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«• Left-handed children are just as normal as right-handed children. • Left-handed children can write, draw and make things just as nicely as ...»

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Basic rules

for left - handed children

• Left-handed children are just as normal as right-handed children.

• Left-handed children can write, draw and make things just as nicely as right-handed children.

• Left-handedness is not a bad habit, but rather an expression of the motor dominance of the right-hand brain

hemisphere – hand bias is hemisphere bias.

• Left-handed children should also be encouraged in their left-handedness. There should be no attempt whatsoever to “retrain” them. Retraining handedness is a huge intrusion into the human brain.

• Parents should be consulted in the case of children who do not clearly display a preferred hand before starting school. If necessary, a paediatrician and expert in handedness should also be involved.

• Attempts to retrain left-handers who have already been ‘converted’ to use their actual dominant hand are experiments with the brain and offer both opportunities and risks for the individuals involved (Sattler, 1995).

• The child must be provided with everyday objects for left-handers from the start.

• The computer mouse should be positioned on the left from the beginning and have a long cable. A wireless mouse is recommended. Ergonomic design for the left or right hand only is not advised.

• It is particularly important that left-handed children receive assistance in learning a relaxed writing posture.

This requires a good crayon and pen hold, which must be established at pre-school age.

• It is extremely important to provide assistance with learning special techniques which differ from those used by right-handed children. These include cutting, tying bows, sharpening, following craft instructions, sewing, embroidering, knitting and crocheting.

• Left-handed children should choose a seat at school, at the craft table and at the dinner table which allows then to sit either to the left of a right-hander, at the end of the table or next to another left-hander, so that the two neighbours do not block each other.

• The light at the craft table should fall from the right or the front, where possible.

1 Chapter 3: Left-handers Testing handedness Reliable testing of handedness should only by carried out by a specialist, e.g. a specially trained occupational therapist, special needs teacher or school psychologist. Handedness is not only a question of the preferred hand for certain tasks, but rather is connected to dominant areas of the brain, or to be more precise, it is caused by the motor dominance of the opposite side of the brain. We are therefore dealing with highly complicated neurophysiological processes here, which as a result of certain disorders and negative influences can lead to confused handedness (often, in such cases, other developmental disorders can be seen in the child, affecting for example fine and gross motor skills or language, although the development of handedness, which is not always apparent outwardly, is a symptom and not the cause).

In addition to this neurophysiological confusion in the development of handedness, we are aware of two other huge

influential factors:

1. Attempts by those around the left-handed child to “retrain” them to use their right hand and

2. Attempts by the left-handed child to copy or adapt themselves to a right-handed environment.

That means that left-handedness manifests itself in very different ways both in children and in adults, and can chiefly be distorted by the influence of one or more of the three causes listed. It is often not easy to come to a definitive conclusion regarding the actual innate handedness here, as it requires medical, psychological and also sociological knowledge. Furthermore, this must be accompanied by highly trained observation and knowledge of appropriate test methods for examining handedness.

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Self-observation of handedness Of course, in some individuals left-handedness is so clear that there can be no doubt whatsoever. These are people who often have shown a preference for performing important tasks with their left hand from the age of one or two. As long as no external influence is exerted, these children will not change the hand used, continuing to prefer the left. This often also applies to feet. However, here it is sometimes unclear which foot plays the more important role in certain movements, for example the standing leg and kicking foot when playing football.

Then there are groups of left-handers who have been “retrained” to use their right hand through gentle or, in earlier times, severe or even brutal retraining methods (such as verbal persuasion, physical blows, tying down the left hand or use of a plaster cast). This particularly involves cultural behaviour and techniques, such as eating with a knife, fork and spoon, shaking hands when meeting people, drawing, writing and cutting, peeling potatoes and crafts.

2 Chapter 3: Left-handers This group of left-handed children and/or parents perform many of the actions listed with their right hand. Other actions, not affected by teaching methods continue to be performed to a large extent with the left hand. These often include brushing teeth, holding objects, watering plants, throwing dice, spinning objects. The actions listed here are deliberately those carried out by one hand only and which are easy to observe, and which are more significant than some actions requiring two hands. Sports played with one hand such as handball, tennis, fencing, hockey or golf, on the other hand, are largely dependent on the way the instructor demonstrated and showed to the child, and are therefore not a definite indication of handedness. It is common to see a clearly left-handed child throw a ball or play golf with their right hand.

Left-handed children, who, due to a slight cerebral disorder (which normally does not affect intelligence!), often need more time for their left-handedness to manifest and who switch hand use back and forth from time to time are particularly at risk of practising use of the wrong hand. They occasionally have slight fine motor skill disorders, leading to the dominant hand becoming tired more quickly and causing them to switch to the other hand. As a result, some lefthanded children get so used to constantly switching hands that the non-dominant right hand ultimately completely takes over and automatically performs certain tasks. The reverse can also occur with right-handed children. However, nowadays the (usually more gentle) “retraining” attempts are aimed at converting young children to right-handedness, meaning that left-handed children are initially more at risk of switching hand use. These children should be left alone, and questions of handedness should be discussed as little as possible in front of them, in order to avoid influencing them. Otherwise there is the risk of some left-handed children consciously “retraining” themselves, as they think being right-handed would be better for them or, for example, they believe one of their parents’ opinions on handedness to be more credible and therefore orientate themselves accordingly.

