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Asymmetrical tonic neck reflex

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Title: Asymmetrical tonic neck reflex  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Tonic labyrinthine reflex, Reflex, Gesell’s Maturational Theory, Fencing response, Reflexes
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Asymmetrical tonic neck reflex

The asymmetrical tonic neck reflex (ATNR) is a primitive reflex found in newborn humans, but normally vanishes around six months of age.

It is also known as the "fencing reflex" because of the characteristic position of the infant's arms and head, which resembles that of a classically trained fencer. When the face is turned to one side, the arm and leg on the side to which the face is turned extend and the arm and leg on the opposite side flex.

The presence of the ATNR, as well as other primitive reflexes, such as the tonic labyrinthine reflex (TLR), beyond the first six months of life may indicate that the child has developmental delays, at which point the reflex is atypical or abnormal. For example, in children with cerebral palsy, the reflexes may persist and even be more pronounced. As abnormal reflexes, both the ATNR and the TLR can cause problems for the growing child. The ATNR and TLR both hinder functional activities such as rolling, bringing the hands together, or even bringing the hands to the mouth. Over time, both the ATNR and TLR can cause serious damage to the growing child's joints and bones. The ATNR can cause the spine to curve (scoliosis). Both the ATNR and TLR can cause subluxation of the femoral head or dislocation of the femoral head as it completely moves out of the hip socket. When abnormal reflexes persist in a child, early intervention involving extensive physical therapy has some evidence in being extremely beneficial.

The fencing response occurs in adults as a result of mechanical forces applied to the head, typically associated with contact sports. The Fencing Response is transient and indicates moderate forces applied to the brainstem, resulting in a traumatic brain injury.


  • Sieglinde Martin, M S , P T (2006). Teaching Motor Skills to Children with Cerebral Palsy and Similar Movement Disorders: A Guide for Parents and Professionals.  

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