Teachers may give kids tips and tricks to remember like, “If you hold up your left hand your first finger and thumb make an L.” However, if the child has difficulty imagining this, remembering what an L looks like, or even knowing which side the bottom line of the L is on, they will still struggle.
If you think about your hands or a “b” vs. “d” or “on” vs. “no” or “96” compared to “69”, they are exactly the same, simply mirror images of each other. To a child with difficulty understanding spatial orientation this concept can be very confusing. Children who have difficulty understanding the sidedness of their body or seeing differences between the hands will also have difficulty noticing that the circle of a “b” or “d” is on opposite sides of the stick. These children will often think “they are both hands, they are the same thing” or “both words have the same letters so they must be the same”.
Understanding the skills of laterality and directionality is a crucial fundamental skill to understanding the differences in letters, words, and numbers. These skills are the ability to know lefts and rights on oneself and then lefts and rights projected out into space (how objects relate to each other) then lefts and rights of others (ability to reverse or rotate the concept of sidedness). Children must first learn and understand the difference between their left/right sides and front vs. back before they can understand this concept on letters or numbers.
Another concept that plays into this is called form constancy. Form constancy is the concept that no matter how an object is changed or manipulated it is still the same object. For example a chair is always a chair no matter how you turn it or flip it. In contrast, if you flip a “b” or “d” or the letters in “on” or “no” it becomes something different. Children develop the concept of form constancy when they are young and playing with objects. Once they have developed this concept, they begin to develop the understanding that this is not always true as is the case in the letters “b” and “d”. For them to completely understand this concept, they must first understand laterality and directionality. It is much easier to see the differences once you understand this abstract concept with your own tangible body.
As pointed out by Wendy Rosen in her book “The Hidden Link Between Vision and Learning”, some symptoms or behaviors of poor understanding of laterality and directionality include:
- Confusion between right and left, up and down, front and back
- Difficulty with sequential tasks
- Crooked, poorly spaced writing that may not stay on ruled lines
- Misalignment of numbers when doing math problems
- More difficulty with written spelling compared to oral spelling
- May approach a line of text from right or left
- A need to feel or manipulate things in order to understand them
- Delay in gross motor skill development
- Problems with coordination and balance
- Weak ball-playing and sports skills
Another excellent article on how these skills are important can be found on: