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Interview: Helping Left-Handers

By Anne Laure Blanc. Fondation pour l’Ecole (Foundation for School) Site – le blog de la liberté scolaire (The School Freedom blog) – 30th September 2011.

If the most famous of left-handers is no less than Leonardo da Vinci, how many others have suffered from being considered awkward, clumsy, “the wrong way round”; how many experience difficulties when reading, writing and counting? Left-handed herself, Mrs Joëlle Morice Mugnier, a psychotherapist and Vittoz Method practitioner, offers a pedagogy based on laterality structuring: laterapedagogy. She has summarised her research in her book Gauchers en difficulté - La latérapédagogie, une richesse inexploitée (Pierre Téqui, 2011). She answers a few questions for us here.

Yourself left-handed, you have faced various challenges since your childhood. What are the most common ones?

It is often said that since left-handers are (it seems) no longer frustrated in terms of hand use in order to write, they no longer suffer from their left-handedness. Everyone thinks that all is “fine and dandy” for them. There are indeed many ergonomic tools to make their everyday life easier: tin openers, scissors, etc. (See www.lesgauchers.com.) I am amongst the 14% of left-handers in the West who, although they write with their dominant hand, remain frustrated by the left-to-right writing, reading, even thinking direction. We read, write and often think in a “closing” direction. It is therefore not just about a few door handles that open the wrong way round for us left-handers that can give our intellect, mental state or affects a hard time. The impact of frustration of the conventional direction on the brain is greater than one may think.

My chaotic schooling illustrates this, as do many patients’ testimonials. Those years turned into an uphill battle: poor hand-writing, slow and broken-up reading to the point of being put off. Add to that possible concentration, comprehension, memorisation and restitution issues, a lower self-confidence... Such an experience at school can result in poor results at best, or in giving up on further education at worst.

One can be left- or right-handed, but also left/right-eyed or left/right-footed. How does this work?

As you will have noticed, the world is not made of homogeneous right-handers only, i.e. individuals whose laterality is fixed to the right, be it with regards to their eyes, their feet, their hands, or even their ears. There are also homogeneous left-handers, who are entirely lateralised to the left. What is more, we live here in a system designed by and for right-handers. So why are there still some left-handers? Probably because they have shown resistance! And why are some individuals “right-handed/left-eyed” or “left-handed/right-eyed”? (We will talk about foot and ear laterality some other time, maybe.) From experience, I think it is fair to say that, in both cases, the person is a left-hander in mutation.

What I mean is this: whether it is the right hand in the first case or the right eye in the second, a maximum, subconscious, adaptation has probably taken place to the point of integrating the left-to-right system for the use of these organs. The left eye in the first case and the hand in the second, however, have shown resistance to the system. We will see that some symptoms can be a reflexion of that.

Dyslexia, dysorthographia, dyscalculia, stuttering, migraines, emotional hyper-reactivity… What if all these disorders were due, in part or in full, to a bad laterality?

There is no such thing as a bad laterality per se. The issue is that for the too many ill-lateralised individuals – there are millions of them – the cognitive system is not adapted to the functioning of their brain. Yet, there are fortunately many heterogeneous left- and right-handers who are doing well and who have found a good balance in life. If the brains of left-handers had been able to evolve in a left-handed civilisation where everything was written from right to left to be read from right to left and therefore thought from right to left too, there would presumably have been no “dys- that and the other”.

For example:

• A dyslexic person, usually left-handed and/or left-eyed, presented with the letter “b” tends to see a “d” at first, and then a “b” depending on their dominant sense of direction. It is as if there was some confusion between “b” and “d”. The person is in a complete state of “fusion/confusion”.

• Left-handers, in our right-handed society, need to use the left hemisphere of their brain twice as much as right-handers for their cognitive activities, since we now know that most left-handers have a second language centre on the left. It is this same left hemisphere that activates, via the limbic system, their affective, emotional, intuitive and creative capacities. Their “left brain” is never really quiet or at rest. • Migraines, ophthalmic headaches, etc. can occur while reading if the left eye is dominant. This is because, as the left eye wants to read in its natural right-to-left opening direction, it feels as if it was strenuously pushing the words when reading from left to right. As a result, as left-eyed people have to turn the letters “the right way round” to understand them, they will often need to read the sentence two, three, sometimes up to six times in order to get to the meaning of the text.

• Finally, a left-hander who perceives the environment in which they are growing up as not being that coherent, fitting or respectful of their own functioning can develop many symptomatic disorders that can go as far as withdrawing into their own bubble and displaying an autistic type of behaviour, however mild.

This is all subconscious, of course.

Unfortunately, throughout the past centuries (and too much today still), the left hand has been “the bad hand” or “the Devil’s hand”. Tough luck for left-handers in civilisations where writing is from right to left. Which leads me to think that today, because left-handers are less and less frustrated in terms of hand use, those who write Hebrew and Arabic are the happiest left-handers in the world!

What simple tips would you give parents when they realise that their young child seems to be left-handed? How can nursery school teachers help little left-handers?

At a behavioural level, it now goes without saying that the parent or adult will let the child pick up their spoon or pen with their left hand, kick the ball with their left foot and take a photo with their left eye if they so wish.

What simple tips can I give you? All my previous explanations could make your head spin: left-to-right, right-to-left sense of direction, true or false left-handers... It can be rather confusing! In a way, maybe. It took me over seventeen years to decipher the actual mechanics and implications of our left-to-right system and to discover those of the homogeneous as well as heterogeneous left-handers before I could suggest workable solutions.

This is how it works: allow the left-hander to function in their dominant opening direction so that they may develop according to their normality while giving them the tools to adapt to the system they live in.

Laterapedagogy, when a child start to learn, and lateratherapy, as a “recovery” approach for grown-ups, caters for the demand from many individuals wishing to enjoy a better structured laterality and clear certain symptoms. Here is a very simple exercise: instead of immediately requesting of the little one that they draw loops, bridges, bowls, etc. from left to right to adopt the conventional writing direction, let them draw them from right to left. You will notice that they spontaneously place their hand beneath the pregraphics. Once each series is mastered, encourage them to draw them in “boustrophedon”, or “oscillating” arabesques: the first line from right to left, the next from left to right, etc. One of the many advantages that I will leave you to discover in Gauchers en difficulté is that there is no longer a need to twist the wrist: as it keeps going, the left hand, naturally placed under the right-to-left pregraphics, will more than likely stay there for the left-to-right direction. The wrist is no longer contorted, the person’s back adopts a healthier posture and the letters are shaped properly.

You have created practical tools to help with structuring one’s laterality. Could you describe them briefly?

There is no magic here and it only requires a minimum of common sense, patience and adaptation to each type of left-handedness: total or homogeneous, heterogeneous, “unaware” or “false right-handers”. This is why laterapedagogy is mostly aimed at left-handers and people seeking a better laterality, but also at parents, teachers, speech therapists, graphotherapists, graphologists, orthoptists, psychomotricians, etc. so that they can take over by adopting the method and tools and adapt them to their own practice. You can become familiar with it by reading the book and more particularly by attending courses (www.gaucher-droitier.com).

The tools currently available are the arrow card and the tracing-paper notebook. There is nothing to indicate to a child who cannot read yet what the reading direction is until an adult shows the “correct” direction by a horizontal, linear movement of their finger. But this is hardly ever mentioned, let alone explained. The arrow card enables the child to become fully aware of their dominant opening direction when drawing, say, loops from right to left. With the arrow turned the other way and placed above the page, they know they are practising left-to-right drawing. The same applies to learn how to write letters, words and sentences and of course to read. With boustrophedon writing and the arrow card, the child’s brain integrates progressively the conventional sense of direction.

The tracing-paper notebook has become vital for people of all ages who must write a text. In fact, they often write from right to left, and have done so for a long time, but behind closed doors... Many can testify that writing this way on tracing paper has unblocked their cognitive processes: these left-handers experience a more relaxed concentration and therefore understand and memorise better and find their words more easily. If they previously got stuck on mathematical calculations, the strategies and solutions now come easily. Remember: for a left-hander facing an operation, units must be on the left and the tens on the right, same thing for the result!

I am grateful to teachers who have accepted that their left-handed students work on a tracing-paper notebook; they acknowledge that it is easy enough to simply turn the page over to correct the exercises. I now focus on two projects: find a company that will agree to manufacture the double-sided whiteboard®. (A word to the wise...!) Its key feature is that it is mostly made of transparent Plexiglas®. It therefore offers the same advantages as tracing paper and is usually used like scrap paper. What’s more, it’s erasable. You can view a demo of mirror-writing on the website: www.gaucher-droitier.com.

The exercise workbook for reading and writing is also useful. I already have a lot of demand to help young children in Reception and Key Stage 1.

I am working on these projects and hope to announce their release soon!


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