:53.7] RH: Jessica actually took a more in-depth course on dyslexia, dysgraphia, and dyscalculia and she was telling me all about it. I have to take it myself. She shared a lot of the information with me and it was by Cathy Johnson, she’s wonderful.

 

[0:04:09.5] JH: She’s amazing.

 

[0:04:10.2] RH: Yes, she has lots of resources that we’ve looked at in the past. Very, very knowledgeable.

 

[0:04:17.7] JH: Really quick, we’ll just talk about those three terms from the course that I took, dyslexia, dysgraphia and dyscalculia because a lot of people don’t know what those are. I mean, we’re pretty familiar with dyslexia, I think that’s a term that gets thrown around a lot but the other two really don’t. 

 

Dyslexia is a learning disability that’s affected by the way the brain processes written material, causing people to read it significantly lower levels in people at the same age and intelligence. These are the kids, or the adults, that really struggle with reading and writing.

 

[0:04:54.9] RH: Yes. Now, dysgraphia is a learning disability that affects the person’s handwriting and their ability to complete fine motor skills. These are the kiddos, or adults, who are going to really struggle with handwriting, spatial awareness and things like spelling.

 

[0:05:09.7] JH: Then dyscalculia is a learning disability that affects a person’s ability to understand numbers and to learn math facts. This includes challenges with time management and sequencing events. What I learned was that primitive reflexes play a huge role in those three learning disabilities. Go figure because primitive reflexes affect everything in our lives basically.

 

One of the main reflexes that Cathy Johnson talked about was the palmar grasp reflex and how it specifically impacts dysgraphia, which is the learning disability that affects handwriting.

 

[0:05:48.8] RH: Okay. Here we are, let’s learn about the palmar reflex, what it affects and what you can do to help get it integrated, if it isn’t integrated already.

 

[0:05:59.9] JH: The palmar grasp reflex emerges at about 11 weeks in utero and it should only remain active until about two to four months of age.

 

[0:06:09.6] RH: Yeah, I’m thinking about Trip’s right now and yeah, no. He doesn’t have it anymore. I haven’t tested it but — I haven’t tested it since the very beginning when he did have it so I’ll have to do it again and see what it looks like.

 

[0:06:24.2] JH: But you can tell because he’s able to let go of things.

 

[0:06:28.6] RH: He opens and closes his hands with fairly good control at six months old but you know, if I stroke his hand or put pressure in his hand, I’ll have to see what he does.

 

[0:06:41.4] JH: Okay.

 

[0:06:43.1] RH: With that being said, it’s activated whenever something causes pressure, touches or strokes the palm of the hand, causing those fingers to close around the object.

 

[0:06:53.8] JH: Super interesting. In infancy, the hands and the mouth are directly linked which means that the Palmar reflex is also activated when the infant is nursing or drinking from a bottle. Then because of this hands, mouth connection, this also relates back to the rooting reflex, which we’re going to have to do a podcast episode on that in the future as well.

 

[0:07:15.8] RH: Yeah, we are.

 

[0:07:17.8] JH: It’s all connected.

 

[0:07:18.6] RH: Say that one more time?

 

[0:07:20.4] JH: It’s all connected.

 

[0:07:21.9] RH: It is. It’s all connected. Yes, and we will talk about that overflow in a little bit, how it connects when people or kids stick out their tongues while they’re working on things as like a method of focus so we’ll get into that next. 

 

As most of us know, babies explore the world using their hands and mouths. I mean, they immediately put things in their mouths, mouth to their hands, they just want to learn by exploring objects with their mouth. By four months old, the baby should be able to grasp an object and bring it to their mouth and that’s the same time that the palmar reflex should be integrated or just not there anymore.

 

[0:08:08.9] JH: Then at the same time, the infant begins to intentionally reach for items. When you are talking about Trip, he’s six months old and he’s intentionally reaching for objects. 

 

[0:08:21.8] RH: It’s just so crazy to watch them go through this developmental sequence, they’re wired to do this, it just blows my mind, you know? It’s crazy.

 

[0:08:33.0] JH: I love it.

 

[0:08:34.9] RH: By the age of seven months, the child should be learning to understand how to more intentionally reach and grasp items and will be – that will begin the development of those more refined fine motor skills like the pincer grasp and the raking grasp.

 

[0:08:51.7] JH: Yeah. Then what happens if the palmar reflex is not integrated by around that four month period? Like Rachel just said, it has a direct correlation to the development of fine motor skills so being able to grasp small items with that pincer grasp which is index finger to thumb, this is going to impact future handwriting skills and also self-care, including self-feeding and dressing skills.

 

[0:09:18.4] RH: Yes. There is a potential correlation to speech issues due to the relationship between the hand and mouth like we had said earlier, the rooting reflex and the palmar reflex are directly connected and like we also mentioned earlier, overflow associated movements into the mouth during fine motor tasks.

