Letter Reversals and Dyslexia

Letter Reversals and Dyslexia

Posted by Samantha Brooks on 6th Oct 2017

Why do some students reverse b and d when writing and reading?  Why do other students read words such as “was” as “saw”?  Samantha Brooks takes a deeper look at reversals and dyslexia.

Parents and teachers may become alarmed when looking at their child’s writing and see that they are confusing letters such as b/d, p/q or m/w.  It is no wonder they feel a sense of panic, as reversals have become strongly associated with dyslexia.

Research on Reversals

According to Sally Shaywitz, MD, one of America’s premiere paediatricians and expert researchers on Dyslexia, “one of the most enduring misconceptions is that dyslexic children see letters and words backwards and that reversals (writing letters and words backwards) are an invariable sign.” Dr. Shaywitz points out that because these beliefs regarding the correlation between reversals and Dyslexia are so prevalent, many children who do not make reversals, yet have dyslexia, are often undiagnosed. Again this leads to the misconception that for a Dyslexia diagnosis, a child must reverse letters in writing or “see” words backwards.

It is very important for educators and parents to understand why such reversals occur.  To uncover this mystery, we must understand what we are asking children to do when we are teaching them to read.  In our system, learning to read is based on the alphabetic principle.  This means that a child must attach a label or name to a letter. The child must also understand that sounds are represented by letters, which are joined together to form words.  The 26 letters of the alphabet consist of a series of sticks, circles and curves that are combined to make up these letters.  Up until this point, the child knows that an object is an object no matter if it’s upside down or turned about. This is not so with letters.  Direction now matters.

Current research tells us that the root of dyslexia lies in the way the brain processes sounds.  There is no evidence to suggest that dyslexia is directly correlated to seeing letters and words backwards.  Backwards writing and letter reversals are very common in the early stages of writing when the orthographic representation (forming letters and spelling) is not fully developed.  Some children with dyslexia continue to reverse letters longer than children without reading difficulties. However, this is likely due to delayed development in reading rather than a separate issue with how the child “sees” and replicates letters in their writing.

 Helpful Tips 

  • Address one discrimination at a time and over-teach one of the letters before introducing the other.  For example, if you are addressing the b/d reversal, over-teach writing of the “b” before introducing the “d”.
  • Use multi-sensory materials while teaching the letter(s).  Be sure the child says the letter name and sound while tracing the letter. “b” says /b/ while tracing the letter-repeat multiple times. This creates a neurolinguistic pathway in the brain that will aid in memory.
  • Use visual and oral scripted auditory cues to cue correct letter formation.  A common auditory script cue is to form the “b” as a “bat before a ball”. This will provide a cue that the stick is formed first while writing the letter.  The “d” is cued as a “ drumstick”.  Placing a visual cue on the student’s desk or in front of the classroom can also help. Laminating a copy of the b/d posters and using an expo/dry erase marker to practice writing the b-“bat before ball” and d-“drum…stick” will strengthen the correct recall for letter formation.

DOWNLOAD Brainspring’s b-bat and d-drum posters!

Check out another Multisensory Monday tip for b/d reversals HERE!

To purchase Overcoming Dyslexia, visit http://dyslexia.yale.edu/research-science/overcoming-dyslexia/

Samantha Brooks, MSE, Dyslexia Therapist

Samantha Brooks is an Instructor with Brainspring Educator Academy.

Shaywitz, S. E. (2005). Overcoming dyslexia: A new and complete science-based program for reading problems at any level. New York: Vintage Books.