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Frequently Asked Questions

This is our list of the questions we are asked most often together with our answers. This is an ongoing exercise, and more information will be added regularly.

We are always grateful for your input and if you have an answer, suggestion, or link that other visitors would find useful, please email us and we will try to include it. The list below show the questions and you can click on them to go straight to the answers, or you can just browse down the list.

 

Ordering

Do you have a gift wrapping service

Research

What percentage of the population are left-handed?
How do you define "Left-Handedness"?
What is "Cross Laterality"?
What Causes Left-Handedness?
How is Handedness Determined?

Helping left-handed children

At what age will I know if my child is left-handed?
Should You Change a Child's Handedness?
As a right-handed parent, how can I help my left-handed toddler learn everyday skills, like tying shoelaces?
Should I reverse the cutlery for a left-hander at the dinner table?
Will being left-handed cause my child any problems at school?

Will the school know exactly how to help their left-handed pupils?
Left-handers often look awkward when they write. How can this be avoided?
What special equipment do left-handed children need?

General

Do left-handers need a left-handed computer mouse?
Why are left-handers said to be good at sport?
Which video format do I need (PAL or NTSC)?

Ordering

Do you have a gift wrapping service?

No, we did give it a try but it was a complicated manual exercise and everyone seemed to want a slightly different service (paper, invoice, labels etc) so we keep it simple and send things out in standard packaging.

Research

What percentage of the population are left-handed?

For years, it has been widely accepted that 1 in 10 people are left-handed. However, research studies of a reasonable size to back up this figure are very hard to find. Recently, small studies (usually among children) have come up with figures of between 12% and 15% of the population and it has been argued that perhaps this increase is due to social acceptability of left-handedness which has never before been the case.

The most recent study, by Prof. Chris McManus who has conducted widespread research into the genetic causes of handedness, has concluded that 13% of the population are currently left-handed.

It is widely believed that there are slightly more left-handed boys with normally about 5 left-handed boys for every 4 left-handed girls. A study by Nigel Sadler of 3,000 schoolchildren in Waltham Forest, London recorded an even higher percentage of boys (11.6%) than girls (8.6%). Some research has linked left-handedness to the level of testosterone present in the womb before birth, which may explain the imbalance. Another suggestion (that girls tend to be more receptive to social mores and eager to conform, so may change to the hand of their peers) seems very unlikely, as we now know that handedness is not a matter of choice, but part of our physiological makeup.

How do you define "Left-Handedness"?

Generally speaking, left-handers are defined as people who write with their left hand, although some of these may use either hand for some tasks (ambidextrous) or prefer different hands for different tasks (mixed).

Researchers usually classify left-handers as meeting the following criteria:
a) Do you use the left hand to write?
b) Is the left-hand preferred for the majority of key tasks?
c) Is the left the most skilful, proficient or most able hand? (This can be measured by manual single handed tasks comparing the use of one hand then the other e.g. timed peg moving on a peg board)

We don't just have a dominant hand however, but also eye, ear, and foot. This dominant left eye and foot, in certain sporting activities, is thought to be responsible for the high number of successful left-handers in popular sports such as tennis and other hand-eye co-ordination games (Bjorn Borg, Martina Navratilova, Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Greg Rusedski, Goran Ivanisavich in tennis, ace cricketers David Gower and Brian Lara, and champion golfers Bob Charles and Phil Mickelson.

Left-handers are also considered particularly advantaged in combat sports such as fencing.

Interestingly, both David Gower and Bob Charles are right-handers for single handed actions such as writing and throwing, so are probably "cross lateral"

What is "Cross Laterality"?

This is a mixture of sidedness, such as left-handed but right-footed and right-eye, and can cause some co-ordination problems. Crossed hand/eye dominance can affect performance in some sports, particularly racquet sports where the field of vision might sometimes be restricted.

It can be advantageous in gymnastics, running and netball, because positioning of the body would be more evenly distributed for better balance. Young children may appear cross-lateral before they settle on a particular hand preference. It is important to note that cross-laterality, left-handedness and undetermined handedness are not causes of learning difficulties or disabilities, as we are sometimes led to believe. However they may appear in addition to them. (e.g. dyslexia, dyscalculia, ADD/ADHD) and Anything Left-Handed stock a range of teaching aids, toys and games to assist children with certain learning difficulties. It is important to understand that if a child is having learning difficulties, it is unlikely to be because they are left-handed or cross-lateral, so always look further for an underlying cause.

What Causes Left-Handedness?

