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# When do I need to start worrying -- backwards letters

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When he first started writing, my son mostly wrote the letters and numbers correctly. As the year wore on, though, I noticed that he was starting to flip several letters when writing.

I asked and found this was normal in Kindergarten, not to worry about it. Note: My son is left handed.

We are doing the Summer Bridge workbook over the summer, though, and I've noticed several new flips going on as well.

In Math, he'll tell me the answer is "14" or "15" (correctly) but then write "41" and "51" -- and when I ask him to read what he wrote, he'll tell me "14" and '15"!!! (basically, the correct answer to the problem. Part of this is that the problems are easy enough he can just do the calculation in his head rapidly and tell me the solution rather than what he wrote.)

I have also noticed that for ALL 2-digit numbers, both those he writes correctly and incorrectly, he writes the ones digit first and then the tens digit. (He's not really writing bigger numbers yet though he is fascinated with them and constantly asking us questions about trillions and billions!)

Numbers and letters he mostly writes backwards unless he JUST traced it and is copying:

2,3,5,9,a, b,d,p,g,s

He is advanced in his understanding and reading and I don't want his writing to hold him back. But, especially with his numbers, I think it will cause problems as they get into more difficult addition since he is writing down entirely different numbers than what the answer is.

We have cooked spaghetti and used it to make numbers, and the numbers are never backwards when done that way (though they do look strange on occasion!) Will this type of activity really eventually help him stop writing it backwards?

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My daughter (who is nearly a year older than your son) still does flips like the ones you are describing. She's a really excellent reader, but I found her reading "silent" for "listen" the other day (a perfect anagram!). I'm not worried for now, just correcting it when I see it, but I'm going to keep a watch on it longer term to see how it develops. I feel like a few weeks of increase could easily be explained to wanting to finish and go outside, rushing, background noise, etc, but if it causes problems, then I'd worry about it.

FWIW, my son saw a speech language pathologist for three years for problems which, frankly, would have resolved on their own if I hadn't freaked out about it. Friends with older kids told me to calm down, although he had an IEP.

If you have other concerns, or other people voice concerns to you, then by all means investigate.

Emily

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I would not let this concern you yet. This is perfectly natural as students adjust to taking their thoughts to paper. If there are numerous reversals well into 2nd grade, you'll need to address it more systematically (like teaching and writing only in cursive, which can not be reversed) and consider an evaluation. I wouldn't worry about larger numbers. Computations occur from right to left, one digit at a time and that will preclude the problem. The teens are especially common to flip because they begin with the ones place sound. FOURteen. It's natural to want to write it first.

At this stage, I would just point it out every time you see it. "Oops. You made a B instead of D." "Uh-oh, you wrote 4 tens and 1 unit, but fourteen is 1 ten and 4 units." Don't let it go uncorrected, but don't make a big deal.

By just pointing it out and correcting, you'll find it become less and less frequent, but not non-existant even into 2nd grade. Pretty soon, your student will notice it himself, even if he can't pinpoint the exact problem. My son will say, "wait...is that 41 or 14?" and then I just prompt him to think about it mathematically. Even with the letters, he'll cock his head and then say, "whoops. that's bab instead of dad."

It will also help to teach him how to check his work for correctness and really reinforce place value principles.

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My 8 year old still does it. You should see his math! I need a degree in cryptography just to correct it ;) I don't worry about it, just point out his errors. My older boys did it, and grew out of it. This one is the worst, I think the fact that he is left handed doesn't help. I'm sure he will grow out of it too. Left handers are 'pushing' while writing instead of 'pulling' so things can get flipped in their brains.

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I'll be the naysayer and tell you to look into it. I've been waiting for my now eight year old to outgrow these same behaviors and it's only gotten worse as his writing skills continue to lag behind his verbal abilities. He's so frustrated now. He's working so hard, but his work still looks so sloppy.

I just heard Diane Craft, a brain integration expert, speak at our state convention today. She has a website with a ton of helpful and free information on this. There are easy exercises you can do at home to help integrate the right and left brain and eliminate the problems your son is having, if you feel like it is truly becoming a barrier for him. He may grow out of it or he may not. I'm really looking forward to working on this with my son.

Dianecraft.com

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My 7yo still reverses 2 and 3 all the time. Sometimes he switches the digits, too. He occasionally flips letters, but that has been improving. I remember my 9yo was still making all those reversals around the time he turned 8, but he doesn't anymore... I didn't notice when the reversals stopped, but at some point, he realized he was reversing letters and numbers, so he'd look at our handwriting letter wall chart. At some point in the last year or so, he started writing properly without any help.

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My son was in fourth grade before these reversals disappeared entirely. I did not make an issue out of it, but I also did not let it pass-- we used a green dot system. If he reversed a letter or switched letter or digit order, he got a green dot underneath, and had to fix it before he could move forward to the next thing. It was low-key, not embarrassing or punitive, and the dots gave me a quick- tally record of his improvement.

We also switched to cursive handwriting, because you cannot switch or reverse letters in cursive, which made him more successful in the short term.

He is still 9 years old and the reversals have nearly disappeared, although I can see him pause to think sometimes before writing (he also has dysgraphia, but I think I am seeing him catch himself about to reverse).

That said, if your Mom-gut says there is an issue, ask questions! I always advocate asking questions now instead of waiting for later if your gut tells you to.

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I thought we were done with them and suddenly one of my 8 yos began reversing his 9's when he's doing a really tricky problem. Oh well. As long as you're seeing less and less as time goes on (over a long period, that is - I think kids have ups and downs with it), then I personally think that's okay up to about 9 or 10 yo.

