I’ve had parents and teachers ask me whether a child reversing letters is a sign that they may have a learning disability. The truth it is not unusual for children to reverse letters and numbers at some point while they are learning to read and write. Not all of these children have a learning disability. Most often children are simply learning about spatial orientation. Or in other words they are learning about how objects work in space. For example a cup only works if it sits on it’s bottom and we drink from the top. Children can be observed exploring this concept as they learn to drink from a cup. Usually we give them some kind of vessel that has a lid until they become more physically coordinated and they learn that if we tip the cup too far it falls or we miss our mouths and pour liquid all over. With letters and numbers it’s just not this obvious. In the English language we read from left to right and our letters are presented from left to right in sequence to make words. It can take a considerable amount of teaching, modelling and practice for a child to master this concept. Eventually they learn the difference between letters that look the same but depending on their orientation on the page relate to different sounds. The ones that commonly cause difficulty are b, d, p, and q. I’ve put together a list of ideas that you can use to help teach your child how to identify letters correctly.
Children who are struggling with this concept may need a lot more practice or repetition than other children so rotate your activities and try different strategies until you find the ones that work. Keep it fun and the practice sessions short and light hearted.
Robyn Stead, Child Psychologist and Educator, lives and works in central Auckland.