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Left-handed adults have often forgotten and suppressed the changing hand use and adaptation to a right-handed environment during their early childhood, to the extent that some feel a great affinity to their left hand, without actually remembering being “retrained”. Childhood photos can sometimes help here, as often parents often later forget or do not pay attention to their child’s initial tendency to left-handedness.

There are, however, also very alert and intelligent left-handed children, who observe their environment very well and copy it precisely. If one of these children this tends to change hand use or the people around the child make a strong case for right-hand use, they often retrain themselves to use the right hand, which then leads to the subsequent consequences of retraining.

–  –  –

These actions /criteria are not as suitable for determining handedness Actions involving both hands, although different sizes and levels of difficulty handling objects influence hand use.

• Stringing beads

• Using a knife and fork

• Leafing through a book Certain activities with a strong educational focus and which

are therefore often influenced:

• Eating with a spoon or fork

• Drawing and writing Hand use influenced by a lack of everyday left-handed objects, especially as the automatic established practice is often forgotten. A six-year-old left-handed child will probably not take to using left-handed scissors at first, and may have some problems using them, as they have already been using the not-so-suitable right-handed scissors in their left hand for at least three years already. The hand-to-eye coordination has firmly taken root and the child is unable to cut with the scissors which are actually far more suitable, without having to adapt and relearn.

• Cutting

• Using a potato peeler and tin opener

• Using an iron Mirror writing, in other words turning around individual letters and entire words is typical for left-handed children.

Many left-handed children try to start to read from the top right corner or leaf through a book from the back to the front. Caution is advised here, however, as right-handed children also occasionally write letters back to front initially.

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Foot use is a very dangerous test criterion. On the one hand it is difficult to establish which foot is more important, and on the other hand confusing effects of other entirely different origins can be relevant in foot use.

Often eye use is also checked, for example by looking through a cardboard tube, a kaleidoscope or the keyhole.

Similar to ear use, confusion often arises here due to completely different influences which can be traced back to functional disorders in the respective organ (eye or ear), or even in the brain. Moreover, scientists increasingly doubt that hand use, hearing and sight are comparable, congruent brain functions.

Closing remarks Investigating handedness has been and unfortunately occasionally still is approached in a very superficial and thoughtless manner, mostly to the detriment of left-handers. On the other hand, a more relaxed attitude to left-handedness is required – it isn’t a disease.

One fact must never be forgotten in this context: we have two hands, which we use, and in most cases one dominant hand is established clearly. Sometimes, however, we also use the other non-dominant hand for supposed or actual key tasks, without causing any immediate confusion.

Problems arise when the dominant hand is used for writing or other oft-repeated hand-intensive actions. These include for example playing the drums and guitar, or fencing, tennis and movements such as those featured in ballet. Here it is absolutely essential to find out which the actual dominant hand is and to use it for these very tasks.

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Left-handed writing posture It is particularly important that left-handed children receive special assistance in learning a relaxed writing posture.

In our left-to-right script, the hand of a right-hander moves away from what is written. There is therefore no risk of smudging or covering up what has just been written. The left-hander, however, smudges the writing easily or covers it with their hand. To avoid this, a writing posture should be practised from the start which positions the left hand under the line. The back end of the pen points roughly towards the left elbow and the paper should be angled slightly to the right. The right hand holds the sheet at its right edge. It should definitely not lie on the middle of the paper, otherwise the child must write “around the hand” and ends up in the so-called “hook” hold from above. Many lefthanders therefore angle their paper to the left, to avoid bending the wrist and counteracting cramp in the hand, arm and up to the shoulder area.

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A special writing mat has been developed to help left-handed children practise a relaxed writing posture and to do this automatically. A sample pattern showing paper position, centre of body and position of the right hand is printed on paper or non-slip plastic (paper and sturdy non-slip plastic desk mats available in different colors. It is important that this posture is practised at home as well as at school. This can also be done using masking tape markings on the desk, for example, or with the aforementioned mats. Thanks to their size the colored desk mats are also suitable for school desk from year 1 onwards and help children to find the correct position quickly and securely.

Once the fine motor skills in the fingers are extensively developed, it is advisable to start with tracing and looping exercises as early as pre-school age. Precision does not matter here, but rather a relaxed posture. Five minutes a day in the recommended posture with caring support from an adult have more of an effect than a hard training programme and prevent the child from getting into the habit of the typical, often very cramped hand and body posture which lefthanders sometimes slip into when writing with fountain pens later.

Left-handed children should use particularly soft pencils and colored pencils, so that they do not have to hold the pencil too steeply. Later, a left-handed fountain pen or rollerball is advisable, e.g. the STABILO ‘s move easy. Children often follow other children’s tastes. That is why a pen should be chosen which both pleases the child and is recommended by the school. Some rollerballs feature fast-drying ink. These can help a great deal in cases of awkward yet already automatic writing posture, as they do not smudge so much.

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