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Reflections Magazine : Reflections Issue 61, 2015
14 The take-home message -- there are both advantages and disadvantages to features associated with different handedness types. There is also so much individual variance that you should probably just disregard your handedness type and choose the hobby that appeals to you the most. Why is having a distinct hand preference important? In bimanual tasks, the hands take on different roles. The dominant hand takes on tasks requiring force and/ or dexterity, and the non-dominant hand provides stabilisation. Establishing and habitually using a dominant hand for a given task is necessary in developing skilful usage, and in wiring the brain's motor patterns and bilateral coordination abilities. It is important to establish a dominant hand for each skill set, even if (as with mixed handers) the dominant hand is different for each task. If a dominant hand is not established, the result may be two mediocre hands rather than a specialised hand and a stabilising hand. Determining hand preference in children Prior to about the age of three, hand preference is not necessarily consistent, however the hand used to reach for food may be a better indicator of handedness than hand usage during other tasks. It is normal at this age to experiment with both hands for various tasks, and using both hands is essential in developing strength and dexterity in each hand. If a baby or young toddler is not using one of their hands, this may be a symptom of a problem. By the time a child is in their preschool year, a distinct hand preference has usually emerged. Hand preference usually becomes evident between the ages of two and four. If a child in their preschool year or beyond is still swapping hands and has no clear hand preference, the assistance of an occupational therapist may be beneficial. Indications of which hand will become the dominant hand may be found by observing which hand is used for eating, throwing, picking up items and drawing. In determining handedness in a child with unclear preference, it is helpful if items are offered or positioned in such a way that the child has to make a choice of which hand to use, rather than simply use the closest one. There may also be other related issues that require intervention -- for example, a child may be swapping hands due to fatigue, there may be issues with stability and strength in their core, shoulders or wrists, or there may be issues in their ability to cross the midline. If a preschool (or older) child appears to be swapping hands when writing/drawing/cutting due to fatigue, the child should be encouraged to rest and shake out the hand, before continuing with the same hand, using the other hand for stabilisation of the paper. Setting up early childhood environments that are inclusive of all handedness types When setting up environments that are inclusive of different handedness types, the following should be considered: • Are the available tools biased towards right-handedness? Ensure scissors are available that can be used by both left and right-handers. Scissors that work both ways are easier for left-handers than having to find the one or two pairs of "special" left-handed scissors within a room. • Do the spaces allow for adequate use of the left hand? If experiences are set up against sidewalls, is there enough elbowroom for both left and right-handed children? • Are items placed on tables in a way that favours right-handers, rather than centrally? • In school settings and table-based activities, it is useful to place left-handed children on the left side of desks, to avoid elbow clash. • If left-handed children are copying or referring to something as they draw/write, is the source material placed on the right, so that they can easily see it? For example, if children sign in their name on a chart, it is useful for left-handers if the space for their contribution is to the left of the source material. • When teaching left-handed children to write, the direction of each movement is reversed relative to right-handers -- a pulling movement for a right-hander is a pushing movement for a left-hander. • It may be easier for a left-hander to learn a manual skill from a right-hander who is facing them, instead of next to them. • Is there a barrier between the left and right sides of an activity? For example, it is very difficult for a left-hander to write on paper in the right hand side of a ring binder.
Reflections Issue 60 Spring 2015