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Letter Reversals, Number Reversals
and Mirror Writing

db

Letter reversals include confusing letters like b and d, either when reading or when writing. Number reversals include writing ε instead of 3, or confusing 17 and 71. Mirror writing is another form of reversal. This means that the person is writing backward, from right to left, the letters appearing like ordinary writing seen in a mirror.

A popular theory is that letter reversals, number reversals and mirror writing are caused by a neurological deficit. In other words, there is something wrong inside the brain of the person. While there are many factors that may contribute to reading and writing difficulties, one should not overlook the principle that our perception of anything depends on our past experiences.

Before one can read or learn anything, one has to become aware of it through one of the senses. Usually one has to hear or see it. In other words, perception must take place. Subsequently one has to interpret whatever one has seen or heard. In essence then, perception means interpretation. Of course, lack of experience may cause a person to misinterpret what he has seen or heard. In other words, perception represents our apprehension of a present situation in terms of our past experiences, or, as stated by the philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804): “We see things not as they are but as we are.”

A child’s ability to distinguish a b form a d, for example, would therefore depend on his past experiences. A relevant experience that plays a particularly important role includes the ability to interpret position and space, specifically the ability to distinguish left and right and the ability to cross the midline.

The human body consists of two halves, a left side and a right side. The human brain also has two halves, which are connected by the corpus callosum. Mindful of the wise words of Immanuel Kant that man does not see things as they are but as he is, it is inevitable that a person will interpret everything in terms of his own sidedness. A child or adult, who has not learned to interpret correctly in terms of his sidedness yet, who has not learned to distinguish properly between left and right, will inevitably experience problems when he finds himself in a situation where he is expected to interpret sidedness. One such a situation, where sidedness plays a particularly important role, is when a person is expected to distinguish between a b and a d. It is clear that the only difference between the two letters is the position of the straight line — it is either left or right.

It is important to note that people who are confused about left and right cannot use mnemonics or memory aids while reading, as is often advised by experts. Susan Hampshire, for example, advises that children should remember that “left” is the side on which they wear their watch. This never works to improve reading ability. It can be compared to learning a language. One cannot speak a foreign language if one only has a dictionary in that language. One has to learn to speak it. In the same way one has to learn to interpret sidedness. As all the other skills foundational to reading, the ability to distinguish between left and right must be drummed in so securely that the person can apply it during reading (or writing) without having to think of it at all.

The role that memory plays in any learning situation should of course not be overlooked. A child with a poor memory might be unable to learn the relevant experiences.

Audiblox is a system of cognitive exercises, aimed at the development and automation of foundational learning skills, including the skills that make it possible to distinguish left and right, cross the midline, and to remember.