Letter Reversals and Dyslexia

Why do some students reverse b and d when writing and reading?  Why do other students read words such as “was” as “saw”?  Samantha Brooks takes a deeper look at reversals and dyslexia.

Parents and teachers may become alarmed when looking at their child’s writing and see that they are confusing letters such as b/d, p/q or m/w.  It is no wonder they feel a sense of panic, as reversals have become strongly associated with dyslexia.

According to Sally Shaywitz, MD, one of America’s premiere pediatricians and expert researchers on Dyslexia, one of the most enduring misconceptions is that dyslexic children see letters and words backward. Furthermore, Shaywitz explains that reversals are an invariable sign that a child has Dyslexia. Dr. Shaywitz points out that because of the beliefs on the correlation between reversals and Dyslexia are so prevalent, many dyslexic children who do not make reversals are often undiagnosed. Again this leads to the misconception that for a Dyslexia diagnosis, a child must reverse letters in writing or “see” words backwards.

It is very important for educators and parents to understand why such reversals occur.  To uncover this mystery, we must understand what we are asking children to do when we are teaching them to read.  In our system, learning to read is based on the alphabetic principle.  This means that a child must attach a label or name to a letter. The child must also understand that sounds are represented by letters, which are joined together to form words.  The 26 letters of the alphabet consist of a series of sticks, circles and curves that are combined to make up these letters.  Up until this point, the child knows that an object is an object no matter if it’s upside down or turned about. This is not so with letters.  Direction now matters.

Current research tells us that the root of dyslexia lies in the way the brain processes sounds.  There is no evidence to suggest that dyslexia is directly correlated to seeing letters and words backwards.  Backwards writing and letter reversals are very common in the early stages of writing, when the orthographic representation (forming letters and spelling) is not fully developed.  Some children with dyslexia continue to reverse letters longer than children without reading difficulties. However, this is likely due to delayed development in reading rather than a separate issue with how the child “sees” and replicates letters in their writing.

 Helpful Tips 

  • Address one discrimination at a time and over-teach one of the letters before introducing the other.  For example, if you are addressing the b/d reversal, over-teach writing of the “b” before introducing the “d”.
  • Use multi-sensory materials while teaching the letter(s).  Be sure the child says the letter name and sound while tracing the letter (“b” says /b/ while tracing the letter-repeat multiple times). This creates a neurolinguistic pathway in the brain that will aid in memory.
  • Use visual and oral scripted auditory cues to cue correct letter formation.  A common auditory script cue is to teach the “b” as a “bat before a ball” to cue that the stick is formed first while writing the letter.  The “d” is cued as a “ drum stick”.  Placing a visual cue on the student’s desk or in front of the classroom can also help. Laminating a copy of the b/d posters and using an expo/dry erase marker to practice writing the b-“bat before ball” and d-“drum…stick” will strengthen the correct recall for letter formation.

DOWNLOAD Brainspring’s b-bat and d-drum posters!

Check out another Multisensory Monday tip for b/d reversals HERE!

Samantha Brooks, MSE, Dyslexia Therapist

Samantha Brooks is an Instructor with Brainspring Educator Academy.


Dyslexia & Learning a Second Language

Learning a New Language

I’m planning a trip to Central America, and instead of daydreaming about serene beaches, I’m fearfully anticipating that blank, confused, lost-for-words expression that will come over my face when some local starts to converse with me. To work through this fear, I downloaded a Spanish lesson audio course and uploaded it onto my iPod. I’ve been listening to it as I drive. I’ve been hoping that by doing this I’ll get the gist of the grammar quickly and learn to put together some phrases with the help of the years I spent studying another Latin language, French. Perhaps I’ll even be able to speak with good pronunciation, given that my native language is Greek.

What I do know for sure is that I won’t get far in my Spanish learning if I don’t stick to the lessons. I wouldn’t be as proficient in Greek if I didn’t make the effort to daily practice speaking, reading, and writing. Though Greek was my first language, language attrition is often inevitable, and incomplete learning of a heritage language is very common.

Second Languages & Struggling Readers

Having been on both sides of the classroom as an ESL teacher in Greece, as well as a student of a second language, I can say with certainty that learning a second language is a challenge. So I’m left wondering, what is it like for a struggling reader? For some, learning to read English may seem  like a tough enough mountain to climb. Would attempting to hike another be too ambitious? Students that struggle with dyslexia should not be held back from attempting to learn second languages. Fortunately, there are some languages that have reader-friendly writing systems that can ease the process of learning a second language.

