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Helping your lefthanded child cope in a righthanded world.

No one is quite sure where lefthanded babies come from. No one is quite sure why righthanded parents have a lefthanded baby. Doctors and psychologists however know it's a "differentness" that can't be ignored or changed without endangering a child's emotional, physical and mental health.

Although lefthandedness remains a mystery, there are three important facts that are recognized: (1) almost two out of three lefties are males; (2) lefthandedness seems to have a genetic origin; and (3) the brain controls handedness.

At least 84% of lefthanded children have righthanded parents. In 12% of identical twins, one will be lefthanded and the other righthanded. At least 95% of righthanders have their verbal centers in the brain's left hemisphere. About 70% of lefthanders have their verbal skills controlled by the left side of the brain, 15% have their speech control centers in the right side of the brain, and the remaining 15% have their language-skills center in both hemispheres.

It was once thought that handedness was linked to eyedness, but this has been disproved. The earedness, footedness, and the whorls and patterns in the palms of the hands must all be considered to form a reliable composite of handedness. What is important, however, is to know that many of the circuits in the nervous system operate are crossed laterality -- one hand connected to the left side of the brain and the other to the right side. And never should any attempts be made to change that brain control.

Dr. Bryng Bryngelson, speech pathologist at the University of Minnesota, spent over 40 years studying the link between lefthandeness and speech disorders. He found that unless a child is born ambidextrous, trying to make that child ambidextrous is a grave mistake with serious consequences.

He said, "Man's neuro systems work best when one side dominates the other. Everyone has a native side, dictated to by the brain. In lefthanded persons, the right cerebral hemisphere takes the lead in functions like speaking, reading and writing. In righthanded person, the left hemisphere is dominant. Trying to shift a child's handedness can lead to stuttering, strabismus and betwetting. Leave the lefthanded child alone."

Many studies have been made to determine how lefthandedness affects health, scholastic achievement, athletic ability, etc. One study revealed that lefthanded persons are twice as apt to have diabetes, ulcerative colitis, rheumatoid arthritis and myasthenia gravis. On the other hand, a study at Iowa State University found that of students who scored in the top 100th percentile in math, 20% of them were lefthanded (double the number in the general population).

As soon as a baby reaches for a toy, a spoon or your hand with the left hand, it's time to help that youngster begin to cope with a righthanded world. Even before the child starts school, learning to write requires help so the "pull" method invented by Dr. Bryngelson can be mastered. Teach the child to slant his paper so he can hold the left hand below the line as he writes. This keeps the hand from rubbing over what he's written and smearing the paper. It will also keep the child from curling his left hand over the line in order to write on paper slanted for the righthanded child.

Provide a suitable desk, chair, equipment and utensils at home and be sure they are available at school. The strain on the back and neck - not to mention the emotions and self-esteem - will be aggravated by the problems of coping with righthanded materials and equipment. Be sure the child's teacher understands the lefthander's problems, as some teachers aren't even aware they have lefthanded children in their classes.

Whatever you do, never slap a child's left hand in an effort to make him or her use the right hand. Handedness is as definite a trait as the color of the eyes or the shape of the nose or chin. Lefthanded babies are born lefthanded. They should be allowed to be lefthanded. Your responsibility is to help them cope with living in a righthanded world where, until recently, everything was designed for the righthanders.

Granted it's a handicap and difficult to use musical instruments, tools, etc., designed for righthanded use. It's far better, however, than to switch handedness, which can lead to far more serious problems.

Lefthanders have the edge in some instances. They are able to integrate the logical side of the brain with the more intuitive and artistic side to achieve greatness as athletes, entertainers, statesmen, warriors, etc. Our first lefthanded president was James Garfield. Since then we've had other notable sinistrals such as Gerald Ford, Nelson Rockefeller, and George Bush. Among the entertainers are Don Rickles, Jay Leno, Whoopi Goldberg, Ted Koppel, Oprah Winfrey, Danny Kay, Robert Redford, Judy Garland. Southpaw athletes who have made their lefthandedness work for them are John McEnroe, Bruce Jenner, Babe Ruth, Wayne Gretsky.

A book by Dr. Alvin and Virginia Silverstein, The Lefthander's World, investigates the mystery of why they have one lefthanded daughter and five righthanded children. You can also find lefthanded tools and equipment in specialized mailorder houses: including Renovator's Supply, Old Mill, Millers Falls, MA 01349 and Aristera, The Left Hand People, Inc., PO Box 2224 Worburn, MA 01888. Write for their manuals that provide sources books and materials. The Lefthanded International Organization celebrates their special day on August 13th, when they lift their voices high to stand up for their lefts.

From the very first time you discover your child is lefthanded, do everything you can to help him or her cope in a righthanded world and stress that the "differentness" is also a "specialness" that gives him a reason to belong to the Aristeras (meaning the best as in aristocracy) who are contributing in a significant ways by standing up for the lefts and doing it with class, style and elegance.

Vivian Buchan is a regular contributor to Pediatrics for Parents.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Pediatrics for Parents, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Buchan, Vivian
Publication:Pediatrics for Parents
Date:Jul 1, 1991
Words:982
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