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  • Emily Prentice

The Moro: A Little Reflex that Causes Big Problems

For those of you who don’t know my name is Emily Prentice and I am a Neuro-Developmental Delay therapist. I work with children who have a variety of developmental problems. When children come in to see me, I look at a lot of different things. I look at how their nervous system is working by checking their balance, coordination, and body control. I look at their visual perception and visual motor-skills. I look at their adult reflexes, infant reflexes, and much more. All of these things tell me how their brain is functioning; but out of all of the things that look at, the most common and most problematic is the Moro (infant startle) reflex.

The Moro is and early startle reflex that helps babies survive during their first few months after birth. It can be triggered by any of the 5 senses (light, touch, sound, taste, smell) or by loss of head support or any sudden change in body position. Once it is triggered, it sets off a fight-or-flight response. This is very normal in early infancy, but the reflex should disappear after a few months. If this doesn’t happen, then it can be devastating for older children.

Children with a retained Moro reflex are consistently put in a state of heightened arousal. Children all respond a little differently to a retained Moro reflex, but here are some of the most common symptoms:


Many children with a retained Moro are very anxious. They are used to living in a world where any number of everyday things can suddenly send them into a fight-or-flight response. They spend a lot of their time in a physiological stress response, Many become anxious or fearful, wanting to avoid anything that might trigger their Moro.


Some children learn to cope with a Moro by becoming hyperactive. Rather than feeling afraid when their Moro is triggered they have learned to turn that response into something exciting. They ride out their fight-or-flight response like an adrenaline rush (think about riding a roller coaster). They become excitable and hyperactive. This is a coping mechanism that helps them deal with the uncomfortable feeling of being thrown into a fight-or-flight response. It “feels” much better to be excited than afraid.


Children with a retained Moro often display controlling types of behavior. They may dominate social situations and respond negatively to change. They are doing their best to avoid situations that might trigger their Moro. These children are attempting to control their external environment because they have very little control over their internal responses.


Often times, children with a Moro are inflexible and have a hard time adapting to changes. This is partly because new environments and situations are more likely to trigger their Moro, and partly because their threshold for stress is low. They are regularly being put into a heightened stress response; this lowers their ability to adjust and adapt to every day stressors.

Emotion regulation

Many children with a retained Moro have trouble regulating their emotions. They are often angry, frustrated, easily overwhelmed, anxious, over sensitive, and excited. This is understandable, when you consider how often they are put into a heightened state of arousal. This affects not only their immediate emotional state, but their ability to learn good emotional control.

Sensory Sensitivities

Many children with a retained Moro experience sensory imbalances. Often times they are very sensitive to sensory input. They may be very picky about food or clothing, or they may get overwhelmed in a movie theater. This is understandable, not only are they likely to be startled by seemingly normal things, but their whole sensory system is immature and cannot process the information properly.

Lowered Immunity

Children with a retained Moro spend a significant amount of their time under stress. This can take a big toll on their physical well-being and may lower their immune system’s ability to fight off disease. These children are more likely to get sick and to develop allergies.

If this sounds like your child, then visit our website at to learn more.

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