Handedness, dominant hand, left or right

Marga J. Grey

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Why does it matter?


It is necessary to develop a dominant hand – to be a left hander or a right hander matters.  Not only when you use cutlery, scissors or a pencil but also because the latest research in neuroscience and the neuro developmental stages indicate strong connections between handedness and listening, specifically the processing of verbal language.


Looking at a young child using a pencil, who would have thought that the use of a specific hand would be connected to the child’s listening?


A strong dominant side contribute to easy learning, reading and writing and mixed dominance can be one of the indicators of learning problems.   Mixed dominance (doing some tasks with left and some tasks with right hand) often seen in dyslexia, indicate to specific problems.  Some people have mixed hand dominance and cope quite well, we might all know a number of high functioning people with mixed hand dominance, however if it is part of a cluster of related problems, we can expect problems in learning and listening.


Tomatis has done work in identifying that mixed hand dominance contribute to clumsiness, poor hand writing and poor eye tracking – impacting on reading and writing.  Tomatis used a specific listening program to address this.  However, research has now established that development of dominance also takes place through specific movements – following the normal neuro-developmental stages of a baby’s and of a child’s development.  Addressing posture, low muscle tone, and brain bridging all contribute to the healthy development of a dominant hand.


How would you notice problems with dominance in your child?


Problems are seen during motor activities and exercises when the child seems to be clumsy with a poor rhythm and coordination when running and swimming.  Ball skills might be impacted.  Hand writing might lack consistent letter formation and look untidy.  The child confuses left and right, and might reverse letters and confuse letters such as ‘b’ and ‘d’.


Forced change of dominance or handedness create learning problem


In 1999 Springer and Deutsch have indicated that 95% of healthy right handers process key elements of verbal language in their left hemisphere; 5% in their right hemisphere.  Also, 70% of left handers process key aspects of verbal language in the left hemisphere, 15 % in the right and 15% bilaterally (left and right).


These percentages as such is not as important as the fact that we do not know where a specific child processes language, thus we cannot force a child to change the dominant hand as we do not know what the affect will be on language, reading and writing.

How does the lack of the development of dominance affect school work?


Dominance should be firmly established between the ages of 5 and 7 years.   However, nowadays the children go to school earlier and they have to participate in many desk top activities and writing related activities at a young age.

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When the child has not developed a strong dominant hand, it might create challenges with school work.  This child might avoid fine motor skills and writing related activities.  The child often lacks the optimal development of writing related skills as the child does not consistently perform a specific task with a specific hand.  The child does not use one hand as dominant hand (working hand) and the other hand as the supportive hand (helper hand).  This trend complicates some tasks such as writing (‘helper’ should stabilize the paper or book), cutting (‘helper’ should control the paper whilst ‘worker’ manipulates the scissors), beading, lacing and using a knife AND a fork.  The child often prefers to avoid these tasks.

The child might avoid the crossing of the midline of the body


The book is usually on the desk in front of the child, it doesn’t matter which hand the child uses, he or she has to cross the midline of the body when writing from left to write.  I have seen little ones swapping hands when the left hand reaches the midline of the body to avoid the hand to cross to the other side.    This tendency is associated with poor brain bridging or bilateral integration.

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Brain Bridging / Bilateral Integration and Sequencing


Brain bridging means the communication between the two hemispheres of the brain.   Movements of the two sides of the body and the coordination of these movements give us an indication of well the two hemispheres communicate.  Brain bridging affects movements, especially rhythmical repetitive movements that involve alternating the arms and legs such as marching and aspects of swimming.


Brain bridging (Bilateral Integration and Sequencing) impacts on the understanding of sequences such as time tables or spelling, or even on the sequence of events as when telling a story or reporting on the events of the day.  This means that it also impacts on executive functioning and working memory.


Hand writing


When a child swaps hands or does not practice fine motor skills consistently with a dominant hand, hand writing can be impacted.  Letters usually slope all in the same directions to create a neat pattern of writing.  When a dominant hand is not established, the child’s writing might look untidy, letters might slope in different directions and letter formation might be incorrect.

The child might also have issue with the identification of left and right and might therefor reverse letters or confuse some letters such as ‘d’ / ‘b’ or ‘p’ / ‘q’.  The younger child might write in mirror images.  A common problem is to read incorrectly e.g. ‘13’ instead of ‘31’ or to spell incorrectly e.g. ‘cuaght’ instead of ‘caught’.


You can encourage the development of a dominant hand

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Following the neurodevelopmental stages, you should encourage bilateral movements of the body.

  1. The two sides of the body doing the same movements: ball games, pushing, pulling, gross motor play, monkey bars, swinging, climbing. Using shaving foam or finger paint to make big circles with both hands on the lawn, on big sheets of paper or on the wall tiles in the bathroom.
  2. The two sides of the body doing alternating and asymmetrical movements: Crawling, wheelbarrow walk, swimming, running, climbing, rhythmical dancing, marching.
  3. The fine motor tasks: lacing, glue and paste activities, cutting using scissors, peg board, making small shapes and balls with play dough.


What to do when a child swaps hands


Use the activities listed above.  Start with 1. and proceed to 2. and 3. Once you see that your child is competent and fluent in bilateral movements.  You can have a look at the exercises that CoordiKids have developed to address this problem alongside with many other problem areas.  Level 3 will specifically address issues with dominancy.


However, dominancy is seldom the only problem.  You have to check your child’s posture, the ability to sit still and to concentrate, general muscle tone and how well your child understands instructions.

You can contact us if you need more information or if you want to discuss your child’s strengths and possible problems.



Works cited:

S.P.Springer and G. Deutsch: Left Brain Right Brian: Perspectives from Cognitive Neuro-science (New York: LW.H.Freeman, 1999), p.22.

N.Doidge: The Brain’s Way of Healing (Victoria, Australia: Scribe Publications, 2015). P 297.

Fisher, A.G., Murray, E.A. and Bundy, A.C.:  Sensory Integration: Theory and Practice (Philadelphia, 1991).

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