Education Quandary: My two pre-school children are ambidextrous. Does this mean that they have learning problems later on?

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The Independent Online

Hilary's advice

You are understandably worried about recent research which found that ambidextrous children had more problems in school than other children. Researchers examined 8,000 children from northern Finland and found that the 87 who were mixed-handed had a higher incidence of language problems, such as dyslexia, by the time they were eight or nine, and of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder by the time they were teenagers.

But the researchers, from Imperial College London, emphasise that this does not mean all ambidextrous children will have these problems, and I know from experience this is true. I am completely ambidextrous yet never had any problems at school and went on to get a good degree from Cambridge University. (In contrast, two of my children, both right-handers, have struggled with dyslexia.)

However, even-handedness can cause some odd effects. Whenever I switch hands when writing, there is a nano-second when my brain seems to freeze, and I've always felt slightly clumsy and badly coordinated, so I'm not surprised to hear that neurological problems show up among some ambidextrous students.

I would say keep an eye on your children and, when they start school, ask their teachers to keep a careful watch on their development. That way, if either shows signs of problems, they can get extra help as soon as possible. But don't ever make them think there is anything wrong with them. Instead, encourage them to see the advantages of being able to use both hands.

Readers' advice

At school in Japan I had to use my right hand even though I always picked up the pen with my left. Whenever I did this, my hand was smacked. Imagine my astonishment when I was eight and we moved to the US and I was allowed to write with either hand! By then it was too late for me, and I have always written with my right hand although my body has always told me this is wrong. Now I type whenever possible and avoid writing as much as I can. Allow your children to be themselves and to develop as they wish to. Anything else is a form of child abuse.

Jo Tanaka, London W8

I am ambidextrous and believe this does link to some minor problems. I've always had difficulty with memory and coordination. However there are also advantages – like still being able to write when I broke an arm. Maybe some extra help would have made me more coordinated, but basically I don't think you should worry.

Paula Carroll, Kingston

Leave your children alone and let them develop their own preference for a writing hand. Help them develop as much dexterity as possible. Things like left-handed scissors might help. Never let anyone tell them there is anything "wrong" in how they are, and do everything to build up their self-confidence.

Jennifer Alderden (KS1 teacher), Suffolk

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