There has been a great deal of speculation and research on the causes of handedness throughout the last few decades with many theories being offered, many of which have been sensationalised by the media. Yet there is still no conclusive answer to the question of why someone is left-handed.

It is now thought that there may be 2 types of left-handers:

1. Pathological (Forced) Left-handers who would have been right-handers but for some injury to the left hemisphere which induced them to change to the non-affected side. Often, they experience additional problems, which is why we hear about higher than average percentages of left or mixed-handers among dyslexics, ADHD sufferers and other learning disabilities.

2. Genetic (Natural) Left-handers. Research into the genetic cause of left-handedness is currently very popular, with many research teams trying to identify a specific gene for handedness in humans. A genetic link does seem to be borne out by statistics. Where both parents or the mother are left-handed there is a higher chance that there will be left-handers in the family. Two right-handed parents will produce around 9 per cent left-handed children, two left-handed parents around 26 per cent and one left and one right-handed parent around 19 per cent. The most recent and comprehensive study on the genetic basis of left-handedness, by Dr Chris McManus at Oxford University, England has been detailed in his fascinating book on handedness, "Right Hand, Left Hand". Dr McManus believes there is a gene for right-handedness, and a "maverick" gene which, if inherited, has an equal chance of making us right or left handed.

How is Handedness Determined?

We do know that handedness is determined by a greater dominance of one side of the brain over the other. The brain is divided into two halves, the right and left hemispheres. The body is "cross-wired" so the left side of the brain controls the right side of the body, whilst the right hemisphere controls the left side of the body.

Although they look the same, each hemisphere carries out different functions. Researchers have concluded that language and analytical thought processes are carried out by the left, whilst spatial awareness, musical and emotional thought are contained within the right. Messages are passed between them by millions of nerve fibres, (the Corpus Callosum.)

Because they are inter-connected, it is an over-simplification to presume that all right-handers are better at analytical thinking, or that all left-handers are more creative and musical. Their thought processes and problem solving techniques may however differ depending on which skills are more dominant in their head. For example, it is thought that left-handers comprehend an idea by creating a picture in their mind. To add 2 and 2 they will picture 2 objects beside 2 more in their head, then literally add them together to get the answer. Knowing this is very helpful for the teacher of a left-hander, as you will find they respond to a new concept far better put in such a way that they can visualise it in their head.

Helping Left-Handed Children

At what age will I know if my child is left-handed?

It is not uncommon for children of nursery age to still be undecided as to their dominant hand, as we all develop at different rates. Most babies use both hands to begin with, and rarely show any preference before about 7-9 months old. By about 18 months many children use one hand consistently. However, it is not unusual for children to show no distinct preference even at 3 or 4 years old.

Generally speaking, the earlier a child shows a specific dominance for a hand, the more strongly dominant they will be, and it may be that if a child has no strong preference until later, even when increasing the number of manually dextrous tasks they perform as their brain and co-ordination develop, it is because they are comfortable using both hands.

Most children have a preferred writing hand by 5 years old, but their brains and co-ordination are still developing and hand preference too, can continue to develop until 9 years old. Whatever preference a child shows, it is important to let them develop naturally, as they will only choose the hand that is better able to complete whatever task is set, at their brain's stage of development. Even if your child has not decided on their hand preference by the time they start nursery, you can watch their development by noting:

  • Which hand they use to reach for toys and crayons placed directly in front of them.
  • Which hand they prefer to feed themselves with (either finger food or spoon)
  • Which hand do they prefer to stir with, if helping you bake a cake. Left-handers usually stir anti-clockwise.
  • When drawing, or attempting to form letters, left-handers usually prefer to work from the right, away from the body to the left, which is a more natural movement.
  • Left-handed children experimenting with toys and tools will try to turn things anti-clockwise, against the thread of a screw, or to wind up a toy by unwinding it!
  • When standing on one leg, feel more secure standing on the left. If you are helping them to dress, get the right leg ready first for them to step in.
  • Which hand do they brush their teeth with/comb their hair with?
  • (Catching and throwing a ball is a mixture of dominant hand and dominant eye, so is not always an accurate measure of hand preference).

Should You Change a Child's Handedness?

The short and emphatic answer is "No"! Handedness is determined by the brain, not the hand, and the most versatile hand is that which helps brain and hand work together for language and writing.

If a left-handed child is made to perform a task right handed, this means that they are using the weaker and less co-ordinated hand to fulfill the task, which makes them unnecessarily clumsy, ineffective and tire more easily. Far more practice and concentration will be needed than if using their natural hand, so it will be less enjoyable or rewarding, and the difficulty of learning the task will make them feel less capable than they actually are.