 

Your child is writing and focusing on the task and they’re sticking their tongue out or they’re pushing their tongue into the cheek of their mouth. We might also notice tactile hyper sensitivity specific to the hands, which your child might avoid sensory bins, messy play, things like that.

 

[0:09:57.7] JH: I was just also thinking too that there’s – you’re probably going to see some overflow into the opposite hand so for example, if a child is completing a task with their dominant hand, you’re going to look over in the opposite hand, the non-dominant hand is probably going to be doing some overflow, some associated movements as well.

 

[0:10:19.2] RH: Especially if it’s something that they have to concentrate on really hard and if it’s a novel task. My favorite example are those Chinese – the Chinese boding balls where you have to rotate them in a circle around each other.

 

[0:10:37.2] JH: I love those.

 

[0:10:38.2] RH: Yes, those will cause most likely a lot of overflow in the opposite hand when a child is first learning to do that and then as they get the hang of it, they should be disassociating that.

 

[SPONSOR MESSAGE]

 

[0:10:50.5] RH: We just want to take a minute and talk to you about our company Harkla. Our mission at Harkla is to help those with special needs live happy, healthy lives. Not only do we accomplish this through the podcast but we also have therapy products, easy to follow digital courses and the Harkla Sensory Club, to try to bring holistic care to you and your family.

 

[0:11:08.2] JH: Listeners of the All Things Sensory Podcast get 10% off their first purchase at Harkla with the discount code “SENSORY.” We’d recommend checking out some of our bestsellers like the compression sensory swing, weighted blankets or our course on sensory diets. 

 

[0:11:23.4] RH: Here’s the best part, one percent of each sale gets donated to the University of Washington Autism Center to support autism research and fund scholarships to families in need to receive in-clinic therapy for their child. 

 

[0:11:35.6] JH: Learn more about Harkla and all we have to offer at harkla.co, that’s harkla.co and don’t forget to use the discount code “SENSORY” to get 10% off your first purchase. That’s “SENSORY” for 10% off. 

 

[0:11:56.8] RH:And the best part is all Harkla orders come with a lifetime guarantee and free shipping. 

 

[0:12:04.1] JH: You really can’t beat that. 

 

[0:12:05.1] RH: No. 

 

[0:12:05.7] JH: No you can’t. Okay, let’s go back to the show. 

 

[DISCUSSION CONTINUED]

 

[0:12:08.9] JH: Speaking of those Chinese medicine balls, we are going to give you some ideas of things you can do with your kiddo if you think they have a retained Palmar reflex but first, we do want to talk a little bit about the reasons why this reflex might not be integrated, why it might not go away. 

 

[0:12:28.2] RH: Unfortunately, there isn’t a like one-size-fits-all answer for this question but if you go back to our primitive reflex podcast series, we talk about a ton of different reasons why those reflexes are most likely retained and a lot of them apply to this one as well. Toxins in utero, trauma, not enough floor time, fetal alcohol syndrome, what else is there that I’m missing? 

 

[0:12:59.4] JH: I was just thinking, you know going along with not enough floor time, being in a container for the majority of waking hours. You know, if you listen to our podcast before, you know our stance on containers and you know, they’re not bad. It’s just how we use them, so just making sure that your baby, your infant is getting enough movements throughout their day and they’re not in a container the majority of their day, I think tummy time is going to play a huge role in this Palmar reflex.

 

[0:13:28.4] RH: I was just going to say, yes. Tummy time is great, they get a lot of input to their hands, which we will talk about in those activities but you know, you just have to – I always like to go back to biologically, you know when we were cave people, what were babies doing back then to integrate these reflexes? You know, what kinds of products were they using back then and they weren’t really using products because there was nothing available. 

 

They were on the floor, they were being carried and they were just hanging out. I think that is kind of important to keep in mind as you know, simplicity is the highest form of elegance and that’s often times the best way to naturally integrate these primitive reflexes. 

 

[0:14:11.5] JH: For sure. You know, I was just thinking because of the correlation between the Palmar reflex and the rooting reflex, I am going to say that maybe another potential cause of the Palmar grasp not being integrated could also be feeding challenges. An infant who isn’t able to latch properly, who struggles to gain weight because they are not eating enough, you know, maybe they have a tongue tie, all of these different factors that are related to feeding could also impact this Palmar grasp reflex. 

 

[0:14:46.2] RH: Yeah, things like failure to thrive or having a G-tube or you know, they’re not going through those normal natural movements and that normal developmental sequence like we talked about earlier, if they’re missing that whether it’s a medical reason, I mean you have to give your child a feeding tube if that is what they need to survive but it is important to be aware of these coinciding reflexes that might not get integrated if we are not going through those normal patterns.

