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
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
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
- Fischer, F. W., Liberman, I. Y., & Shankweiler, D. (1978). Reading
reversals and developmental dyslexia: A further study. Cortex,
- Holmes, D. L., & Peper, R. J. (1977). An evaluation of the use of
spelling error analysis in the diagnosis of reading disabilities.
Child Development, 48, 1708-1711.
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:
- Fauke, J., Burnett, J., Powers, M. A., & Sulzer-Azaroff, B. (1973).
Improvement of handwriting and letter recognition skills: A behavior
modification procedure. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 6, 296-
- Hasazi, J. E., & Hasazi, S. E. (1972). Effects of teaching attention
on digit-reversal behavior in an elementary school child. Journal
of Applied Behavior Analysis, 5, 157-162.
- Lahey, B. B., Busemeyer, M. K., O'Hara, C., & Beggs, V. E. (1977).
Treatment of severe perceptual-motor disorders in children
diagnosed a learning disabled. Behavior Modification, 1, 123-
- Stromer, R. (1975). Modifying letter and number reversals in
elementary school children. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis,
- Stromer, R. (1977). Remediating academic deficiencies in
learning disabled children. Exceptional Children, 43, 432-440.
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