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Confusing Characters

15th January 2021

RobinStyle photos

I write this blog every week in the hope that I may, in my small way, be able to reach out and help someone out there who is desperately looking for some answers or support. I am not selling anything nor do I receive any money or commission. I also wish to raise awareness and not only address the difficulties in life but highlight and celebrate the positives of the dyslexic brain. The world needs your creativity, imagination and innovation. I look forward to a time when there is more understanding, when I tell people I support dyslexic children they do not reply with “Is that when they confuse b and d?”

In everyday life, letters and words pop up every where. In all different languages in varying places, in differing sizes and font styles. Most people read them automatically and don’t even give the power of words a second thought. Others revel in the beauty of language and others dread it! Love it or Loath it, letters get everywhere! As you will see in the photos dotted about this post…..

Dyslexia is a language based learning difference; where the brain differs with how it receives, processes and remembers language. I would refer you to a previous post, What your brain may see when your eyes look.

It is a myth that Dyslexia is where you see and write letters backwards, such as b and d. Although for a long time dyslexia was seen to be a visual difficulty it is now more readily recognised as a phonological/language issue within the brain (see my previous posts for more detail).

The reversal of letters/mirror writing is where you write certain letters/digits backwards or upside down. This is different to the ‘transposing’ of letters which means a mix up of letter order in words such as ‘hlep’ for ‘help’.

It is common for all children to make mistakes with similar looking letters and to reverse letters up to the age of 7 years old.

French Research by Jean-Paul Fischer and Christopher Luxembourger into Character (Digits and Capital Letters) Reversal in Writings by Typically Developing Children:

“There is a period, usually around age five, during which children have representations of the characters’ shapes but not their orientations. Hence, when asked to write a character, children have to improvise its orientation, and the orientation they choose (implicitly, non-consciously) is often derived from the writing direction in their culture.” i.e from left to right in some cultures.

From this research you will see that for a long time it was thought that reversals were due to being left handed. Then more recently, Neuropsychological findings suggested a process of ‘Mirror Generalization’ , the evolution of the brain developed this process to help animals see any possible danger from all sides of an object/animal. Put simply, there is a visual image then during the mirror generalisation process the mirror image and actual image becomes undistinguishable. Then the correct visual image is restored later when the individual can actively make that distinction.

Making that distinction is suggested to be harder for young children (around 5 years old) when not copying the character. The mirror generalisation process may lead the orientation of the letter to be lost during memory transfer.

I refer to the possibility that babies are born with the ability to see 3D, to see objects from all sides in a previous post:

Learning to read needs certain executive functioning skills within the brain. Executive Functioning skills for example are the ability to multi task, keep focused and attentive. Also working memory is a key executive function.

Learning disabilities do not always involve a difficulty with ‘executive function’. However, it is not uncommon for children with dyslexia to also have difficulty with executive skills.

As I have mentioned previously it is common for children (dyslexic or not) to reverse letters up to the age of 7 years old. It is not a for gone conclusion that your child at 5 or 6 years old who mixes up their b and d are dyslexic!

An individual with dyslexia may be slower than their peers at meeting their developmental milestones and may take longer in actively making that distinction between the visual image and mirror image. They may even continue with that difficulty into adulthood.

Further to the French research above, “children have representations of the characters’ shapes but not their orientations.” On average, children may know their left and right direction by the age of 7 or 8 years old. Not knowing their ‘left’ and ‘right’ may cause some difficulty in learning the orientation of letters such as ‘b’ and ‘d’.

For some dyslexics, not all, the confusion between left and right continues after 8 years old and maybe into adulthood.

If a child continues to reverse letters in reading and writing past the age of 7 years old it is important to consider all possible causes.

*Working memory difficulties *Visual Processing issues *Visual Stress *Dyslexia

Are the reversals evident in reading and writing or just one area? If it’s spelling/writing, check the individual is hearing the sounds correctly – /p/, /b/ can sound similar etc.