Also, even if you "train" a left-hander to perform one task right-handed, they will still always be naturally left-handed for everything else - left-handedness is part of a persons makeup, not a trend or habit that can be quashed or discouraged.

With consideration and encouragement, left-handers can learn to overcome many of the obstacles encountered through living in a right-handed world. They will have the confidence to explore the sporting, musical and artistic activities at which they so often excel, and in doing so become far more adaptable, confident and capable.

Thankfully, very few teachers today reprimand their students for using the "wrong" hand as did their Victorian counterparts, although it is still entirely possible that you may encounter adults who had been forced to write with their right hand, as this practice still continued into the last generation. However, most people now realise how unnecessarily cruel and damaging this ridiculous practice could be to a young developing child, based as it was, totally on superstition and prejudice.

As a right-handed parent, how can I help my left-handed toddler learn everyday skills, like tying shoelaces?

For a right-handed parent, it is soon evident that helping a left-handed child with everyday tasks needs a little consideration. When helping them to dress, they will usually put the right foot first into trousers (balancing on the left) and buttons on girls coats and blouses are easier for left-handers to do up, as they are the reverse of boys.

Zips can be awkward, and pockets in trousers are often only on the right side. If you are right-handed, teaching left-handed children to tie their shoe laces, ties, or to sew and knit can be tackled best by sitting opposite them, as your right-handed actions are then automatically reversed and gives them a mirror image to copy, rather than sitting beside them to demonstrate. The "Tie Me Shoelace" comes with step-by-step pictures of how to tie left-handed bows.

This applies to many learning situations and is a good rule of thumb which can be used by any right-handed teacher or parent.

Will being left-handed cause my child any problems at school?

It is important to be aware that there are varying degrees of left-handedness and that, while most left-handers will experience no difficulties or, at worst, only minor ones, there are others who will need special help.

Fortunately, most of the common pitfalls that befall left-handers in school can be prevented if the teacher and parent know what to look for. Here are some useful tips to make the classroom a good environment for left-handers:-

  • Do ensure that if your child does show a strong preference to use their left hand once they start cutting out, that they have a proper left-handed pair of scissors, as right-handed ones do not work properly for them. Also, be warned there is NO SUCH THING AS AN AMBIDEXTROUS SCISSOR so do not waste your money on scissors claiming to be so!
  • Positioning within the classroom is very important, to ensure the left-hander is not clashing elbows with a right-hander seated beside him. Put the right-hander on the right so they do not interfere with each others working space. Or put left-handers together, although they must on no account be made to feel segregated and care should be taken to ensure they do not feel awkward or that they are causing difficulties.
  • Arrange the room to allow both left and right-handers a clear view of the teacher and the main writing board and check that none of the children are twisting their head or body to do this. Left-handers will be more comfortable seated on the right side of the room, as they face the front.

For more detailed advice on helping left-handers with writing at school, download our free Handwriting Factsheet

This document is in .pdf format and requires Adobe Acrobat Reader to download it. Click here to download this free software now

Will the school know exactly how to help their left-handed pupils?

Many teachers are very sensitive to the needs of the left-handers in their classroom, but you should always make them aware your child is left-handed and chat to them to find out how considerate they are to it.

The Left-Handers Club were appalled to discover that left-handedness is hardly ever mentioned during Teacher Training in the U.K. Because left-handedness has never been highlighted for consideration as a Special Educational Needs issue nor was it covered during teacher training, it is often overlooked in the classroom, and many children struggle needlessly with the wrong equipment, layout and positioning simply because the teacher had either not noticed they child was left-handed or did not know what difficulties these children might encounter from a right-hand biased environment.

It appears that most teachers pick up tips on helping their left-handed pupils through their years of experience, or from being left-handed themselves (although sometimes this can work against them, as they may miss a problem simply because they themselves never found it difficult!).

In 1998 The Left-Handers Club voiced our concerns to the Teacher Training Agency (TTA) who admitted that the subject was not covered due to severe lack of time and resources within the training programme. The TTA suggested that the most effective way to supply teachers with the necessary information would be through a training video for use in Colleges and during school inset training.

The TTA invited Mark Stewart, of the Left-Handers Club, to produce aTraining Video on helping left-handed children, considering this the most specific and efficient form of training, and paid for its distribution to teacher training colleges within England. The DfEE were pleased to endorse the video and now include some of its guidelines in the new National Literacy Strategy (Ref: DfEE 0055/2001). Sadly, funding did not stretch to providing a copy to all schools, so there is still a need is for the training to reach experienced teachers already in the field.

