penHave you ever tried to write your name with your non-dominant hand?  It’s pretty funny, right?  And really challenging!

So when we see a person who is ambidextrous and can use both hands equally to do things, it’s seems pretty amazing.  In baseball, switch-hitters (players who can bat either right-handed or left handed) are in demand.

But…when it comes to reading and writing, ambidextrous is often a deterrent and a symptom of a learning problem. It is an indication that the student has difficulty crossing the midline of his or her body.

Why is crossing the midline so important? The “midline” is the imaginary line running from top to bottom down the center of the body that separates the body into right and left halves.  Crossing the midline means that one body part (i.e. the hand) is able to go across that centerline and work on the other side of the body.

The ability to cross the midline is important for both the body and the brain.  The two hemispheres of the brain have different functions and approach tasks from different perspectives. The two hemispheres need to communicate with each other across the corpus callosum in order to contribute their unique perspective and coordinate movement and learning.

When a child crosses the midline spontaneously with his dominant hand, that hand will get the practice needed to develop good fine motor skills.  If the child avoids crossing the midline, he may tend to use both hands interchangeably to do tasks that should be done with the dominant hand.  As a result, both hands get practice but neither one becomes dominant and “expert.”  Hand dominance does not get firmly established and fine motor skills, such as pencil control and handwriting, will be affected.

Signs that a student has trouble crossing the midline:   

  • Tips head far to the side and turns the paper or book sideways when writing or reading so that she is never crossing the midline from left to right, but is reading or writing essentially from bottom up.
  • Uses one hand on one side of the body and switches to the other hand at the midline. For example, if a student is pointing under the words as she is reading, she may start out with her left pointer and then switch to the right at the midline.  Young students sometimes switch the pencil from one hand to another when writing to avoid the midline.
  • Shifting the body way over to the left side while writing so they never have to cross the midline.
  • Subtle shift of the paper toward the dominant side while writing so the dominant hand never has to reach further then the midline.
  • Tend to hold self very stiffly, moving the body as a whole unit instead of turning or rotating their trunk. For example, a student with poor ability to cross the midline may turn his hips or whole body when handing something in his right hand to someone standing to the left of him, as opposed to just turning his upper body.

When students struggle with reading or writing, schools and tutors typically provide accommodations or work on breaking down the reading/writing process into smaller pieces.  These are valuable and important supports.  But when otherwise bright students have difficulty with reading or writing, there are almost always foundational underlying learning/processing skills that are weak or underdeveloped.  Ability to easily and automatically cross the midline is just one of them.

These challenges can be changed.  While there are no simple, overnight solutions, most learning and attention challenges can be dramatically improved or completely corrected through developing the weak underlying skills that are causing the student to struggle and remediating the affected academic areas.  Need to know more??

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“Helping smart but struggling students dramatically improve or completely correct their learning and attention challenges by developing the underlying learning skills that are not supporting the learner well enough.”
We serve children and adults with diagnosed or undiagnosed learning and attention challenges including learning disabilities, dyslexia, ADHD, auditory processing disorders, and autism spectrum disorders.
Jill Stowell, M.S.
Author:  At Wit’s End A Parent’s Guide to Ending the Struggle Tears, and Turmoil of Learning Disabilities
Founder and Executive Director – Stowell Learning Centers

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