Why does our son reverse letters?

Our son, age 7, reverses letters when writing. We fitted him with glasses, but the reversals continue. Could he have dyslexia? What should we do?

It’s not uncommon for children at ages 7, 8, or 9 to reverse letters while writing.

Dr. Martha Weber, an education professor at Bowling Green State University, coined a term for this in 1972: the “Moma” concept. It illustrates the relationship between how young children perceive their world, and why they reverse letters while learning how to write.

The concept is explained through how children see their mothers. A child who sees his mother dressed up and wearing makeup for a Friday night out, or wearing a bathrobe, hair curlers, and facial mask on Saturday recognizes that, no matter how different she may look, she is still his mother. Most young children who reverse letters do so, because although the letters may look different, to these kids, they’re still the same. (This is known as form constancy.)

No wonder kids question our adult level-headedness when we tell them that merely moving, what looks to them like a “stick,” from one side of a circle to the other, creates a totally different concept (a letter “b” becoming a “d”). And, how about the confusing visual similarities between p-q, m-w, M-W, m-n, or h-n?

Even if eyeglasses enable the information to enter your son’s brain at 20-20, he will draw upon his belief system to logically misinterpret the incoming visual information. For now, I’d advise not searching for other causes, such as dyslexia, to explain the letter reversals. Primary teachers have witnessed this problem work itself out most of the time. For now, just blame it on “Moma.”

Robert Morton, MEd, EdS has retired from his positions as school psychologist and adjunct professor in the School of Leadership and Policy Studies at Bowling Green State University, in Ohio. Contact him at robertmorton359@gmail.com.

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