Directional Confusion & Dyslexia Symptoms in Preschoolers

Directional Confusion Can Be “Confusing”

According to the International Dyslexia Association, dyslexia is a "language-based learning disability with a cluster of symptoms resulting in difficulties with specific language skills, particularly reading." The term, "directional confusion," has often been misused as a synonym for "reversing letters" and thus referenced as the primary symptom in all dyslexics. Though it's true that preschoolers through first grade sometimes reverse letters and words, most professionals in the field believe that these patterns are not visual perceptions of language, but more phonetic in nature. However, in Dr. Beve Hornsby's book, "Overcoming Dyslexia," she points out that directional confusion may take on a number of forms which can affect a child's reading skills if not dealt with early on. "Directional confusion affects concepts such as up and down, top and bottom, compass directions and keeping one's place when playing games. As many as eight out of 10 severely dyslexic children have directional confusion," she says, "but the percentage is much lower for those with a mild condition." Routine activities such as difficulty tying shoe laces or recognizing right and left may also be early signs of directional dyslexia or confusion. Studies have shown that mastering the above skills are often much harder for those with dyslexia.

Myths And Tips

Three of the most common myths about dyslexia are:

  • Dyslexia is about reversing letters
  • Dyslexia is a lifelong label
  • Those with Dyslexia must have a low IQ

Tanya Mitchell, co-author of "Unlock the Einstein Inside," is quick to point out that one or more weak cognitive skills are actually the root cause of dyslexia. Since cognitive skills are the tools that enable us to focus, prioritize and plan successfully, when these are lacking, there is a problem that needs to be addressed. Other specialists in the field agree that young children who read "backwards" are not necessarily dyslexic based strictly upon that pattern. They further agree that many children from 4-6 years old have trouble sequencing at the beginning. However, Dr. Laura Bailet highly suggests that parents have their preschool child screened if the following red flags are indicated:

  • Difficulty learning letter names and letter sounds
  • Problems with rhyming
  • Problems separating and blending sounds
  • Trouble with phonics.

She also adds that Pre-K students may exhibit more of a problem with memory such as remembering names of his/her close friends, familiar concepts or routine activity steps.

Advice For Parents

There are several ways to work with your preschooler at home. Auditory exercises include sound segmenting games, phonetics building blocks and rhyming games. For memory enhancement, simply give your child directions to your home or a friend's house and have him/her reinforce by repetition. This simple activity helps with sense of direction as well as memory. You may also find mnemonics useful in teaching your child phone numbers. A good visual game is "Make A Movie in Your Head." Start with a subject like a horse, or other animal; ask your child to create what the animal looks like and what the animal is doing. This game utilizes sound, movement, color, size and perception which helps your child develop a more complete picture. Regardless of the method, parents and educators need to recognize the importance of early screenings and proper referrals to specialists, if testing points in that direction. The worst you can do for your child is to ignore the early signs of directional dyslexia, yet at the same time reassure your child that low IQ or laziness are not the causes any of these symptoms!



Dr. Beve Hornsby, Psychologist, Professor, Author of Overcoming Dyslexia, Principal, International Dyslexia Centre, London, England

Missy Schraeder, MS, CCC-SLP, CAMI, Dubard School for Language Disorders, University of Southern Mississippi April, 2008

Tanya Mitchell, Co-Author of Unlock the Einstein Inside: Applying New Brain Science to Wake Up the Smart In Your Child and Media Director, LearningRX

Dr. Laura Bailet, Ex. Director, Nemours Brightstart Center, Jacksonville, FL

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