 

Obviously, we’re going to do what we need to do to keep our child alive and safe and functioning but keep this in mind and say, “Oh” you know like Trip, he had a tongue tie and a lip tie, maybe we need to do more of these activities to work on and we’re going to talk about here next but it’s just something to be aware of. 

 

[0:15:32.5] JH: Yeah. All right, so the reason you’re all here to find out what to do, what are our suggestions, what do we want to do for our kids. 

 

[0:15:43.2] RH: Yes, so, of course, the first thing is weight-bearing tasks with palms open and flat on the ground. For older kiddos, things like animal walks, bear walks, crab walks, wheelbarrow walks, rolling over a therapy ball in prone, so like walking your hands out and do like a plank position over the ball and then walking back. For babies, just tummy time, lots of different textures to the hands when they are babies. 

 

[0:16:14.6] JH: Another thing that you can do to help with integrating the palmar reflex is sequential finger touching. This is going to be where you touch the tip of your thumb to the tip of each of your fingers, gently tapping. That is the key is to make sure you are doing it very gently like you are barely tapping and then also making sure that your fingers make an O shape and this is going to be pretty challenging for a lot of our kiddos who have low tone in their hands but it is a good one to work on. You want to make sure you do both hands, you can also try it with eyes closed, make it interesting. 

 

[0:16:51.0] RH: I will add that you know, it’s important to do those O fingers. What we typically see are like flat fingers like the sign language letter G, so just like you’re almost pinching something. Kids will have those flat like duck mouth type fingers instead of the nice O fingers. I have to explain it because it’s a podcast, no one can see what we’re doing right now. 

 

[0:17:17.0] JH: I know, I’m just imagining a duck mouth. Accurate description. 

 

[0:17:22.2] RH: Thank you, I was going to say, how was it?

 

[0:17:25.1] JH: Yep, accurate. 

 

[0:17:26.4] RH: Good. Okay, so sequential finger touching that’s a good one. Things like chewing gum or sucking on hard candy or Laughy Taffy, their saltwater taffies during those fine motor tasks can help to decrease those associated movements like sticking out your tongue, pushing your tongue into your cheek and things like that. 

 

[0:17:50.1] JH: Yep, another really good one is to crumple a piece of paper with just one hand. This is really going to get those intrinsic hand muscles of the palm working, it’s going to get a lot of tactile input to the palm as well. Make sure you switch hands when you do this one, do it with both hands. 

 

[0:18:10.3] RH: Yes. Now, we kind of talked about this but those Chinese medicine balls but making those circles around each other, going to both directions while you are holding those balls like maybe we’ll do an Instagram video about this one so people can see what it looks like because it is hard to explain. 

 

[0:18:26.7] JH: Yeah and you can do this, I mean you can do this with just regular marbles. I think the trick is making sure the marbles are large enough because you can’t do it with just small marbles. 

 

[0:18:35.2] RH: No, the big ones like the big shooter marbles or work the best. Another one that’s super fun is making a snowball, so whether or not you have real snow, if you have fake snow, if you have – I actually made a sensory bin out of like the insides of diapers.

 

[0:18:57.9] JH: I hated that feeling of that stuff. 

 

[0:19:02.4] RH: But you can make a good snowball with that, right? 

 

[0:19:05.1] JH: Yes but it was so slimy. 

 

[0:19:08.2] RH: The other one is wet cotton balls. You can make a good snowball with wet cotton balls, so those are good ones to build those arches, to strengthen the hands and to really work on that palmar grasp reflex. 

 

[0:19:21.9] JH: All right, so another one is sensory bins. We love sensory bins, you can do sensory bins with any tactile medium that you can come up with. You can use cotton balls, you can use beans, rice, grass, dirt, mud, just get some sensory bins going, have different ones each week. Make it fun. 

 

[0:19:43.5] RH: Yeah, just rotate it like toy rotations, sensory bin rotations, love it.

 

[0:19:47.8] JH: Yep. 

 

[0:19:48.9] RH: Okay, multi-sensory processing tasks using hands and the mouth simultaneously. One of our favorites is like crawling on the floor while blowing a cotton ball, whether you blow it with your mouth or through a straw so things like that are really helpful. 

 

[0:20:07.7] JH: Such a good one. 

 

[0:20:09.3] RH: Yeah. 

 

[0:20:10.1] JH: Another good one is going to be using a play dough and use a rolling pin, really like kneading the play dough. This could also be a good one like if you are making cookies, you know? Make some cookies and get your hands in there. 

 

[0:20:25.4] RH: Definitely, make it functional, love that.

 

[0:20:28.4] JH: When you’re rolling the play dough, you want to – I mean you know, you have the handles to roll the play dough but I think my putting your hands on top of the rolling pin and pushing while you roll all the way across your hands if that makes sense. 

 

[0:20:41.8] RH: Yeah, it does, not using the spinning handles. 

