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 trouble with reading or language.
People often think writing letters backwards is a sign of dyslexia, but that’s often not the case. Learn more about letter reversals and what they can mean.
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?
Reversing letters or mirror writing isn’t necessarily a sign of dyslexia. Some kids with dyslexia have trouble with it, but many don’t. In fact, most kids who reverse letters before age 7 end up not having dyslexia.
For older kids who continue to reverse letters, there are a few other potential causes. A child might reverse letters because of 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 get stronger at reading and writing. Reversing letters is typical 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 don’t always make that distinction right away, though. That discovery is part of the learning process. It comes as kids 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, though, you may want to reach out to your child’s teacher. Get the teacher’s take on what’s going on, and talk about next steps.
If my child is reversing letters, should I take a wait-and-see approach?
There’s no downside to helping kids learn to write their letters correctly, at any age. Even if your child doesn’t have dyslexia or other difficulty, there’s no harm.
If it turns out your child does have some type of language or visual processing difficulty, the sooner you address letter reversals, the less ingrained the habit will be. Your child will be better off by breaking 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 your child is 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 your child’s senses. This is known as a multisensory approach.
For instance, your child could trace the letter b in sand or “skywrite” it while saying aloud the sound for b. As your child is practicing, offer a strategy for remembering how to write b, 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 you still see letter reversals by the end of second grade or the beginning of third grade, talk to your child’s teacher. Extra practice on letter formation in school may help your child improve. Download multisensory reading and writing tools for your child to try. Also, if you think your child may have dyslexia, find out what to do next.