12. When to Intervene with Letter Flipping

Question Twelve: My question is really wondering how to determine if something is wrong and when to intervene. I have 10 year old twins, boy/girl and my daughter is far more skilled at language arts than my son, particularly the act of handwriting. My son still flips the occasional letter and number. He decided he wanted to write only in caps because it is harder to flip them. He is bothered by his writing and that is what is starting to concern me. I know girls are often more developed in this area than boys, at an earlier age.  However, I wonder by 10 if this should be starting to diminish.  I have zero problem with him going as slowly as he needs, conversely not wanting him to feel badly because he feels like he is behind.  So I guess I want to know the scope of normal for decent handwriting and when and how to intervene.

You are right to be concerned. It is normal for students to do mirror writing when they first learn their letters. It is also normal for students to flip an occasional numeral or letter before age 8 (around second grade). Afterwards, it is time to intervene.  Unfortunately, flipping letters is a bit like sneezing—there is more than one possible diagnosis. Here’s a short list of things that can cause a student to flip letters:

  • Irlen Syndrome (pages 540­ – 541 in Roadmap to Literacy)
  • Eye issues/Visual processing issues (ibid)
  • Poor visual memory:  the ability to recall a visual image
  • Poor visualization: the ability to create a mental image (See chapter 3.5 Symbol Imagery in The Roadmap to Literacy and page 550—Seeing Stars: Symbol Imagery for Phonological and Orthographic Processing)
  • Poor visual-motor integration:  the ability of the visual and muscular system to work together
  • Dyslexia (pages 553­-556 in Roadmap to Literacy)
  • Etc.

You can do a quick initial screening for common vision problems by using the subsection Problems with the Student’s Eyes in The Roadmap to Literacy (pages 540–541). It will give you a list of things to do to screen your child for common problems. Follow up with the appropriate professional, as directed in the book.

If that does not help with the problem, it is good to look at visual processing, visual motor, and dyslexia. It is also good to request an IEP with the child’s local public school, so you can get an assessment. (Note: The IEP assessment will not include vision therapy and Irlen Syndrome.)

About the Author Jennifer Militzer-Kopperl