Backwards Letters: Normal development or early indicator of dyslexia?

The Five-Year-Old's instructions to her Uncle Phil on operating her Twilight Ladybug.

Instructions for operating The Five-Year-Old’s Twilight Ladybug, which The Five-Year-Old made for her Uncle Phil while he was in charge of story time last week. (Photo: Shala Howell)

The Five-Year-Old hates, just hates, writing in lower case. I can’t get her to do it. Nothing works. Not even M&Ms.

I’m sure her teacher would appreciate it if I pressed the issue of lower-case writing at home. But on the theory that some writing at home is better than no writing, I let her use whatever kinds of letters she likes. If she wants to ban the use of lower case letters by Five-Year-Olds in the house, she can. If she wants to draw a huge dot over her I‘s and color it in for 5 seconds, she can. If she wants to connect her upper case letters to each other with little squiggly lines at the bottom and call it cursive, she can.

When I asked her the other day why she hated writing in lower case, she said it was because she could never remember whether the b‘s or the d‘s faced forward. (Ironic for a child who regularly writes her 5‘s as 2‘s and upper-case Y‘s and J‘s backwards.)

Still, it turns out that this is a very common problem for kindergarteners. From

“In kindergarten and first grade, for example, many children write “b” instead of “d,” and may sometimes confuse “p,” “q,” and “g.” Teachers see these errors all the time, and gradually work to help kids fix them. But as a caring parent, should you worry? The stakes are high. Do these letter problems signal something deeper, such as dyslexia?”

Short answer: Not necessarily. According to Linda Selvin, Executive Director of the New York branch of the International Dyslexia Association, most of the kids who write b instead of d are just making a very common mistake. It’s only if your child also has trouble discerning between letter sounds (mistaking the b sound in bear for a d or a p for example), hearing initial sounds in words, identifying sight words like is and the, or rhyming words like bat and cat, that you might begin to think about dyslexia.  Read the whole thing.

Bonus Friday Tidbit: StoryCorps Interview between Sarah Littman and her son Joshua

SaraLittmannThis animated version of Sarah Littman’s 2006 interview with her then 12-year-old son Joshua has been making the rounds on Facebook this week. The most touching moment happens around minute 2:43, but the entire interview is truly heart-warming.

Happy Friday, everyone!

About Shala Howell

I spent two decades helping companies like Bell Labs, Juniper Networks, and a genetic testing company that was later acquired by CVS translate some of the world’s most complicated concepts into actionable, understandable English. Now I'm working on a much harder problem -- fostering children’s curiosity and engagement in the scientific, artistic, and linguistic world that surrounds them. The first book in my Caterpickles Parenting Series, What’s That, Mom?, focuses on how to use public art to nurture children’s curiosity in the world around them. My next book, Did Dinosaurs Have Belly Buttons?, is currently planned for release in 2018. In the meantime, you can find me blogging about life with a very curious Ten-Year-Old at, chatting about books and the writing life at, and tweeting about books, writing, science, & things that make me smile at @shalahowell.
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2 Responses to Backwards Letters: Normal development or early indicator of dyslexia?

  1. Mary McConnell says:

    First of all, our writing conventions are merely social conventions. She knows as all of us do that most of the time it doesn’t matter if a letter is one way or another…we can all still read them. When she is around six to six and a half, she’ll give up the fight and go on to the next one. Just ignore lower case for a while, it it will be fine. 20 years of K’s taught me that!


  2. Pingback: “When is Y not a vowel?” | CATERPICKLES

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