Learning Disabilities

Curry School of Education

Reversals in Reading and Writing


Students with learning disabilities often make mistakes when reading and writing. One kind of mistake that students make is to read or write a letter, letters, or a word "backwards." A student may look at the written word was and read it as "saw" or may write the work "dog" as bog. These mistakes are often referred to as "reversals." Students may make similar mistakes with numerals, writing a 3 so that it looks like a rounded, capital E.

Nearly all young children learning to read and write make reversal errors. Most do not continue to do so after the first few years of school. But, students with learning disabilities may continue to reverse letters and numerals during the elementary (and even later) grades.

Perhaps one of the most pervasive ideas in learning disabilities is that certain kinds of mistakes--particularly reversals--in reading and writing indicate that a student has learning disabilities. At least in the case of reversals, this is probably not true.

If one considers the percentage of total errors that are reversal errors, students with reading problems make no more reversal errors than do their peers who read relatively well. It is just that students with reading problems make more errors of all types and, thus, we see them make more reversal errors. For research on this point, see


At least five studies have shown that reversals in writing can be readily corrected. In general, the procedures that have been effective require that a teacher systematically reward correct writing of letters and numerals; in addition, some studies have also incorporated extra practice after a student writes a letter or numeral backwards. It is somewhat surprising that these techniques have been available since the mid-1970s but apparently are not used to help children. Here are references to five studies:

Additional Information

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