Handwriting Reversal Facts:

It’s not unusual for young kids to reverse letters when they read and write.  Let’s learn more about letter reversals and how to address them.

What is a letter reversal?

Reversing letters is when a child writes certain letters or numbers backwards or upside down.  It’s different from transposing letters, which means switching the order of letters.  Some reversals are simply writing the letter backwards, other reversals actually have a counterpart letter, like b for d or p for q.  An example of an upside-down reversal, or inversion, is m for w.

Is reversing letters a sign of dyslexia?

Reversing letters isn’t necessarily a sign of dyslexia.  Some kids with dyslexia have trouble with it, but many don’t.  In fact, most kids who reverse letters before age 7 end up not having dyslexia.  For older kids who continue to reverse letters, there are a few other potential causes.  A child might reverse letters because of a poor memory for how to form letters.  Another possible cause is related to challenges with visual processing.  In this case, a child might have trouble identifying how images are different (visual discrimination) or which direction they face (visual directionality).

The majority of kids outgrow reversing as they get stronger at reading and writing.  Reversing letters is typical and fairly common up through second grade.  The most common errors are with the letters b, d, p, and q because they are so similar in formation.  As adults and experienced readers, we’ve learned that the direction of these letters makes a big difference, but young kids and beginning readers don’t have our same experience.  If your child is still reversing letters a lot by the end of second grade, though, you may want to reach out to your child’s teacher. Get the teacher’s take on what’s going on, and talk about next steps.

How can I help my child at home with letter reversals?

There’s no downside to helping kids learn to write their letters correctly, at any age.  Be vigilant with ensuring that your child is consistently using a top-down, left-to-right approach to form their letters.  This should include the use of correct starting and ending points.  Although reversals are common, don’t be afraid to ask your child to correct their reversals.  The sooner you address letter reversals and have your child recognize and correct their errors, the less ingrained the habit will be. Your child will be better off by breaking the habit early.

When practicing a letter, try to engage more than one of your child’s senses.  A multi-sensory approach will help your child build stronger pathways as their learning will hit so many more areas of their brain.  For instance, use fun textures, such as writing in sand or shaving cream.  Use sound and speak aloud the name and sound for the letter while writing it.  “Skywriting” (writing in the air), or writing with eyes closed can be a way to increase a child’s motor memory of accurate letter formation.  

Consider using statements that support recall and accuracy, such as “the bat comes before the ball” as a strategy to correctly form a letter “b.”  (Meaning that the vertical line of the b, or the bat, comes before the round part, or the ball.)  An internet search of these sorts of statements can help for individual letters.

Don’t feel like you can only address reversals through writing tasks.  Develop visual perceptual skills by encouraging children to complete jigsaw puzzles, mazes, hidden pictures, word searches, and spot-the-difference activities.  Play games and give directions that reinforce your child’s internal awareness of right versus left to support their overall awareness of directionality.  

(original sources:https://www.understood.org/en/articles/faqs-about-reversing-letters-writing-letters-backwards-and-dyslexia and toolstogrowot.com)

Does your child struggle with visual perception or reversals more than the average student?  Please talk to us in the Occupational Therapy (OT) department.  We want to help.  -Brianna and Bridget