child reverses letters while writing at a desk

Common Causes When a Child Reverses Letters

When parents notice a child reversing letters, they often assume that what they are observing is a sign or symptom of dyslexia.

Dyslexia is a language-based learning disability that causes difficulty in writing, reading, and spelling. Children with dyslexia often reverse letters; however, while letter reversal in writing can be a symptom of dyslexia, this does not mean that every child who reverses letters has dyslexia.

A child may reverse letters in the early stages of learning. As a child begins to practice writing, they will make mistakes or their motor skills might not be well developed yet. Parents and teachers should continue to observe and see if the child makes improvement with guidance and practice.

Children who do not improve letter reversals within the first two years of schooling should be watched more closely and evaluated by a professional. The child could be dyslexic or have another learning disability.

But there is also a another lesser-known cause that could explain the child’s tendency to reverse letters, such as ‘p’ and ‘q’ or ‘b’ and ‘d’ when writing. Learning-related vision problems interfere with the visual processing system and cause affected children to reverse letters. Without detection, diagnosis, and vision therapy, the child will continue to reverse letters and struggle with reading, writing, and spelling.

Research indicates the major causes of letter reversals include the following:

  • Poor visual memory:  the ability to recall a visual image
  • Poor visualization: the ability to create a mental image
  • Poor visual-motor integrations:  the ability of the visual and muscular system to reinforce each other
  • Poor visual association: the ability to link what you see with something you saw, heard, or felt in the past.

If a child is lacking ability or skills in the areas of visual association, integration, visual-motor, and recall skills, he will be more likely than his peers to continue reversing letters when writing. Intensive vision therapy will strengthen visual skills, and with training and practice, letter reversals can be eliminated.

“Parents are often told the child will outgrow it. And this can be true. Continued exposure to letters and numbers will reduce reversals; but if the underlying causes are left untreated, learning will still be slow and school performance will suffer.” – Dr. Philip Nicholson

Without knowing and addressing the cause of letter reversals beyond the initial stages of learning development, a child will not automatically improve.

Assuming the child is dyslexic may not help, unfortunately, because the methods used for helping a dyslexic child learn are different from the methods used to improve visual processing in a child who has learning-related vision problems.

If your child is reversing letters beyond second grade or 8 years of age, we recommend screening for dyslexia and vision problems. Learn more about learning-related vision problems by downloading our free guide here and watching our webinar here.

If you live near Olney, MD, schedule an appointment with the Visual Learning Center for a thorough vision assessment.

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