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While a small degree of reversals are normal, it's something to inform the way you teach...if not a red flag to watch for more signs of visual perception problems and/or dyslexia. Don't stress over it, but do adapt your teaching.

Yes, the cooked spaghetti helps. Anything that gets those letters in 3D format helps. (moveable alphabet would be good investment)

Keep tracing and copying. Write the problem letters & numbers at the top of the pages where he does not copy so he can glance up and check to make sure it isn't backwards.

My 10yo was a Reversal and Mirror Writing Prodigy ( :lol: ), and it turned out to be just one manifestation of a greater problem. He still reverses now and then.

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Paula (4blessingmom),

When did you notice that your 10-year-old mirror-writing prodigy had a greater problem? I have a little mirror-writing prodigy, and wonder what to think about that. I haven't started teaching her to read yet, and am dragging my feet because of her letter reversals when she copies things just for fun. She also tracks backwards, though I correct her whenever I see it.

Emily

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My left-handed son reverses letters and numbers and sometimes writes numbers like 14 as 41 too. But when I ask him to look at what he wrote he immediately sees that it is wrong. Some days it helps to have numbers written at the top of his math that he can look at as he is printing. I want to reduce the stress of printing during math-time so he can focus on correct answers.

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Paula (4blessingmom),

When did you notice that your 10-year-old mirror-writing prodigy had a greater problem? I have a little mirror-writing prodigy, and wonder what to think about that. I haven't started teaching her to read yet, and am dragging my feet because of her letter reversals when she copies things just for fun. She also tracks backwards, though I correct her whenever I see it.

Emily

By the end of kindergarten there was a significant discrepancy between his knowledge (phonics, spelling, vocabulary) and his ability (decoding). That discrepancy was growing larger, not smaller, the more we worked. I had read aloud to him from birth, his vocab was amazing, he knew his phonics (we did SWR)....he could spell 2nd grade level words, but he couldn't read a Bob book. He was motivated to read, had all of the "tools" for reading, but was making zero progress. (not small steps - zero)

We would get comments from complete strangers about how well read he must be b/c his vocabulary/syntax were just not typical of a 5/6yo...he was (is!) very bright, listening comprehension is excellent, but reading - actually seeing/decoding - was at a roadblock.

I had his vision checked, and though he has 20/20 vision he had visual perception problems. The Gift of Dyslexia and Making the Words Stand Still describe his struggles pretty well. Dyslexia is a term that covers a wide range of problems, and these two books pinpoint the visual quirks.

He doesn't just simply mirror write. He does it without realizing he does it. He will even read it back to me, not realizing it's mirrored. He didn't just reverse letters now and then. On an Explode the Code page, half of the 'a's would be forwards and half would be backwards. All.the.time! (one of the reasons we did NOT do ETC type work - gotta copy and trace instead) I painstakingly taught the handwriting cues, and his directionality was so off that he would follow all of the handwriting cues and still come out backwards b/c he visualized the clockface backwards....half of the time...

It makes things interesting.

ETA: He would also invert phonograms "sh" might be written "hs" and oy might be written "yo" It was all the same to him. He would also have trouble with was/saw, and other similar words.

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My youngest reversed for a long time. He reversed not only letters and numbers, but he also reversed music notes when he would write a song out for piano lessons. His teacher was quite concerned because he would mirror write his songs, and she had never seen anything like it. At the beginning of this year when he was nine he was still reversing, and I started to think that something might be wrong, but within a few months he stopped doing it. Now at ten he never reverses anything.

He was tested this year for other concerns, and we found out he is gifted with a very low processing speed. The doctor explained that my son thinks much faster than he can process which hinders his handwriting abilities. I think that may have factored in to his reversed writing.

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As someone studying to be a teacher of the visually impaired, I can tell you that there are exercises you can do to increase visual perception skills. For example, the Puzzle Buzz magazine from Highlights is excellent at increasing visual perception skills. Ironically, video games are also excellent, with long-term benefits in that area.

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My daughter, who has always been upper 90th in language skills, brought home a paper this year where she'd flipped a "b" for a "d"

She's in 5th grade! lol

It doesn't happen often, to be sure, but there it was. ;)

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I have an 8yo that still reverses but has gotten much better in the past year. I'm giving it at least until Christmas before I seek testing. Mostly just because if it's improved so much in the past year maybe it will go away completely?

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Reversals on their own at this age are not really worrisome, but in combination with other issues could be a sign of something else going on. DS has severe dyslexia and had always had trouble with B,D,P,Q,9,&6 even today at 17. Other issues he had were an awkward pencil grip, strange shaped letters, problems counting to 100, reciting the alphabet, and some minor speech issues. It was actually the speech that ended up getting him diagnosed with LD's and put on and IEP. I had real concerns with DS because he is so bright but school was so hard, but I waited didn't pursue additional help as soon as I should have. If something feels not right about your child, start reading the websites like http://www.ncld.org/ or http://www.dyslexia.yale.edu/ and move on from there.

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You've been told several times now that reversals are normal at this age. But I'll repeat it for you :) Activities like those with the spaghetti are beneficial, but it would probably fix itself if you simply corrected as you go--as has been already said.

And I'll third (fourth?) the suggestion that if it truly bothers you, switch to cursive.

My mother taught me to write exclusively in cursive as she realized very early that I was dyslexic (and kudos to my mother for it, too, because at the time it was barely being understood). I'm teaching my oldest to write in cursive as well, even though he is clearly not dyslexic, because it is much easier for me to read. We are waiting to see with my 3 yr old...I have suspicions...but either way cursive will come first. Which is my only read addition to this conversation. :)

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