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Lisa Gibbs - Tutor

Reading and Writing for Kindergarten through 4th Grade.



My child confuses the letters d and b. Is he dyslexic?

Posted on March 6, 2016 at 1:25 PM

      As a reading teacher, I have been asked this question many times. When a child has trouble learning how to read, many parents wonder if a learning disability might be causing the problem. Parents often see their child confusing the letters d and b, or reading reversible words like was as saw, and wonder if this might caused by dyslexia.

      The truth is many children confuse the letters b and d (or even p and q.) Some children will even try to read the end of a word as if it was the beginning of the word or reverse the entire word completely. This does not necessarily mean the child is dyslexic. The ability to recognize the difference between reversible letters and words is connected to a child’s ability to control directionality. Most children have some difficulty with this in their preschool years, but outgrow it as they learn to move smoothly across the page from left to right. For a few children, this issue persists into first grade, and occasionally even into second grade. It can be a problem when it interferes with a child's ability to decode unfamiliar words or if the child reverses easy words and does not correct his or her mistake. It can become a particularly problematic if it becomes a habit which persists as the child moves on to more difficult text.

There are some simple prompts that can help:

• For children who reverse words, or look at the ends of words while ignoring the beginning (reading then as when, for example) simply say to the child "put your finger under the first part of the word. What do you see?"

• For children struggling with b and d, I usually teach them to write the word bed. They know what letter that word starts with, because they can hear the b sound. If you point out that the b and the d look at each other (I often draw little faces inside the letters) the child can use that word as a memory device to help sort out which is which.

      Obviously, there are some children who have much more serious problems with directional movement and could be helped by instruction from a teacher who specializes in learning disabilities. But there are many, many more children who just take a little longer to develop the ability to understand how to use directional movement. Most children will work these issues out as they become more familiar with the reading process, but it is important that this does not become a bad habit. A teacher or parent can help the child sort out these issues by calling the child's attention to the first part of the word, or by giving the child other strategies to help figure out the direction in which the text and the individual letters are moving. Even more important, the child must get into the habit of fixing mistakes made because he or she is not moving from left to right in an organized manner.


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