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She writes backwards

My name is Véronique and I have a home-based daycare. In my group, I have a child who will be turning 5 soon.


This little girl is progressing very well in all childhood development domains. She has learned to write her name which, until recently, she was writing properly, from left to right. I have however noticed that she has started writing her name backwards, with a mirror effect.


Example: Leanne=ennaeL, with the letters written in the opposite direction and each letter being reversed.


Shoud I worry about this change in her writing? Could you provide information on the subject?


Thank you!

Véronique B.

Hello Véronique,


Mirror writing refers to writing with reversal of individual letters. The letters that make up a word can be written from right to left whereas the words of a sentence can also be arranged from right to left. Decoding words or sentences written this way requires looking at them in a mirror.


Different situations can explain mirror writing.

Mirror writing is a symptom of certain medical conditions. Reversals that look a lot like mirror writing can be present with certain developmental disabilities. However, we often see children write letters or numbers backwards as part of a normal developmental phase when they first learn to write, between the ages of 4 and 6 years old.


In terms of motor skills, writing a letter involves learning, encoding, retrieval, and execution. In the same way language errors can occur (saying "fork" instead of "rake"), it is common to see children write a letter backwards, for example a "b" instead of a "d". When a child is learning, the processes involved are not yet mastered and errors are possible. With time, motor skill patterns will become more and more automatic and errors will be less frequent. It may be helpful to practice writing the same letter repetitively without pausing between letters (and without paying attention to the quality of the penmanship). You may even encourage the child to practice writing the letter with his/her eyes closed to further stimulate automatism.


On a cognitive level, a child acquires object permanence (a spoon is still a spoon even if it is upside down, on its side, on the right or left side of the knife, etc.) at a very young age. Children who begin writing when they are very young or have certain developmental disabilities can have difficulty understanding that a letter must always have the same orientation and that the letters that form a word or the words that make up a sentence must respect a precise sequence, from left to right, in order to make sense. For these children, letter recognition games, such as asking them to identify the "A's" among several letters, can be interesting.


In other cases, this type of writing can simply be a manifestation of a particular interest or capacities on a perceptual level. This is often seen in individuals with autism.


In these cases, teaching the child the difference between a letter that is written "the proper way" and a letter that is "backwards" is necessary. Visual tools can be useful. It is also important to specify when writing "the proper way" is required and when it is acceptable for the child to have fun turning letters and words around.


Considering the age of this little girl, I don't think you have reason to worry, especially since she seems to be on target in terms of childhood developmental stages.


Thank you for your interesting question.


Josiane Caron Santha
Occupational therapist


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