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Directional Confusion May Be a Sign of Dyslexia

Directional confusion
Most children look forward to learning to read and do so quickly. For children with dyslexia, however, the experience is very different. For them, reading, which seems to come effortlessly for everyone else, appears to be beyond their grasp.

The process whereby they learn to transform what are essentially abstract squiggles on a page into meaningful letters, then sounds, then words, and then entire sentences and paragraphs, seems to be an impossible task.

They grow frustrated and disappointed. Teachers wonder what they or the child might be doing wrong, often misdiagnosing the problem or getting bad advice. Parents question themselves, feeling alternately guilty and angry.

According to author Sally Shaywitz, dyslexia affects one out of every five children ― ten million in America alone. In every neighborhood and every classroom worldwide, children are struggling to read. For many affected children, dyslexia has extinguished the joys of childhood.

Directional confusion – a common symptom

Directional confusion is a common symptom of dyslexia and may take several forms, from being uncertain of which is left and right to being unable to read a map accurately. Directional confusion affects other concepts such as up and down, top and bottom, compass directions, keeping one’s place when playing games, being able to copy the gym teacher’s movements when he is facing you, and so on.

As many as eight out of ten severely dyslexic children have directional confusion. The percentage is lower for those with a mild condition.

Directional confusion comes in the following forms:

• Left–right confusion:
o   A child should know their left and right by the age of five and be able to distinguish someone else’s by the age of seven.
o   Dyslexics often have to use whatever tricks their mother or teacher taught them to tell left from right, even into adulthood.
o   A common saying in households with dyslexic people is, “It’s on the left. The other left.”
o   That’s why they reverse b and d. One points to the left and the other to the right.
o   They may read or write words like no for on, rat for tar, won for now, saw for was.
o   They may mirror write letters and perhaps numbers, ‘’ for ‘y’, ‘ε’ for ‘3’.
o   They may mirror write words, like ‘’ for Susan.
o   They will often start math problems on the wrong side, want to carry a number the wrong way, or read or write 17 for 71.
• Up–down confusion:
o   Some children with dyslexia are also up-down confused. For example, they confuse b–p or d–q, n–u, m–w, t–f.
• Confusion about directionality words:
o   First–last, before–after, next–previous, over–under
o   Yesterday–tomorrow (directionality in time)
• North, south, east, and west confusion:
o   Adults with dyslexia get lost a lot when driving around, even in cities where they’ve lived for many years
o   Often have difficulty reading or understanding maps.

Directional confusion also explains many of the difficulties some children with dyslexia have in learning to tie their shoelaces. Most children can tie their shoelaces at the age of five. Over 90 percent of children with dyslexia are later than average in acquiring this skill, and without intervention, around half do not pick this up until the age of ten or later, and even then, they are not 100 percent successful.

Overcome the problem by addressing the cause

The inability to discriminate between a ‘b’ and a ‘d’ is usually caused by a visual perceptual problem, specifically a problem with processing position in space.

Before one can read or learn anything, one has to become aware of it through one of the senses. Usually, one has to hear or see it. In other words, perception must take place. Subsequently, one has to interpret whatever one has seen or heard. In essence, then, perception means interpretation.

Of course, a lack of experience may cause a person to misinterpret what he has seen or heard. In other words, perception represents our apprehension of a present situation in terms of our past experiences, or, as stated by the philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804): “We see things not as they are but as we are.”

The following situation will illustrate how perception correlates with previous experience:


Suppose a person parked their car and walked away from it while continuing to look back at it. As they went further away from their car, it would appear to them as if their car was gradually getting smaller and smaller. In such a situation, however, none of us would gasp in horror and cry, “My car is shrinking!”

Although the sensory perception is that the car is shrinking rapidly, we do not interpret that the car is changing size. Past experiences have taught us that objects do not grow or shrink as we walk toward or away from them. We have learned that their actual size remains constant, despite the illusion. Even when one is five blocks away from one’s car, and it seems no larger than one’s fingernail, one would interpret it as that it is still one’s car and hasn’t changed size. This learned perception is known as size constancy.

Pygmies, however, who used to live deep in the rain forests of tropical Africa, were not often exposed to wide vistas and distant horizons and therefore did not have sufficient opportunities to learn size constancy. Colin Macmillan Turnbull, an anthropologist and author of The Forest People, wrote about one pygmy who, when removed from his usual environment, was convinced he saw a swarm of insects when he was actually looking at a herd of buffalo at a great distance. When driven toward the animals, he was frightened to see the insects “grow” into buffalo and was sure witchcraft had been responsible.

To summarize, one must have had enough exposure to wide vistas and distant horizons to interpret size constancy. In the same way, to interpret position in space — the learned perception that makes it possible to distinguish a ‘b’ from a ‘d’ — one must have had enough exposure to relevant experiences. Relevant experiences include the ability to distinguish left and right and the ability to cross the midline..

How can Edublox help students with directional confusion?

Edublox Online Tutor is an online platform that houses a range of products and services to improve various aspects of learning. Our programs include Development Tutor, Reading Tutor, and Live Tutor. Live Tutor combined with Development Tutor is recommended for students with mild to severe dyslexia and aims at

  • strengthening cognitive skills, including position in space;
  • teaching decoding, a key skill for learning to read that involves taking apart the sounds in words (segmenting) and blending sounds together; and
  • developing orthographic mapping..

Watch this playlist and experience how Edublox training and tutoring help turn dyslexia around. Book a free consultation to discuss your child’s learning needs.