Searching for Success for My Left-Handed Child

The right-handed world presents obstacles and biases for lefties — beginning at school.

by Joanne Gouaux • Member { View Profile }
Photograph: iStock

As I knelt down on the floor of my son Carter's first grade classroom, his teacher, Marti Mogensen, offered to let us join in opening a small box of fresh school supplies. A few other students gathered around, as curious 6- and 7-year-olds will do. The sounds of crinkling plastic and eager little fingers tearing at the packages trailed off into the distance as I realized that several of the packages were left-handed scissors. I remarked to Marti that there seemed to be a lot of left-handed scissors for such a small class. Marti agreed and said that there were five left handed students, a remarkable number given that the class has a total of only 16 students. Five out of 16 seemed strangely high.

Carter was new to the class. So I responded to Marti with enthusiasm, telling her how happy I was that Carter would not be the lone lefty. And then Marti looked at me, surprised, and replied, "Oh! Carter is a lefty too? That's right! That makes six." 

Approximately one in 10 people are left-handed. Five of the last sevenU.S. Presidents have been left handed. To me, this cluster suggests a resilient and limber quality. Personal resilience is something that may prove valuable in learning to overcome the confines of the status quo. At the very least, being left handed is an inescapable lesson in creative ergonomics and dare I say, empathy. For the record, I am right handed, as is Carter's dad. While perhaps a genetic mystery, Carter’s left-handedness is as clear as day, and comes with a whole host of subtle ergonomic challenges, writing obstacles and cultural biases passed on from prior generations. The world is filled with right-hand oriented doors, scissors and even ice cream scoops. While left-handers open doors with the same proficiency as their right-handed counterparts, young lefties are prone to experience what some observe as awkwardness. Many objects in our daily life are tailored for the majority: right-handed, right-footed, right-eyed, right-sided, and perhaps left-brain dominant. 

For many left-handed children, frustration and discomfort materialize while learning to write in school. A world where writing eludes at the tender age of 5 or 6 can be a world filled with misunderstandings, frustration and brow-furrowing labels. These judgments often cause doors to shut prematurely and hamper a left-handed child's potential and future academic success. They also open doors that lead from specialist to specialist.

 I believe that every child deserves to learn and thrive at school. This includes access to an effective teacher, and a robust learning environment where each student reaches his or her full potential.

Carter is my oldest child. Like most first-time parents, we worried about timely achievement of early developmental milestones. Thankfully, turning over, sitting up, learning to crawl, talk, and walk happened naturally and with ease. I assumed the transition to his early school years would come as easily. And I was wrong. Carter entered school a happy, playful and curious student. His development across the cognitive, emotional, physical, and social domains was different, or so we were told.

In kindergarten we heard reports from teachers that Carter did not enjoy writing. That he had difficulty concentrating and seemed to be easily discouraged with writing assignments. Teachers reported that he was verbally engaged and well-behaved, but had trouble putting pen to paper. In the beginning, we took the wait-and-see approach, but as fall turned to spring, teachers continued to express concern. True to his temperament, he was happy and, for the most part, enjoying school. But he was exhausted at the end of each school day.

A reading specialist recommended a psychological assessment, followed by and a binocular vision assessment for perceptual skills and eye-tracking. We followed the recommendations. We spent hours over the summer seeking answers. Carter went willingly along as we trudged back and forth from appointment to appointment, meeting with strangers in large, institutional settings with long multi-syllable titles such as Occupational Therapist and Neuro Opthamoligist. We went in search of an answer that would satisfy the question, "Why is beginning reading and writing so difficult for Carter?"

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