Although the reversals of letters can be a small indication of possible dyslexia it is not the main issue. However, it still remains for some, the only thing they think of when they hear the term ‘dyslexia’. Knowledge and understanding is paramount to overcome the negative stigma and to obtain accurate interventions and tuition for children.

You may see children choose to write solely in capital letters as they find them easier to distinguish.


  • Important to introduce one letter at a time. Spend time and master the ‘b’ before moving on to ‘d’.
  • Use multi sensory equipment such as writing the letters in clay, sand, water, paint, air writing etc
  • Place big posters of the letters in child’s bedroom next to objects of the same sound. such as ‘b’ by books or bed. Also a ‘d’ by the desk or door.
  • colour coded activities. Have a page of b and d’s of differing sizes. Child to circle the ‘b’s in one colour and ‘d’s in another.
  • Have personalised picture prompts, such as
the moffatt girls

Other letters which may cause confusion could be p/q, f/t, i/j, m/w and n/u

Another strategy some people say is helpful in distinguishing similar looking letters is the use of ‘dyslexia friendly font’, colour and spacing in reading material. As I aways say “everyone is different’, what one person finds helpful another may not. I am of the opinion that you should try all and see what helps or not. If it works then use it! However, it is important to note that science has been looking into this matter as it always does. There has been no findings, as yet, that specialised dyslexic font can help improve accuracy or speed of reading. It does not, on its own, fix the problem!

What is needed is multi sensory interventions by qualified and trained teachers.

Have a look at the different options available and see if any of them makes reading more ‘comfortable’ for you. If so, then that’s a bonus and go for it. Barrington Stokes also consider publishing books for a child’s interest age at a more accessible reading age.

BDA advice on how to set out reading material to benefit the dyslexic reader:

A few of the different ‘dyslexia friendly’ font types:

Barrington Stoke books

Barrington Stoke Roman uses clear characters including simple forms of lower-case A and G. But it’s not a sans-serif font ”“ there are serifs on many letters. This helps reduce ambiguity, so for example our ‘d’, ‘b’, ‘p’ and ‘q’ forms are not the same shape in different orientations. The serifs also help words hang together visually ”“ this is helpful when using increased character spacing, as we do. Serifs can also cue the eye to track in the correct direction. And serifs give letters more distinctive shape ”“ more presence on the page, if you like. We believe that all this can help a reader with poor visual discrimination. For the same reason, our letters have varied heights.” So the Barrington Stokes website says in favour of their chosen font type.


Why was a special typeface needed for people with dyslexia? Christian Boer, a dyslexic himself, knew why. While researching ways to improve readability he saw, for the millionth time, words turning and letters mirroring and swapping, and suddenly he knew the answer: a typeface that would prevent these 3D letter movements. He started designing, and the Dyslexie typeface was born.

“For me, these letters become three dimensional so you can turn them around and they begin to look alike. What I wanted to do was to slap these 3D letters flat.”

Instead of keeping the letters a uniform size, some have longer “sticks” that help to make them stand out more in words

He set about finding ways that would make it easier to distinguish different letters from each other. One key change was to make the letters bottom heavy, so they are bolder at the base than at the top.

Designer Christian Boer

Open Dyslexic

Open-Dyslexic has recently received favourable coverage from the BBC ( and is included in many iOS and Android apps. 

Unlike much other dyslexia or DRD typefaces, OpenDyslexic is completely free for individuals, companies, schools  
Available on Chrome Web Store.
Image may contain: text

Supporting a new dyslexic author in her new adventure. A children’s book about creating marvelous, messy, and muddy culinary delights. Kids and grown up’s alike will love this story as it follows two kids outside on a rainy day to whip up some worldly food.

Have a look, can be pre ordered in a dyslexia friendly font as well!

For more ideas of possible books for the children:

So pick up those books during lock down and enjoy. Reading should be fun not a chore so read for interest of the subject matter (what ever it is) not to pass those phonic tests. We may not be able to travel but we can go anywhere in a story ….

Stay safe. As always, any questions or ideas for further topics please comment below or email me directly (details on my contact page).


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