Writing systems can be categorized by orthographic depth: shallow (also called transparent) and deep (also called opaque). This categorization refers to how likely orthography is to “support a word recognition process that involves language phonology” (Katz).  English, Hungarian, and French are opaque writing systems and are irregular in terms of showing a one-to-one correspondence between phoneme and grapheme. According to Port, their transparent counterparts include Spanish, Italian, Serbo-Croatian, Polish, and Albanian whose writing systems are more consistent in showing one-to-one phoneme/grapheme correspondence. The following diagram shows some of the contrast found in grapheme to phoneme correspondence between English and Greek consonants.

             Ratios      English (grapheme)        Greek (grapheme)         IPA (phoneme)
 En 3:1  vs  Gr 1:1         kid, cat, kick               k                 k
       2:1   vs  n/a        church, pitch            n/a                tʃ
       1:2   vs  1:1            thistle              θ                 θ
       1:2   vs  1:1             them              δ                 ð
       3:1   vs   n/a    Josh, Gino, edge             n/a                dʒ
       2:1   vs  1:1     telephone,  fun              φ                 f
      2:1    vs   1:1          kicks, box               ξ                 ks

Although consonants in Greek have a high correspondence ratio, their vowels do not. For examples, the phoneme /i/ can be written in six different ways: ι, η, υ, ει, οι and υι. This makes Greek often considered  a language with intermediate depth along with German, Hungarian, and Portuguese.

To make another contrast, Helmuth states that “Italian has 33 ways to spell its 25 sounds while English has approximately 1,120 ways to spell its 40 sounds.” This irregularity is attributed to how English has evolved as well as the influence of borrowed words.  The writing systems of languages are very influential in how dyslexia is manifested. Paulesu, a knowledgeable scholar in the field of Italian vs English dyslexia, suggests that mild dyslexia may be “aggravated” by opaque orthographies like English or French, so that mild dyslexia may not be obvious in an Italian reader, while it would be in an English reader. The neurology of dyslexic readers remains the same across languages, but according to Dulude, English speakers have a high prevalence of dyslexia as compared to speakers of other languages. Dyslexia is primarily an issue of phonemic awareness and converting graphemes to phonemes, so languages with transparent writing systems are the ones whose speakers have relatively low rates of dyslexia because it is easier to convert graphemes to phonemes when there is an almost on-to-one correspondence. Dulude also references Japanese, where there is a perfect one-to-one correspondence of grapheme to sound, and mentions a study in which a college student who is natively bilingual in Japanese and English has severe reading problems in English but no issues in Japanese.

In a 2008 study performed by Serrano, a group of Spanish-speaking dyslexic children were compared to two control groups and measured by pseudohomophone reading, a homophone choice task and phonological awareness task. Accuracy and performance time were measured. Results showed a deficit on all tasks by the dyslexic group, with the speed problems being more evident and relevant than accuracy problems.

What is even more striking is the way in which opaque orthographies can affect the reading speed of even non-dyslexic adult readers.  According to Frost, “in non-dyslexic, fully grown readers, there is a reading speed difference between languages with transparent orthographies and languages with opaque orthographies.”

The ways in which, and extent to which, dyslexia manifests varies widely from language to language. Based on the studies mentioned, orthography plays a crucial role in the way both dyslexic and non-dyslexic readers perform in literacy. Opaque orthographies are more likely to produce difficulties in terms of accuracy and speed of literacy. For a student with dyslexia who is deciding to learn a second language, the writing-related features of languages should be kept in mind when deciding which one to choose. Learning a second language can open many doors in terms of travel, working abroad, and creating a rich personal life. A second language can provide the potential to create new friendships and have meaningful conversations that can expand your world view and insight. On a more practical level, learning a second language can help a student to simply feel confident navigating daily activities while traveling. These were all some of the things that inspired me to teach English, and I hope they can also be of inspiration to those considering learning a second language!


Georgia Diamantopoulos

Georgia is a tutor at Brainspring Learning Center in Shelby Township.

For more information about Brainspring’s Tutoring Services please visit https://brainspring.com/tutoring-services/



http://www.haskins.yale.edu/sr/SR111/SR111_11.pdf (Katz)

The Graphical Basis of Phones and Phonemes by Robert F. Port


Dyslexia speed problems in a transparent orthography; Serrano F1Defior S.

The Goal of Dyslexia Laws


Over the past several years, laws pertaining to Dyslexia have begun to spring up at both the state and national level. Many of these laws have resulted from a strong and dedicated group of teachers, parents, and advocates. Currently, there are less than a dozen states lacking Dyslexia laws.  From Alabama, where dyslexic students are now exempt from the third-grade retention law, to Wyoming, where early assessing and intervention is now required for students, and everywhere in between, new laws are helping students across our nation.

