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									CROSS - LATERALITY, OR CONFUSED DIRECTIONALITY, AND WRITING Children who have literacy problems may often be found, on assessment, to be cross-lateral, ie, having a dominant eye which is on the opposite side to the dominant hand ( defined as the hand consistently used for writing ), or to have no clearly established dominant eye. It has been argued that this leads to confusion about where words and letters are on a page, or where they should be written, and there is an inhibition of literacy progress. Evidence from the work of Stein or Fowler during the late seventies and eighties, using the Dunlop Test, indicated that, among children with dyslexia, more cases than would have been predicted by chance ( 50% + of those tested ) were found to have no dominant or reference eye, and this incidence was much greater than among children without literacy difficulties. However, later studies have not replicated this same discrepancy in that, for example, the lack of dominance has been found to be equally prevalent among poor and satisfactory readers. Similarly, the suggestion that occlusion of one eye will aid some children with dyslexic difficulties was found to have no empirical basis. Further, converging evidence involving large samples of children produced no support for the hypothesis that crossed laterality ( or left handedness ) are more common among children with specific literacy difficulties than among the school population at large. For example, the National Child Development Study of 1987 found that inconsistent or mixed laterality were not associated with literacy problems. One conclusion is that apparent laterality problems may acquire a greater significance than justified because of some bias in the pattern of referrals to specialist opthalmologists, or may reflect a consequence rather than a cause of the problem. There is not much evidence to support an hypothesised causal link between cerebral dominance and dyslexia, although it may be that crossed laterality is a frequent concomitant of literacy weakness .... one of the observed signs and symptoms contained within an initial checklist which might prompt further assessment to determine whether or not a child does have specific difficulties. They may not be the cause of the learning difficulties, but another illustration of inefficient functioning. So, children known to be cross-lateral may subsequently be shown to have some reading and writing weaknesses, but no causal route should be inferred ; and the issue of reversals of shapes, including letter or digit shapes, or mirror writing, may relate more closely to a poor sense of directionality. There are common observations that literacy weaknesses may include a tendency towards right to left tracking such that writing or drawing is "reversed", and there will be interference in coping with print if a teacher assumes that a child is tracking words from left to right when (s)he is actually tracking from right to left. Reversals of letters or graphemes or words, or substitutions, would be likely under this circumstance. It is possible, by the way, that the success of simple schemes like Paired Reading may be explicable at least partially in terms of the child's consistently having to follow a left to right pattern, and the adult can spot quickly if the child deviates.

Meanwhile, it is found that competent readers have a visual scan which takes in about 14 letters to the right of a fixation point, but only around 7 letters to the left of that point. The implication could be that a child with tracking difficulties is delayed in acquiring this form of visual scan, and is stuck at a stage of single word reading rather than establishing fluent reading which involves rapid eye movement and visual sequencing. There have also been reports ( Pavlidis and Miles ) that the child with specific weaknesses in literacy may experience defective oculomotor control so that, when reading, the eye movements are jerky, making many fixations and regressions, so that smooth saccadic movements are inhibited ..... and the habit or automaticity of left to right movement may also be inhibited. It is quite common for children up to about 6 or rising 7 years of age still to confuse letters like b and d, or p and q, but intervention is appropriate if these errors are found to persist. What is needed is the establishment of kinaesthetic cueing to establish the correct direction of letters or words. It is largely a matter of consistent practice in order to establish the right habit. For example, a finger-tracing exercise involves having the child close his/her eyes while the teacher guides the index finger of his/her preferred hand around the shape of the given letter, ( eg "b" ) and the letter is simultaneously sounded or named while the tracing is repeated several times. Subsequently, the child's finger is guided over various letters and the child has to indicate quickly, with eyes still closed, each time a letter "b" is traced. One would repeat this for other letters ( or digits ) which are found to give problems, and these may well include d, p, and q, or 3 and 5. After this, one might try getting the child to write a whole line of these single letters , with and then without a visual model. The child might also be given sequences of letters to write as quickly and accurately as possible. Such sequences would be alphabetic, such as a b c d e , so that there is already a strong cue about the correct sequence ; and a mark would be written on the left hand side of the page indicating where each set is to begin. ( Talking of marks, it might be helpful to indicate to highligt somehow which is the child's left hand - ie the side where the writing begins - by a red felt tip mark on the left hand index finger, or a piece of tape wound round a left hand finger ). One could devise a further series of tracing exercises, involving simple pictures, such as a dog on the left of the page and a bone towards the right, and the child has to draw a line to show the dog the way to go. A Precision Teaching approach, involving probes to check competence before moving on, could be useful.

Another exercise is giving the child a line or two of text, with the instruction to scan it, beginning on the left ( at the start of the sentence ), and to mark letters in alphabetic sequence, beginning with the first "a" spotted, then "b", and so on. This would not only practise the left-right sequence, but also focus attention closely upon the precise form of the letters. With regard to words which are commonly seen to be reversed, the correct spelling could be practised and consolidated using the " look-say-cover-write-check " approach. Cartoon stories which are cut up into separate components for the child to put together into the right sequence would compensate for some abstractness of this general work ; and the earlier suggestion of paired reading might also be followed up even if reading per se is adequate .... and it might be better still if the child followed the print with a moving finger as well as with eyes and voice. There is an implication that the child should be encouraged to read as much as possible, thus simply to become more and more familiar with the language, and to develop a stronger visual awareness of common words. * * * * * * *

Michael Connor

15 March 2003

CROSS LATERALITY, OR CONFUSED DIRECTIONALITY, AND WRITING These brief notes were written in response to the identification of a child with a tendency towards reversals or mirror-writing. Reference is made to the issue of causes and effects, and to remedial strategies.


March 2003

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