By Lizelle van Niekerk
“Parents are often told the child will outgrow it. And this can be true. Continued exposure to letters and numbers will reduce reversals; but if the underlying causes are left untreated, learning will still be slow and school performance will suffer. Without knowing and addressing the cause of letter reversals beyond the initial stages of learning development, a child will not automatically improve.” – Dr. Philip Nicholson
There is not one underlying issue that causes reversals, however a few issues may be taken into consideration when trying to find the cause of this learning barrier.
A child may reverse letters because he has a poor memory. It is important for a child to practise writing letters and numbers in the correct order and direction. Handwriting exercises can prepare the brain for planning, reviewing, organising, expressing and speaking. Forming letters, words and sentences must eventually become automatic for children. If a child cannot identify one letter from the next, he won’t be able to communicate his ideas or turn expressive language into well-written text. Help if your child is frustrated with particular letters. Make it fun! Have him practise drawing with a stick in the sand or tracing letters or words in finger paints, let him build the letters or words with clay. The child may need to practise writing and identifying these letters/numbers many, many times before he’s able to consistently form them the correct way.
Another possible cause may be difficulty with visual processing. In this case, a child may have trouble identifying how images differ or which direction they face. Learning-related vision problems interfere with the visual processing system and cause affected children to reverse letters/numbers. Without detection, diagnosis, and vision therapy, the child may continue to reverse and struggle with writing, reading and spelling. Children who need help with this tend to respond best to a multi-sensory approach. Trace numbers on sand paper, practise writing in the shower with shaving cream or let the child write in different textures (such as rice or sand) for instance. The child must ‘feel the letter/number’ in order to make sense of it.
Static reversals happen when the child is confused with the proper orientation of the letter or the order of letters in a word. One theory of reasoning behind static reversals is that the child does not consider the orientation of the symbol to be important. Children are raised in a 3D world – all the objects children are exposed to do not change identification because they change direction – animals, cups, computers, toy cars etc. are still the same object when they face a different direction. When the young child goes into a classroom and is confronted with 2D symbols that change meaning depending upon which direction they face, they can become confused. Most children do see the difference, but do not consider the spatial awareness of specific letters, e.g. ‘b’ or ‘d’, ‘p’ or ‘q’, ‘m’ or ‘w’ etc.
Kinetic reversals refer to a movement issue with the hand motions of the child. There typically is uniformity in the direction and sequence of a pencil stroke that preschool and kindergarten children use when they are copying. It is the way the brain thinks about forming a line or curve of a symbol on a paper. For example, the first two rules for writing are (1) starting at a leftmost point, and (2) starting at the topmost point. This is easy if the letters and numbers follow those rules, but difficult with those that do not (for example, the letter ‘d’ versus the letter ‘b’, and the number 5 versus the number 2) and therefore the child gets confused.
A child with a left eye dominance may reverse letters and numbers, write in mirror image and guess read due to the eye’s natural tendency to track from right to left. This left eye may cause difficulty for the child in remembering what the word or symbol looks like due to the fact that he must concentrate so hard on ‘seeing’ the word or symbol in the correct order that he does not focus on what the symbol looks like or how the word was spelled.
The majority of children outgrow reversing as they become proficient at writing and therefore better readers. Parents usually don’t have to worry too much if the child is reversing their letters and numbers and displays no other learning difficulties. However, there’s no downside to helping your child learn to write his letters correctly, no matter what his age. If he doesn’t have an issue, he may not be worse off. If it turns out he does have some type of language or visual processing difficulty, the sooner he stops reversing letters, the less ingrained the habit may be. Repeating an error causes it to be more established. Your child may be better off if he breaks the habit early.
With training and practise, letter reversals can be supported. The following Mind Moves® can assist in rewiring the brain to improve (and hopefully eliminate) reversing numbers/letters.
The hands and mouth work together as they are closely associated. In order to improve and produce confident writing, practise them together by doing the following Mind Moves:
Mind Moves Mouse Pad
¨ The Mind Moves Mouse Pad may improve visual ability and along with it the ability to write and read with greater ease.
¨ With the Bilateral integrator the spatial awareness of how to form the letter can be practised in a fun way. In this way rhythm, eye-hand coordination, focal and peripheral vision, left and right integration in preparation for fluent speaking, reading and writing can be developed.
¨ Left eye dominance can be supported by doing the Visual workout as this exercise will assist in crossing the visual midline and get both eyes involved in the activity.
Depending on the cause of the learners’ reversing habit, choose an exercise to start with and do the exercises on a continuous basis. As the learner gets more confident add exercises to the daily routine.
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Elizabeth Babbin. My Son Writes Numbers Backwards. Why Is That, and How Can I Help? [online]. Available from: https://www.understood.org/en/learning-attention-issues/child-learning-disabilities/visual-processing-issues/. [accessed 3 November 2017].
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De Jager, M. 2009. Mind Moves: Removing barriers to learning. Johannesburg. Metz Press.
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