Is Left-Handedness a Sign of a Learning Disability?

Distinguishing fact and fiction about left-handedness

A girl writes with her left hand.
A girl writes with her left hand. Tetra Images - Daniel Grill/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

Do you remember when you realized your child preferred to use his right hand over his left hand, or perhaps the other way around? Parents typically begin to notice hand dominance when babies first reach for and grasp objects. Many parents, however, express concern when their children show a preference for using their left hands.

They wonder if left-hand dominance is a sign of a learning disability.

Rest assured, in most cases left-handedness is a normal part of child development and can even be an advantage in some aspects. In other cases, however, left-handedness can coexist with learning problems. Fortunately, this is the exception and not the rule. This review of left-handedness in children can help you determine if your child may have learning problems.

Hereditary Left-Handedness

Are there left-handers in your family? If so, left-handedness alone is usually not a sign of a problem. But if the trait showed up generations ago, you may not realize that left-handedness runs in your family or your partner's family. If you're fortunate enough to know this detail of your family history, know that hereditary left-handedness is a natural difference, akin to eye and hair color differences.

When to Worry About Left-Handedness

If your child is left-handed and exhibits early signs and symptoms of learning disabilities or developmental delays, you may rightfully be concerned.

In addition, consider whether your child was exposed to risk factors prenatally or in early childhood.

Has your child experienced severe illnesses such as meningitis, developmental disorders such as spina bifida, or accidents or abuse leading to brain injuries?

If these, or other developmental disabilities, are not a concern for your child, then her left-handedness is likely just a part of his natural development.

What if Your Child Shows Signs of Learning Problems?

If you believe there is a possibility that your child's hand dominance is connected to a problem, it is important to remember that hand choice itself is not the cause of the problem. Even if hand choice is connected, it is simply another aspect of your child's development and should not be considered a problem to be "fixed."

Your child will naturally use the hand he feels most capable of using for any task. He may show a dominant left-hand preference or may use both hands to varying degrees, depending on the task and what he feels is the best way for him to do it. Attempting to change his left-handedness can lead to additional learning frustrations and self-esteem issues. Given this, don't coerce or ridicule your child into using his right hand when he's inclined to use his left.

Wrapping Up

If you are concerned about the possibility of learning disabilities in early childhood, talk with your child's pediatrician. Your child's doctor can help you decide if there is a reason for concern and can refer you to early childhood intervention programs.

If your child is age 3 or older, you may contact your local public school district for information on diagnosis, evaluation and special education services.

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