It’s not unusual for young kids to reverse letters when they read and write. But when they still frequently write backwards or upside down beyond age 7, it could signal a learning or attention issue.
People often think writing letters backwards is a sign of dyslexia. Find out what it really means.
What is letter reversal?
Reversing letters means your child writes certain letters (or numbers) backwards or upside down. This is sometimes referred to as “mirror writing.” It’s different from transposing letters, which means switching the order of letters.
The most common letter reversal is b and d, when the child writes a b for a d or vice versa. Another common reversal is p and q. An example of an upside-down reversal is m for w.
Is reversing letters a sign of dyslexia?
Just because a child struggles with mirror writing doesn’t mean he has dyslexia. Some kids with dyslexia have trouble with it, but many don’t. The majority of kids who reverse letters don’t have any learning or attention issues.
There isn’t one underlying issue that causes reversals. A child might reverse letters because he has a poor memory for how to form letters. Another possible cause is visual processing issues. In this case, a child might have trouble identifying how images are different (visual discrimination) or which direction they face (visual directionality).
Do kids outgrow the habit of reversing letters?
The majority of kids outgrow reversing as they become better readers and more proficient at writing. Reversing letters is normal and fairly common up until second grade.
That’s because the letters b, d, p and q are really all the same letter. They’re just flipped and turned. As adults and experienced readers, we’ve learned that their position makes a big difference.
Young kids and beginning readers do not always make that distinction right away. That discovery is part of the learning process. It comes as they build their phonics skills and become more experienced readers and writers.
If your child is still reversing letters a lot by the end of second grade, that’s a flag that could signal the need for an evaluation.
If my child is reversing letters, should I take a wait-and-see approach?
There’s no downside to helping your child learn to write his letters correctly, no matter what his age. If he doesn’t have an issue, he’ll be no worse off.
If it turns out he does have some type of language or visual processing difficulty, the sooner he stops reversing letters, the less ingrained the habit will be. Repeating an error causes it to be more established. Your child will be better off if he breaks the habit early.
How can I help my child at home with letter reversals?
Work on one letter at a time. For example, if your child is reversing b and d, start with b. Don’t introduce d until he’s having much less difficulty with b. After that, you can work on other significant reversals, such as p or q.
Do the same with numbers. Work on only one at a time. When your child is having much less trouble with that number, you can move on to the next.
When focusing on a letter, try to engage more than one of his senses. This is known as a multisensory approach.
For instance, your child could trace the letter b in sand or “skywrite” it as he says aloud the sound for b. As he’s practicing, give him a strategy for remembering, such as “the bat comes before the ball.” (Meaning that the vertical line of the b, or the bat, comes before the round part, or the ball.)
What should I do if my child doesn’t outgrow reversing letters?
If your child is still reversing letters by the end of second grade or the beginning of third grade, talk to his teacher. Your child may improve if the teacher is able to give him extra practice. Also, learn about how to request an evaluation if you think your child may have dyslexia or another learning or attention issue.