Should I reverse the cutlery for a left-hander at the dinner table?

Usually, no. When eating, it is a fallacy that all left-handers reverse their cutlery, as most feed themselves with the left hand consistently, i.e. use the fork in the left and use their dessert spoon in the left hand as well.

Some left-handers do prefer to change the knife & fork round if they have trouble controlling the knife in the right hand and correctly serrated table knives are available to accommodate them. Left-handers will, however, frequently pick up the drink of the person to their left at the table, or eat the bread roll on their neighbour's side plate!

Strongly dominant right-handers would often prefer to use their right hand to feed as children, until social pressure takes hold as they start to use knives and forks. This is very evident when eating with chopsticks. Here, elbow clashes are quite common if you are seated next to a left-hander, who will usually use his left hand, whereas right-handers usually use chopsticks in their right.

My child keeps writing back to front - is this unusual?

This is a very common trait among left-handers learning to write, and must be handled with the utmost sensitivity, so they do not feel undue pressure, or that they are not good at writing. One habit it is valuable to acquire early on is which side of the page to start writing. Left-handers tend to start at the right of the page and pull the crayon along to the left, which is far easier and more natural.

Once they form letters, their good visualisation often enables them to form letters backwards and write in "mirror writing" which they can read easily. Never chastise a child for this, as it is quite natural. It may, however, impede learning to read, if the child wants to read the letters in the book backwards, and of course hinder correct letter formation.

Try putting coloured stickers or a bright star in the top left corner of each page to remind the child where to start writing, and reinforce letter formation from an early age to ensure they write in the correct direction.

Playing games that reinforce this "directionality" are a real help too, and will increase your child's confidence in attempting to read words, even before they are ready to write.

Left-handers often look awkward when they write. How can this be avoided?

The key to a good writing style for left-handers is correct hand positioning and posture. This is an important topic in its own right, and we cannot cover it properly here, but the video and books mentioned below are an excellent resource for nursery and early years teachers, as well as adults wanting to improve their writing style.

Large, triangular pencils or pencil grips are useful to encourage a good "tripod" three finger grip. Because left-handers have to push the pencil, they often grip too tightly and need to learn to bring the hand under the writing line, with the paper slightly to the left of their body so they draw the pencil towards them. Any corrections to positioning or posture must always be undertaken very gently and without chastisement, as the child will pick up on any negative comments, and may be put off writing from a very early age. It is vital that they are encouraged to enjoy penmanship and see it as an outlet for their creativity.

The Left-Handers Club Handwriting Factsheet has full details and is available free to all teachers & parents of left-handed children.  Free Handwriting Factsheet

This document is in .pdf format and requires Adobe Acrobat Reader to download it. Click here to download this free software now.

As soon as children begin to write, they will need to learn how to form letters correctly, so they join up easily and are comfortable to write. Our letter formation chart shows the correct way to form letters, with the alternatives that left-handers often find easier.

All left-handed children can benefit from using the WriteWell Mat underneath their paper when learning to write. This unique mat has been specifically designed to help with all the common areas of difficulty left-handed children encounter as detailed above, such as pen grip, paper positioning and letter formation. It can also easily be transported to and from school and will encourage the perfect position and posture that will last a lifetime.

The Writewell Mat and a wide range of other useful teaching aids, handwriting advice, and practice books can be found in the Children's section section of our website.

You may also find that laying out numbers in a vertical rather than a horizontal format (i.e. one number under another rather than in a line from right to left may be more easily understood and solved by a left-hander. This is because it overcomes the directional problems described above.

Often, a left-hander will see a picture of what they may want to create or draw in their mind before transferring this to paper. This may account for such a high proportion of left-handers being involved in "artistic" pursuits, and professions such as architecture.

Many left-handers find one way of approaching study and revision is to commit a page of information to memory as a picture. They will see an overall vision of the subject rather than single facts and dates.

What special equipment do left-handed children need?

This depends on the age of the child. The early years are a time of exploration and new experiences for all children, and much of the value a left-handed child derives from your care is the chance to learn how to adapt to the right-handed environment he will encounter through his life. This adaptability is one of the great advantages left-handers have over right-handers, who never have to solve the problems left-handers encounter quite regularly.