The IDEA (Individual with Disabilities Education Act) lists thirteen conditions that will qualify a student for special education services. Dyslexia is not one of these conditions, but Specific Learning Disability is and Dyslexia falls under this broad category. The IDEA is a national law and each state may interpret it differently. States cannot offer anything less than what is set forth by the IDEA, but states can implement IDEA standards in different ways.

Most states have or are developing specific Dyslexia laws, and that is a good thing since as many as one in five students have Dyslexia. These new state laws aim to provide more detail and support for struggling readers. Some states are running pilot programs, others have gone as far as to provide phonics-based tutoring to Dyslexic students (New Mexico) or even offer Dyslexic students scholarships to schools that provide better intervention and accommodation (Mississippi).

The majority of state Dyslexia laws focus on one of six main things.

  1. Defining Dyslexia What is Dyslexia? How is it diagnosed? Who may diagnose it? What criteria must a student meet to be diagnosed?
  2. 2. Screening – Who should be assessed for Dyslexia? At what age/grade should students be assessed? What screening tools should be used? When should students be reassessed?
  3. Intervention – What type of intervention should be offered and by whom? How will progress be monitored? How often and for how long should intervention be available?
  4. Teacher Education – Should colleges and universities require training about Dyslexia? Is there a specific training program that all teachers should undergo?
  5. Accommodations – What accommodations best suit students with dyslexia? How should accommodations be implemented in the classroom and on tests? How are they determined?
  6. Funding – Who is responsible for funding additional screening, interventions, and professional development?

While Dyslexia laws are becoming increasingly prominent throughout the United States, advances are still needed in the areas of research, early identification, remediation, and accommodation.

Tammi Brandon, M.Ed., CDP
Tammi Brandon is a Master Instructor and Education Consultant with Brainspring Educator Academy.

Max Brooks: A Reading Hero Redefining the Image of Dyslexia

max brooksHi everyone,

This week’s Reading Hero is a hero in the classic sense of the word…if you are being attacked by zombies. Max Brooks is the best-selling author of World War Z and The Zombie Survival Guide and advocate for dyslexia awareness. Brooks credits dyslexia with contributing to his success, making him a “big-picture, outside-the-box thinker.”

If you’re familiar with Max Brooks, please share interesting facts or quotes in the comments!

Max Brooks Redefines the Image of Dyslexia

Max Brooks is a Reading Hero because he is a great example of the multifaceted effects of dyslexia, from creating anxiety to fostering survival skills. He is not defined by his learning disability, yet does not hide it. Here are my Top 3 Reasons Max Brooks is a Reading Hero, along with some inspiring quotes and links to articles and videos.

  • He openly shares the huge impact anxiety has had on his life: wondering why he couldn’t be like everyone else and noting he seemed to work twice as hard to do half as well as everyone else.
    • “For me, dyslexia was nearly as bad as the feelings of anxiety, shame, and low self-esteem that it caused. For me, ‘learned dependency’ was the real enemy, the self-narrative that “I can’t do this” can destroy children’s learning potential for the rest of their lives.”
    • Watch his honest, enlightening speech to Congress: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q7JS7ULzBFw

The effects of dyslexia reach beyond academics. What are some of the social, emotional or other effects you have seen in your students?

  • He embraces overcoming obstacles. He sees his struggles with dyslexia as helping make him successful; yet, he doesn’t apologize for accommodations.

    • “I’m starting to see why people have sunk and why people have swum. A lot of the kids who skated through life, where things came easily to them, have never had to struggle. They’ve never had to create coping mechanisms. They’ve never had to compensate for any sort of weakness, and it made them much less resistant to adversity. Kids who have had to struggle in early life can get comfortable with struggling. When adversity comes knocking in their 30s and 40s and 50s, well, they know how to overcome, whereas the kids who never had to study, always got straight As, never went to class. . . .”
    • An interview with Brooks about his writing: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/23/magazine/max-brooks-is-not-kidding-about-the-zombie-apocalypse.html
    • More on the accommodations Brooks’ mother advocated for: http://dyslexia.yale.edu/maxbrooks.html

Do you see positive effects of dyslexia as well? Are those students sometimes more resilient or have better problem-solving skills?

  • He supports dyslexia training for teachers.
    • “A little awareness and flexible teaching methods could unlock unlimited potential in these kids who now think they’re losers. If we already have mandatory racial sensitivity training for our police, why not have mandatory dyslexia recognition training for our teachers? It’s so simple, so easy, and when you look at all the other government programs designed to help citizens help themselves, it’s probably the least expensive.”
    • Max Brooks was the keynote speaker at this year’s Spotlight on Dyslexia conference: https://go.learningally.org/world_war_d_dyslexia/

Do you think teacher awareness is one of the main components to addressing dyslexia in the US?

zombie survival quide

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