Mirror writing is a very old and relatively common phenomenon in children, left-handed people, and right-to-left languages. Although we tend to see mirror writing as a clumsiness or a problem that scares many parents, it is actually an extraordinary “feat” since it is very difficult to write backwards, especially whole words or phrases.
What is mirror writing?
The term “mirror writing” (Spiegelschrift) was introduced by Buchwald to refer to writing that runs in a direction opposite to normal in which the individual letters are also reversed.
Mirror writing, or specular writing, refers to the tendency to write letters or numbers (even whole words or paragraphs) in reverse, as if reflected in a mirror. In fact, the characters are correct when looking at themselves in a mirror.
Horizontal specular writing is the most common, but there are also cases of vertical specular writing, which only looks correct if we look at the numbers or letters by placing a mirror above or below it. This way of writing is even more impressive when the letters are in italics.
Mirror writing in children
Specular writing is a relatively common “problem” in children aged 5 to 7. Obviously, many parents are alarmed when they see that their children have mirror writing (perhaps because they confuse it with dyslexia), but the truth is that it is a normal phenomenon in children who are learning to read and write.
The two reasons why children write in the mirror
The school stage is a crucial period to establish laterality as children begin to show a greater preference for the use of one hand or the other. However, sometimes the little ones show a crossed laterality or a left-handed laterality.
It is worth clarifying that the most natural direction left-handed people take to write would be from right to left (just contrary to people with right sides and our writing system). Therefore, it is not surprising that children have to go through a training period before understanding this direction and incorporating it into their writing.
In fact, most children pass the mirror writing phase without major difficulties. Although obviously, it is advisable to keep an eye on the further development of reading.
2. Visual perception
When the child learns to read and write his visual system must be mature enough to perceive the symmetries between letters and at the same time must have developed a basic system of spatial orientation. In this way he will understand the symmetries between particularly complex letter pairs such as “b-d” with changes to the right and left or the letters “b-p” with changes up and down.
At the age of 5 or 6 years some children have difficulty perceiving these symmetries, so they usually turn the letters isolated since they do not properly perceive the differences between them. Some don’t just invert certain characters, but invert entire words or sentences. However, these problems should normally have been overcome by the age of seven.
In any case, it is important to keep in mind that mirror writing is not usually an indicator of slower intellectual development, as was thought in the past. Recent studies at Harvard University and the University of Lorraine have found no significant difference in intelligence between children of the same age who write normally and those who write specularly.
Therefore, although mirror writing is not evident in all children, it is not a systematic phenomenon; It can be said that it is a normal phase that some children go through when they learn to write. With a little extra help this “problem” is quickly resolved.
Is mirror writing hereditary?
Australian researchers have recently hypothesized that mirror writing could be an inherited condition. These psychologists placed an Aesop fable in the local newspaper and requested that anyone who was able to read it in less than a minute contact them. Obviously, the text was written specularly.
So they found 10 adults who had mirror writing and were able to read it fluently. The funny thing was that the children of these people also had mirror writing and almost all of them were left-handed.
These researchers hypothesize that there could be a gene that intervenes in the organization of language centers in the brain, that would also be responsible for mirror writing. This idea would not be entirely crazy since it has been proven in cases of synesthesia, although for the moment it is still only a hypothesis.
Mirror writing in adults
Although mirror writing may be normal in the first years of life, when it appears in adulthood it is usually a symptom of brain injury in the dominant hemisphere. Specular writing has been seen in people with schizophrenia, multiple personality, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
In fact, specialists from the Department of Neurology of the Beijing Hospital propose that the appearance of mirror writing in the elderly should be considered as a factor that predicts a subsequent cognitive decline.
It can also appear after having a stroke, although in these cases it is usually transient. 93% of these cases are due to damage to the left hemisphere and the need to use the non-dominant left hand due to motor involvement of the right hand, as confirmed by neuropsychologists from the University of Edinburgh.
One of the theories that attempts to explain mirror writing in adults indicates that it could be that the person loses consciousness of the direction of the actions learned. This hypothesis, called “directional apraxia” would indicate that we remember the shape of the letters but not their direction since both processes would be governed by different areas of the brain.
Is voluntary mirror writing synonymous of creativity?
Mirror writing has also been associated over the years with increased creativity. Probably this connection has been made based on cases of geniuses such as Leonardo Da Vinci, who took all his personal notes using mirror writing so that they were indecipherable to other people. It is worth clarifying that Da Vinci was ambidextrous, a condition that has been shown to facilitate learning to write specularly.
Lewis Carroll was another example of famous person who experimented with spatial inversions and wrote perfectly specularly. He wrote about 100,000 letters, many of which could only be read in front of a mirror.
It should be noted, however, that Carroll suffered from epilepsy and was likely prone to perceptual disorders. In fact, the first case of mirror writing reported in 1688, by Leutilius, referred precisely to a person suffering from epilepsy.
In particular, I am not aware of any recent scientific study demonstrating the connections between mirror writing and superior intelligence or creativity, but it can be assumed that if someone has enough mental flexibility to learn this type of writing, they can also show high levels of creativity.
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