What parents and teachers can do is provide them with the encouragement, suggestions and confidence to approach potential obstacles as challenges, and explore together the possible solutions. If, however the item cannot be adapted e.g. scissors, or the child is falling behind the class struggling to find a solution, or developing an awkward style e.g. writing, then you must ensure specific help is available.

Left-handed scissors are a must in every classroom, including the nursery, and can be purchased from Anything Left-Handed by mail order. However, they are of no use if they are lost or mixed up or high on a shelf and the left-hander cannot get at them! Make sure they are clearly marked, and the child knows to ask for his/her special scissors.

Berol Handhugger Pencils have a thicker barrel to encourage good grip and are an excellent start for left-handers. The range also includes colouring pens and handwriting pens. Otherwise, moulded pencil grips can be used over normal pencils. An excellent option for older children is the ergonomic left-handed Stabilo 'smove easy Rollerball which looks funky, and is moulded to create the perfect left-hand writing position. For older children and adults who still find smudging a problem, we have the non-smudge Stabilo rollerball range or the new design Yoropens.

The unique Writewell Mat is an invaluable training guide for left-handed children. Designed to prevent or correct smudged work, poor pen grip and bad posture, the mat is placed on the desk in front of your child and shows the perfect paper position, pen hold and angle of the arm to achieve the most comfortable and effective style of writing as a left-hander. Place paper or workbook over the guidelines and follow the friendly reminders on the mat. Also shows useful reminders of pen grip, position and letter formation chart for left-handers in capitals and lower case alphabet. Suitable for all ages. Shows right-handers positioning on reverse. Size 420mm x 295 mm.

Rulers measuring from right to left prevent the hand obscuring the measurements when drawing the line, as left-handers need to pull the pencil from right to left to draw a line. The measurements on the ruler are more useful for older children.

Left-Handed pencil sharpeners have the blade position reversed. The sharpener is held in the right hand, the pencil still in the left and turned anti-clockwise away from the body, so the shavings do not fall in the lap! Click here for more details

Ring binders and spiral binding on notebooks are just in the way of a left-hander trying to write, so left-handed versions are available, or a standard notebook can be used in reverse. Remember to highlight the correct starting point in the top left margin in all cases.

There is an extensive range of equipment that left-handers may find invaluable at a later stage, when they are old enough to choose for themselves. If you know of any left-handed item that Anything Left-Handed do not stock, please let us know and we will try to include it in our range.

General questions

Do left-handers need a left-handed computer mouse?

Not all left-handers need to use a mouse in their left hand, but they do need the opportunity to compare which hand is better at controlling it. Otherwise, they will simply be slow and laboured in using it right-handed, or develop the lifelong bad habit of crossing their left hand over the body to reach the mouse, leading to bad posture and much backache in years to come!

If you do prefer to use your left-hand, your standard mouse buttons can be configured to this in MS Windows - Start, Settings, Control Panel, Mouse, "Buttons". Also choose the "Orientation" tab to set your mouse for the most comfort. An ergonomic mouse may be too right-handed in design to be comfortable in the left, although Anything Left-Handed do stock a left-handed ergonomic cordless mouse.

If you share a computer with a right-hander and want to keep changing over the mouse buttons, there is a simple shareware utility called SwapMouseButtons which allows you to set the F12 key as a hotkey to change from right to left and back with a single keystroke. It also automatically changes the mouse pointer and hand curser to left-handed versions when you swap buttons. This programme is now completely free.
Click here for information and free download

Another common discomfort associated with computers is the numberpad, which is traditionally placed to the right of the main keyboard, making it uncomfortable for left-handers to use and often causing RSI (repetitive strain injury). Left-handed keyboards are now available with the number pad on the left side of the qwerty keyboard.

Why are left-handers said to be good at sport?

Left-handers do seem to have an advantage in sports demanding rapid reactions and good spatial judgement. Judging distances is a "left-handed brain" function, and a vital skill in sports such as fencing (where reaction times are extremely short, and the proportion of left-handed champions extremely high) and tennis (where left-handers Navratilova, Connors, McEnroe, Ivanisevich ,Seles, Lendl and Rusedski, and many more have triumphed).

Another contributory factor in left-handers success is their regular training against right-handed opponents, whilst right-handers are often not used to playing against a left-hander. Many left-handers become adept at changing hands for different tasks, and some left-handed tennis players can switch the racquet from one hand to the other with ease. In cricket, many left-handers bat with the right and bowl with the left.

Visit our Famous Lefties section and see for yourself how many famous left-handers there are in the world of sport.
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