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Reversals: Why My Child Can’t Grasp Letter and Number Reversals (b & d, 6 & 9)
This article provides helpful information regarding letter, number, and word reversals. Affiliate links are included for your convenience. 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.
One of the most common concerns with many parents is that their child reverses their letters, numbers, or words, sometimes all three. Parents tend to have a real fear that if their child reverses letters or other symbols, he or she is dyslexic or has severe learning disabilities. This is not always the case. It is normal and expected that most children will reverse letters or words at some point. The distinction appears with the frequency, the age of the child, and the extent at which the child reverses letters.
Young children often bring home schoolwork that has letter and word reversals. While they are young, it seems to be age appropriate, but if the problem continues, parents start becoming concerned. It’s important to first understand what to expect with reversals according to the mental age of the child. The mental age of your child is the concept of how their age relates to the average intellectual performance of other children with the same chronological age. Mental age may be slightly different than the physical age of your child.
In Developing Ocular Motor and Visual Perception Skills, Kenneth Lane describes the following regarding expectations with reversals:
“Children need a mental age of 5 ½ to 6 ½ to overcome ‘up-down’ (vertical) reversals and 7 ½ for ‘left-right’ (horizontal) reversals (Harman, 1982). By the end of second grade, reversals occur only among the poorest readers (Fischer, 1971). By the age of 9 or 10 years, children are said to code spatial location in adult-like fashion, enabling them to understand how the relationships among objects would appear at various angles (Wallace, 2001).”
Number reversals, such as 6 and 9 and 5 and 2, commonly occur up to around ages five and six, and the reversals of letters b and d and p and q should be fixed by age 7 1/2. Older elementary children should grasp the concept of symbols at various angles and which direction they should be placed (called directionality). 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, if there are other problems, or if reversals continue to be frequent, then remedial measures may need to be looked at.
Types Of Reversals
There are two different groups that a child usually falls under when they struggle with reversals. The first type is static reversals and the second is kinetic reversals. There are distinct differences within each group. The following describes the differences between both types of reversals:
Static reversals happen when the child is confused on the proper orientation of the letter or the order of letters in a word (directionality). There is no movement issue with the child. One theory of reasoning behind static reversals is that the child does not consider the orientation of the symbol to be important. Lane calls this the “3D-2D confusion.” 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, and toy cars 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. When you really think about it, b and d and p and q are the same letters just faced different directions.
Kinetic reversals occur when a child is forming the pencil strokes on paper, showing a tendency to confuse words that are mirror images of each other such as saw and was; ton and not. This is a movement issue with the hand motions of the child.
One of the theories behind children who tend to show kinetic reversals is called The Grammar of Action Theory. There typically is uniformity in the direction and sequence of a pencil stroke that preschool and kindergarten children use when they are copying. This conformity stems from ingrained fine motor rules that are referred to as Grammar of Action. 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 a right-handed child is (1) starting at a leftmost point, and (2) starting at the topmost point. The theory is some children may show dominance in letters and numbers that follow the rules, but struggle with those that do not (for example, the letter d versus the letter b, and the number 5 versus the number 2).
Visual Processing Issues
If a child struggles past the age of seven with reversals, they may have a visual processing issue, or more specifically a visual discrimination problem. The child doesn’t notice and can’t compare features of unique objects or symbols, like letters, numbers, or words. Sometimes, a visual discrimination issue goes along with other learning disabilities. Dyslexia is the most common learning disability with writing and reading issues, and reversals are typically part of it. However, most of the time, this is not the case.
What to Do
In the majority of cases, kids will outgrow these common mistakes. However, it is still important for a child to practice writing their letters and numbers in the correct order and direction. Offer help if your child is frustrated with particular letters. Make it fun! Have them practice drawing with a stick in the sand or tracing letters or words in finger paints. If your child is 8 years old, or in third grade, and still can’t shake frequent reversals, it may be time to determine if they are struggling with one of their learning systems such as the visual, fine motor or auditory. Professionals, such as Occupational Therapists, Vision Therapists and Pediatric Therapists can provide intervention to help in these specific areas.
Rewiring the Brain Roadmap
If you have an overly emotional child, they may be “stuck” on the emotional side of the brain. To help get them on the right path, download the Rewiring the Brain Roadmap below. The roadmap can get you started on ways to approach your child or student’s emotional well-being. It will also help you determine your child or student’s emotional “type.”
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