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  • My Child Is Writing In Reverse: Sign Of Genius Or Is Something Wrong?

    Reversed letters sometimes bring up dyslexia worries among parents, too.
    by Thumby Server-Veloso .
My Child Is Writing In Reverse: Sign Of Genius Or Is Something Wrong?
PHOTO BY Shutterstock/Karynf
  • A few weeks ago, I was moderating a Mystery Club meeting for our school. We talked about codes and how Leonardo da Vinci made his notes using mirror writing.

    Some people believe he did that because he was left-handed and didn’t want to smear the ink. Some proposed he didn’t want other people stealing his ideas.

    Is mirror writing a sign of dyslexia?

    While mirror writing is a cool way to send coded messages to friends, the unintentional reversals of letters, words, or phrases among young children have caused many parents’ concerns. Because some adults with brain injuries write in reverse, we worry that mirrored writing signifies something wrong in the child’s brain development.

    Reversed letters sometimes bring up dyslexia worries as well. While some children with dyslexia do have trouble with reversals, the truth is most kids will stop by the age of 7.

    Others mistakenly think mirror writing is a left-handed problem, but this is proven untrue. Right-handed children have been known to reverse letters.


    What does it mean if a child writes a mirror image?

    Teachers and other child specialists chalk up reversed letters to brain immaturity. Reversals can happen when a child has poor working memory.

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    For example, he can’t remember what a letter exactly looks like. It can also be caused by visual processing issues, like when young children can’t tell the difference between similar letters (like b and d, or p and q) or the direction they should face.

    According to Reena Ermitano-Ray, a reading specialist, “Other causes could be weak visual-motor integration, which means they may remember the shape correctly but struggle with reproducing the figure.”

    How does mirror writing happen?

    A group of researchers has shown that children mirror letters in their writing direction. In English, figures that get reversed the most are the left-oriented letters (the one that you write going to the left) like J, 3, and Z. *


    A 2011 study by Fischer suggested that when children were being taught to write, they unknowingly picked up that most characters face the right. Hence, they over-applied this rule to the other letters, thus reversing the direction of left-facing letters.

    Ermitano-Ray also shares, “Letter reversals such as b/d, p/q are frequent and common at the early stages of writing development because these letters look alike and it takes a while for children to master correct letter strokes and left-right orientation.”

    And while there is no exact age for when it starts and stops, researchers have found occasional mirror-writing between “no writing” and “correct writing” stages. (Della Sala & Cubelli, 2009; Fischer & Tazouti, 2011). **

    How can you help your child with mirror writing?

    The best way to help children overcome reversing letters is through practice. Allowing children to be exposed to print through books and texts (like signs, lists, notes) helps their brains form and hold better images of letters, numbers, words, and phrases.


    Look for fun ways to get your child to notice letters and numbers

    Try playing games that help them see these figures in different contexts, like memory games or I Spy, or by forming letters using blocks or clay.

    Encourage your child to practice writing in the air

    Writing in the air and various textures such as paper, whiteboard, and sand trays allows your child to work on visual-motor integration. Play directionality games -- your child learns which is left from the right -- like Simon Says or Following the Leader.

    Let your child practice writing letters that use similar strokes 

    When you teach your child how to write lower-case letters, instead of teaching them alphabetically, think of training them in groups of letters that use similar strokes (for example, a, c, o, and g can be taught together).

    If you notice your child is reversing letters that look similar, focus on practicing one letter at a time. Help them find words to associate with that letter.


    Do the “make your bed” technique

    For b and d, we do the “make your bed” technique where the child forms a circle with their thumbs and pointer fingers to make a b and d with their hands.
    ILLUSTRATOR Thumby Server-Veloso

    Then instruct the child to put his hands in front as you say, “The b (left hand) is the headboard, and the d (right hand) is the foot of the bed.”


    Tell your child where to start on the paper

    Sometimes it makes a difference. Put a dot on the upper left corner of the paper as a guide to where your child should start writing his first letter on the page.

    If the child who often writes mirrored letters starts on the right side of the paper, chances are he will use the space from right to left instead of left to right. By placing a starting point for him, you re-orient his use of space.

    When to worry about mirror writing

    If, at the end of grade 2, your child is still reversing a lot of letters and numbers, then consult the teacher. Ask for her observations and see if she has any explanations or recommendations.

    For Ermitano-Ray, most letter reversals are within normal limits until age 7.

    “If letter reversals persist beyond age 7 or even after the child has undergone several years of formal schooling, a consultation with a developmental pediatrician or occupational therapist should be sought to determine the underlying cause for this to be properly assessed.”


    Barbara Server-Veloso is known as Teacher Thumby in her preschool, Toddlers Unlimited, and Ms. Thumby in her grade school, Thinkers Unlimited, Alabang. She is also a partner in Spark Discovery Center in Jupiter Street, Makati, where she teaches the Baby and Me Class. Teacher Thumby has a Master’s degree from the University of the Philippines in Family Life and Child Development. She has been teaching since 1993. She is also the mother of Lucas and Verena.

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