Understanding Cerebral Palsy: What Startle Reflex Really Means

.You know when a sudden noise causes an infant to jump out of their skin? That is moro reflex. This, as I understand it is a reflex that is normally lost as children grow, but this is a reflex that is not lost in child and adults with cerebral palsy.

What Startle Reflex Means for Someone with Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy is as unique as each individual that has it. For me, when I was a kid I used to stand holding onto different pieces of furniture for balance. If someone was in a different room and sneezed, it was likely I would jump causing my knees to buckle and often I would catch myself mid fall.

If a dog barks again because it is an unexpected noise, this often causes me to jump or exhibit moro reflex. Sometimes, I even jump when my name is called. Basically what I’m trying to express is that pretty much anything can set off startle reflex, but for me it usually is something loud and unexpected or it can be sudden movement out of the corner of my eye, as well. Does anyone else who has startle reflex have a different experience with it I would be interested in hearing about it in the comments.

Moro reflex and startle reflex is one of the most requested topics on my blog. At first, I struggled to understand why. I think this was because despite not understanding the many layers of this part of cerebral palsy I somewhat took it for granted that people: especially parents, would have more of an understanding of moro reflex then I. I am honestly not sure where I developed this assumption.

I think it may stem from the perception that parents have more access to the professionals on their childs health care team. I mean as a kid it wasn’t my tharapists I’d ask any questions of, it was my parents.

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Understanding Cerebral Palsy: What Startle Reflex Really Means — 8 Comments

  1. My Moro Reflex is exactly the same. I was in a math class the other day. The teacher spoke and my whole body went nuts. He was like “Did I do that? I didn’t mean to scare ya” And I replied “It’s my Moro Reflex. It’s involuntary” The teacher had never heard of it before. No parent of a kid with CP that I have met seems to know about the Moro Reflex. My PTs never brought it up to me either. Only CP people themselves seem to know after living with CP for many years. I learned about my Moro Reflex from another adult with CP. Before that person explained that I had over active reflexes I always felt alone in it because people would take my startling personally like I was either super scared or they did something wrong,even in my family. It’s so nice to be able to explain it is involuntary now. You are the only blogger I have found(except for people on tumblr) to write about this reflex and I’m really grateful because this reflex basically effects all of our body and a certain chunk of our life. Keep writing about it if you have more thoughts on it. It keeps me sane. I also have that reaction to movement particularly if the movement/person is behind me or on the side of me where I only have a partial view of the movement. It must be some kind of ingrained fear of the unknown. I read a novel once about a guy with a startle reflex and whenever someone would go behind him he would jump too.

    • Hello, thank you for your comment.I was always made aware of my startle reflex but it was never referred to as “moro reflex” just simply startle reflex. In fact, it wasn’t until I was an adult that I learned the technical term for it. Truthfully, I learned it from aparent of the child with cerebral palsy while she was giving an introduction to a cerebral palsy parent support group that I was there and giving a presentation to. She referred to the child’s Moro reflex I had no idea what she was talking about, and I later approached her and asked her what it meant that’s when I put two and two together and realize we were talking about the same thing just using different terminology!

      • Hi you’re welcome! Actually there are really 2 kinds of startle reflex. An adult startle reflex and the baby startle reflex called “The Moro Reflex” . The way it was explained to me was that normally the Moro Reflex is only seen in babies under 6 months of age and is characterized by a particular type of arm and leg posturing that looks like a bear hug in a way. Then at 6 months it disappears and is replaced by an adult startle reflex which is still sudden but there is no posturing and it is not as easily set off as the baby reflex. In people with Cerebral Palsy and certain other conditions The Moro Reflex is retained throughout the person’s entire life and causes a hyper over reaction to sudden noises etc. That’s why we constantly startle. The adult startle reflex never develops which I think is why we are considered under the term “developmentally disabled” but I am not sure. I found another good blog post about the Moro Reflex which may interest you. http://joysofbraindamage.tumblr.com/post/46311705448/march-25th-is-cerebral-palsy-awareness-day
        But yes the terms are often used interchangeably.

  2. i am new to this blog. I just found it today while searching the Internet for reasons why I am so jumpy.
    I am 21 years old and have had CP since birth. I have always been easily startled by loud/sudden movements or sounds, to the point where I avoid loud things like going to the movies, seeing fireworks, etc. All my life I have been made fun of by my family, classmates at school, anyone who has witnessed me overreact to a noise.
    The reason I was searching the Internet about this in the first place is because my boyfriend of over four years is always commenting on how jumpy and easily startled I am. He has never seen anyone react the way I do to things, so he is confused by it and often questions me. Last night, he said something that really stuck with me. He told me my reaction to noises and movements is “all in my head” and I just need to calm down and stop getting startled by things. I have tried for years to explain to people that the way I jump and startle is completely involuntary, but no one believes me. They just assume I am overreacting.
    I have never heard about the connection between CP and an exaggerated startle response. For years I have wondered why I react so differently than anyone else and now I have finally discovered that I’m not just overreacting and I am not abnormal, it is just related to my CP. Thank you so much for posting this information on your blog for people like me who have never known about this before. Thank you for showing me that it is NOT all in my head and I am not alone!

  3. Hi i also jump alot. I have to be honest its the bane of my life, to the point where i used alcohol to subdue my reactions to sudden noise. Obviously that could not continue. I have been searching for years for something to cure or ease it. I just find it so embarassing. I not so bothered about my CP.

  4. I’ve never heard of it before. I’ve noticed my daughter always startles when she sees me or my husband and her little sister in her school.. but it’s followed with happy squeals and laughter and excitement.. though the first reaction always looks like she’s horrified seeing us.. (I never thought she was as I knew she was happy.. but to a stranger it might have looked she was scared for a second or two..) Thank you for explaining it for me :) x

  5. This is extremely helpful. I was recently in a meeting in which a wooden gavel was rapped loudly and I went nuts for a moment. After I can determine where the noise is originating from I am no longer startled

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