Primitive reflexes are reflex actions originating in the central nervous system that are exhibited by normal infants, but not neurologically intact adults, in response to particular stimuli. These reflexes are suppressed by the development of the frontal lobes as a child transitions normally into child development. These primitive reflexes are also called infantile, infant or newborn reflexes.
Older children and adults with atypical neurology (e.g., people with cerebral palsy) may retain these reflexes and primitive reflexes may reappear in adults. Reappearance may be attributed to certain neurological conditions including dementia (especially in a rare set of diseases called frontotemporal degenerations), traumatic lesions, and strokes. An individual with cerebral palsy and typical intelligence can learn to suppress these reflexes, but the reflex might resurface under certain conditions (i.e., during extreme startle reaction). Reflexes may also be limited to those areas affected by the atypical neurology, (i.e., individuals with cerebral palsy that only affects their legs retaining the Babinski reflex but having normal speech); for those individuals with hemiplegia, the reflex may be seen in the foot on the affected side only.
Primitive reflexes are primarily tested with suspected brain injury or some dementias such as Parkinson's disease for the purpose of assessing frontal lobe functioning. If they are not being suppressed properly they are called frontal release signs. Atypical primitive reflexes are also being researched as potential early indicators of autistic spectrum disorders.