 

[0:20:46.1] JH: Yes. 

 

[0:20:47.3] RH: Yeah, I love that. Okay, is there anything else you can think of? 

 

[0:20:51.8] JH: That’s really all I got. 

 

[0:20:54.0] RH: Yeah, I mean just – 

 

[0:20:55.4] JH: There’s a lot for the Palmar. 

 

[0:20:57.1] RH: Yeah, just think about weight-bearing tactile input, oral input like those are kind of the takeaways for this Palmar grasp reflex.

 

[0:21:07.8] JH: Yeah. All right. 

 

[0:21:10.3] RH: Okay, good deal. I’m glad we did this episode. I think it’s going to go nicely with the rest of our primitive reflex episodes and as always, if you all have questions, don’t hesitate to reach out. 

 

[0:21:28.6] JH: If you have a minute, you can leave us a review on iTunes because that helps us reach more people. Send us a DM on Instagram @allthingssensorypodcast, take a screenshot and let us know you’re listening. 

 

[0:21:41.7] RH: Yeah, we always love to like read those reviews and I was just pulling them up and it’s like it’s so awesome, you know this person said “great source for OT’s. You know, as an outpatient OT, this podcast is everything.” It’s awesome.

 

[0:21:59.5] JH: Score.

 

[0:21:59.8] RH: Yeah, so thank you guys. 

 

[0:22:01.3] JH: Quite a review. 

 

[0:22:01.8] RH: We appreciate that. Okay, if you need anything from us, you know how to get a hold of us and we will be back with another episode next week. 

 

[0:22:11.8] JH: Okay, bye. 

 

[END OF DISCUSSION]

 

[0:22:16.1] RH: Thank you so much for listening to All Things Sensory by Harkla. If you want more information on anything we mentioned in the show, head over to harkla.co/podcast to get all of the show notes.

 

[0:22:26.9] JH: We always have the show notes and links plus full transcripts to make following along as easy as possible for everyone. If you have follow-up questions, the best place to ask those is in the comments on the show notes or message us on our Instagram account, which is @harkla_family. If you just search Harkla, you’ll find us. 

 

[0:22:46.5] RH: Like we mentioned before, our podcast listeners get 10% off of their first order at Harkla, whether it is for one of our digital courses, one of our sensory swings, the discount code “SENSORY” will save you 10%. That code is “SENSORY.” Head over to harkla.co/sensory to use that code right now so you don’t forget. 

 

[0:23:08.9] JH: We’re so excited to work together to help create confident kids all over the world and work towards a happier healthier life. 

 

[0:23:16.5] RH: All right, we’ll talk to you guys next week. 

 

[0:23:18.9] JH: Just a friendly reminder: This is general information related to occupational therapy, pediatrics and sensory integration. We do not know you or your child, therefore we do not know any specific needs. Therefore, you should always refer back to your pediatrician and occupational therapist for more information.

 

BORING, BUT NECESSARY LEGAL DISCLAIMERS

While we make every effort to share correct information, we are still learning. We will double check all of our facts but realize that medicine is a constantly changing science and art. One doctor / therapist may have a different way of doing things from another. We are simply presenting our views and opinions on how to address common sensory challenges, health related difficulties and what we have found to be beneficial that will be as evidenced based as possible. By listening to this podcast, you agree not to use this podcast as medical advice to treat any medical condition in either yourself or your children. Consult your child’s pediatrician/ therapist for any medical issues that he or she may be having. This entire disclaimer also applies to any guests or contributors to the podcast. Under no circumstances shall Rachel Harrington, Harkla, Jessica Hill, or any guests or contributors to the podcast, as well as any employees, associates, or affiliates of Harkla, be responsible for damages arising from use of the podcast.

Keep in mind that we may receive commissions when you click our links and make purchases. However, this does not impact our reviews and comparisons. We try our best to keep things fair and balanced, in order to help you make the best choice for you.


This podcast should not be used in any legal capacity whatsoever, including but not limited to establishing “standard of care” in a legal sense or as a basis for expert witness testimony. No guarantee is given regarding the accuracy of any statements or opinions made on the podcast.

Jessica Hill, COTA/L & Rachel Harrington, COTA/L, AC
Jessica Hill, COTA/L & Rachel Harrington, COTA/L, AC

Rachel Harrington, COTA/L, AC and Jessica Hill, COTA/L both Certified Occupational Therapy Assistants (COTA). They have been working with children for over 6 years in outpatient settings. Rachel and Jessica specialize in creating easy-to-digest, actionable content that families can use to help their child's progress at home. Rachel and Jessica are the in-house experts, content creators, and podcast hosts at Harkla! To learn more about Rachel and Jessica, visit the Harkla About Us Page. Make sure to listen to their weekly podcast, All Things Sensory by Harkla for actionable, fun advice on child development.


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