Reversals & What To Do About Them

Does anyone else have a child who struggles with letter reversals? My daughter’s handwriting has improved massively over the last year (thank you, monkey bars!!) but she still really struggles with letter reversals (p, q, d, b, j, g). Most of her numbers are backwards too. Is there anything I can do to help? Or just give it time?

Letter, word and number reversals are extremely common in the early years of school, as any teacher will tell you. If you’re a parent though, you won’t usually have access to that visual reassurance. You may think that it’s an issue unique to your own child. Or early signs of something more, like Dyslexia.

I love the question’s reference to giving it time because that’s exactly what’s needed in relation to reversals. While not every child has them, they are considered a standard feature of writing until the age of eight. That means for those in the early years of school, there’s no need to panic just yet.

Here are three potential causes of reversals, all worthy of investigation in an older child. They may also hold the answer for some of those youngsters struggling.

1. Work on Directionality

Directionality is simply the direction that something flows in the available space. It’s an understanding that young children firstly develop in their physical body: moving forwards, backwards, left, right, diagonally, up and down. It is then needed for adapting to the left to right formation of print (in our western culture) and for knowing which way around individual letters, numbers and words go.

The root of directionality lies in the vestibular system (also known as the balance system). Make sure that each day includes a variety of movement opportunities to develop this sense: bouncing on the trampoline, rough and tumble play, running, spinning, going on the swings, or hanging upside down. In doing so, you’ll not only be aiding the process of sensory integration, you’ll also be developing directionality (and cutting down on those reversals too).

2. Build the Eye Muscles

Reversals over the age of eight can be a sign of poor visual processing. That is, the eye muscles struggling to work as expected and potentially, the brain getting a tad jumbled when interpreting visual input.

To check a child’s eye movements, put a sticker or dot on your fingertip. Ask him or her to follow the flow of movement with their eyes horizontally, vertically and then as it moves towards them. Repeat each direction several times. Notice these things:

  • Is the head able to remain still as the eyes move?

  • Do the eyes move smoothly or do they seem to move jerkily?

  • Does the child lose your finger or blink at the centre of the body? (This is the left/right midline)

  • Do both eyes turn in evenly when your finger moves toward them?

  • Do the eyes tire and lose accuracy after several repetitions?

If you have concerns about a child’s visual processing, I recommend seeking the support of a Behavioural Optometrist, who specialises in this field.

3. Integrate those Reflexes

Reversals may be connected to retained primitive reflexes. After six to twelve months of daily engagement in a movement integration program, letter and number reversals usually correct themselves.

To receive your free eBook about the primitive reflexes, click here and enter your details. You’ll find my helpful guide in your inbox shortly afterwards.

So if you have a child in your life who frequently reverses their letters, numbers or words, investigate these three potential causes. Then give it time, keep an eye on them and know that if any intervention is needed, best results will be achieved through movement.

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