Mixed Dominance: Dr. Attributes Not Choosing a Right or Left Hand to Learning Disorders
This article contains information regarding mixed dominance and how it can cause learning disorders in children. Integrated Learning Strategies (ILS) is a learning and academic center. As a reminder, ILS is not a health care provider and none of our materials or services provide a diagnosis or treatment of a specific condition or learning challenge you may see in your child or student. If you seek a diagnosis or treatment for your child or student, please contact a trained professional who can provide an evaluation of the child.
It’s not uncommon to hear stories from older people who are left-handed about schools trying to make them write with their right hands. We didn’t understand hand or brain dominance back then. They just knew that almost everyone wrote with their right hand so that must be the way everyone should work. But sometimes what we don’t know can hurt, because what they were encouraging was a condition called mixed dominance.
What is Mixed Dominance?
So to understand what mixed dominance is, we have to understand a little of how the brain develops and works. As a child develops and interacts with the world, their brain slowly works through a pattern called lateralization, this is where one side of the brain takes charge, or becomes the dominant side, while the other side takes up the supporting role. In most people, the left side of the brain takes control. Which is why most people are right-handed, because the left side of the brain controls the right side of the body and the right side of the brain does the left side of the body. The left side of the brain taking control should also make the right eye, leg, ear and all other parts of the right side take the dominant role.
This situation helps the brain stay organized. If most of the sensory information coming into the brain comes from the same side, one side of the brain receives the information and disperses it to the proper areas. The opposite side of the brain just provides information to complete the picture. However, when some body parts are right-side dominant and others are left side dominant, this causes a lot of problems, because the two sides of the brain organize and interpret differently. This is what happens during mixed dominance.
Both sides of the brain are working to maintain dominance and send one another conflicting information. Dr. Jean Ayres said, “If the two sides to the brain cannot work together and communicate, they both tend to develop similar functions.” So when normally the left side maintains function of language skills, the right side will also step in to retain language information. This can cause confusion and slow a child down when they attempt to retrieve that information or cause them to lose the information altogether.
How it Hinders Learning
Mixed dominance can play a role in a lot of conditions. Children or adults with mixed dominance can show signs of emotionality (short-tempered, easily hurt or offended, quick to cry, etc.), ADHD (impulsive, easily distracted), or obsessive-compulsive behaviors (fixating, participating in compulsions). All of these can be harmful to working in a classroom setting. They fail to pay attention to the lesson and the get depressed or frustrated when they don’t understand the work. Or they can get caught up in the way the classroom is laid out or something someone said or is wearing and miss the lessons they need to learn.
Mixed dominance also disturbs reading, comprehension, and writing. These children may know that an “e” at the end of the word will tell the vowel in the middle to say its name, but when they come up on a word that follows this rule, they can’t retrieve the information from the disorganization in their brain.
Reversals (confusing b and d or 6 and 9) are also common among kids with mixed dominance. This is a common problem among kindergarteners and even some first graders, but by first grade moving into second grade, reversals should stop being as big of a problem. Handwriting suffers because hand-eye coordination suffers. Comprehension suffers because the information these kids store in their minds aren’t organized enough to retrieve or reiterate back information when asked. These children can also appear ambidextrous (but their work is usually sloppy with both hands) be clumsy, can’t cross the midline (see our article here), disorganized, lose objects frequently, and perform poorly on tests.
Testing for Mixed Dominance
Testing for mixed dominance is no too complicated. To test their dominant eye, give your child something to look through with one eye like a microscope, kaleidoscope, or a paper towel roll. The eye they use to look through the object is, in most cases, their dominant eye. To test their legs, roll a ball toward their midline and have them kick it back. As long as the ball really rolled toward the center line of their body, they will kick with their dominant leg.
To test their dominant ear, watch which ear they turn toward a noise they are struggling to hear or hand them a phone and see which ear they put the phone up to. With hands, a good place to start is by watching what hand they write with. However, it doesn’t hurt to test out dominance through throwing, catching or another motor activity because hand dominance can also change between activities in mixed dominance if the child was ever encouraged to use a different hand than what was normal for them. Our hope is that dominance shows up on all the limbs on the same side. If it doesn’t, don’t fret. There things you can do to help.
What to do to Help
To help these kids sort through the confusion, you have to encourage the two hemispheres of the brain to communicate and cooperate. We can get those sides communicating through exercises that make them work together. Proper crawling encourages this. To ensure a proper crawl, make sure that the right hand moves forward with the left leg and the left hand with the right leg. Other activities to stimulate communication are any that require your child to cross the midline.
For example, touching the knee of one side with the hand of the other, playing with streamers and having them draw circles or figure eights, or popping bubbles while standing in place. There are so many activities that can help and it never hurts to get some added help from a professional, especially if these symptoms have disrupted success in school.
Integrated Learning Strategies is a Utah-based center dedicated to helping mainstream children and children with learning challenges achieve academic success. Our services provide kids with non-traditional tutoring programs within the Davis County, Kaysville, Layton, Syracuse, Farmington, and Centerville areas. Areas to find Integrated Learning Strategies include: Reading tutors in Kaysville, Math tutors in Kaysville, Common Core Tutors in Kaysville, Tutors in Utah, Utah Tutoring Programs
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