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On being half lefty and half righty: it is not that long ago (and maybe still exists) that the attitude toward children with intellectual and developmental disabilities was the need for them "to be corrected" and "taught to conform" or, if unable, then to expend resources and efforts for those youngsters with "better prospects.".

I throw a ball with my left arm, but bat righty. Nevertheless I am a "southpaw." (The appellation refers to the historical view that in a baseball game the batter must face away from the sun in an afternoon game. The pitcher faces west and, thus, his left arm is in a southern direction.) I use a scalpel with my right hand, but cut my food with a knife in my left hand (don't bother changing hands and eat with a fork in my right hand). No one lets me set a table for dinner since I place the cutlery in accordance with my eating habits--still can't figure out where to place the water glasses. I can't use a pair of scissors with my left hand, tie a knot in my tie with my right hand, thread a needle with my left hand and write with my right hand (never was forced to write as a righty). Incidentally, when I play ping-pong, I serve lefty and play the rest of the game righty--greater confusion for the opposition.

All this seems perfectly normal to me since all the male generations on my mother's side of the family lead a normal existence with these characteristics--with the added fact that we lose our hair in our early twenties. Actually, the last time I visited a barber shop was when my son was a year old and had to be convinced that having one's hair cut did not hurt. He is now 47, has a reasonable amount of hair, and he has informed me that the price for a haircut has passed somewhat beyond the 50 cents I paid.



Nevertheless, like everyone else, I would like to fit into a comfortable slot. There was a time when I flirted with the idea of becoming a "true" lefty. But I began to read a little about the supposed consequence of my aspirations and paused. Consider the following:

* For thousands of years, the devil has been associated with the left hand in various ways and is normally portrayed as being left-handed in pictures and other images.

* Evil spirits lurk over the left shoulder--throw salt over this shoulder to ward them off. In Roman times, salt was a very valuable commodity, giving rise to the word "salary". If salt was spilled, that was considered very bad luck that could only be avoided by throwing some of the spilled salt over your left shoulder to placate the devil.

* To first get out of bed with the left foot first means that you will have a bad day and be bad tempered, i.e. getting out of bed the wrong side. In addition, in Roman time, footmen were employed to ensure that guests entering a home would enter with the proper foot; obviously the right foot.

* Wedding rings worn on the third finger of the left hand originated with the Greeks and Romans, who wore them to fend off evil associated with the left-hand.

* The bible contains over one hundred favorable references to the right hand and twenty-five references to the left hand, e.g. The right hand of the Lord doeth valiantly, the right hand of the Lord is exalted (Psalm 118).

* In Islam, the left hand and everything associated with it is seen as unclean. This stems from the Middle Eastern custom of using the left hand and water instead of toilet paper and more recently, of using the left hand to hold toilet paper for the same function.


Using a standard "qwerty" keyboard, and typing with both hands in the conventional manner, the number of words in English that are typed solely with the left hand is in the neighborhood of 3,400. Around 450 words are typed solely with the right hand. Consider our presidents: During the 18th and 19th centuries left-handedness was considered a disability and teachers would make efforts to suppress it in their students. Children would have their left arm strapped to their side so that they were forced to write with their right hand. For this reason there are few concrete references to determine the handedness of presidents prior to the early 20th century. The first president to be described as left-handed was Herbert Hoover. Ronald Reagan is rumored to have been left-hand dominant, but forced by his schoolteachers and parents to switch.

Three (four if Reagan is counted) out of the last and current five presidents have been left-handed. In the 1992 election, all three major candidates--George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Ross Perot--were left-handed. The 1996 election also involved three left-handed candidates: Clinton, Perot, and Bob Dole, who learned to use his left hand after his right hand was paralyzed by a World War II injury. Additionally, both major-party candidates in the 2008 presidential election--Barack Obama and John McCain--were left-handed. The percentage of the population who are left-handed is about 10 to 15%.While some write this trend off as a coincidence, others have tried to come up with scientific explanations. Others termed it "A Vast Left-Handed Conspiracy."

It is said that left-handed people "have a wider scope of thinking," and point to the disproportionately high number of Nobel Prize winners, writers and painters who are left-handed. The left hemisphere of the brain generally handles language, but in left-handed people, this division is less pronounced. One out of seven left-handers processes language using both sides of the brain, compared with just one out of 20 in the general (predominantly right-handed) population, perhaps because of a relationship between dexterity and language. Others point out that left-handed people have to get by in a world adapted to right-handers, something which can give them extra mental resilience. (As a half lefty, I guess I have only half of that resilience.)


It is not that long ago that children with intellectual and developmental disabilities were considered, in some religious and culture contexts to be the consequences of past or present misdeeds. The reality is that classical texts of Hinduism often refer to disabilities and deformities, "... as something fearful, usually a punishment for misdeeds. Credence is given to the equation of a twisted personality with a twisted body." (1) These historical epics contain many characters with disabilities that are familiar to

Hindu adults, " ... (and have) the significance of religious myth and continue to shape attitudes."(1)

Suffering, both mental and physical, " thought to be part of the unfolding of karma (the principle that governs the unfolding of events and is based for a person on the integrity with which he has lived previous lives) and is the consequence of past inappropriate action ... that occurred in either one's current life or in a past life."(2) This view is shared by Buddhists and Sikhs.(3) Hindu traditions promote coping with suffering by accepting it as a just consequence and understanding that suffering is not random. Experiencing suffering satisfies the debt incurred for past negative behavior. Suffering can be positive if it leads to progress on a spiritual path. An individual can feel hopeless because he feels that things are fixed by karma. Tradition counters with the view that a person can go forward in a positive manner by following dharma (guidelines for living one's life).(2)

It is not that long ago (and maybe still exists) that the attitude toward children with intellectual and developmental disabilities was the need for them "to be corrected" and "taught to conform" or if unable, then to expend resources and efforts for those youngsters with "better prospects."

Overcoming my half left handedness cannot be compared to the struggle faced by the children with special needs and their families. But it has taught me that there is no malevolent force which predestined my life. As I approach my late 70 years of life, I learned that conformity is essential in the laws of driving a car, but individuality is essential if many are to succeed. I often expound to my students and grandchildren, "It is better to try and fail, than to fail to try."


(1.) Miles M. Disability in an eastern religious context: historical perspectives. Disabil Soc, 1995;10(1)49-69.

(2.) Whitman SM. Pain and suffering as viewed by the Hindu religion. J Pain, 2007;8(8):607-613.

(3.) Yamey G, Greenwood R. Religious views of the 'medical' rehabilitation model: a pilot qualitative study. Disabil Rehabil, 2004;26(8):455-462.

American Academy of Developmental Medicine and Dentistry

Developmental Medicine and Dentistry Reviews & Reports



* Wang S, Aamodt S. A Vast Left-Handed Conspiracy. The Washington Post. July 6, 2008. Web site:

* Left handed myths and misunderstandings. Web site:

* The left handed page. Web site:

* Left-handed History and Customs. Web site:

* Handedness of Presidents of the United States. Web site:

By H. Barry Waldman, DDS, MPH, PhD
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Author:Waldman, H. Barry
Publication:The Exceptional Parent
Article Type:Viewpoint essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2012
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