Ambidexterity or Mixed Dominance

What is ambidexterity

Ambidexterity is a common question among parents of kids who switch hands in activities or don’t use one hand consistently. Are you wondering about a child who uses both hands to write or perform tasks? Maybe you know a child who uses both hands equally and with equal skill. Perhaps your child uses one hand for specific tasks and their other hand for other tasks. How do you know if your child is ambidextrous or if they are showing signs of mixed dominance? This post will explain a little more about ambidexterity as well as mixed dominance and what it means in motor skills.

For a few fun hand dominance activities, try these ideas to help kids establish a preferred hand.

Understand ambidexterity and hand dominance in kids with this information that explains ambidextrous motor patterns.

What is Ambidexterity?

Just yesterday on The OT Toolbox, we discussed mixed dominance. In this post, we will cover more about true ambidexterity and what that means.

Mixed Dominance or Ambidexterity?

Is my child ambidextrous? Isn’t that what mixed dominance is? These are two questions that therapists get asked frequently when evaluating a child for the first time for mixed dominance and other concerns. The answer is no, they are not the same thing.

A child with mixed dominance demonstrates clear, stronger patterns based on the side of the body they are utilizing to complete the task. For example, a child who is left hand dominant will develop a stronger fine motor pattern then a child who is not left side dominant but compensating for fatigue and is moderately adept at utilizing the left hand as a coping skill.

A child who is truly ambidextrous will be equally as skilled at utilizing both sides of the body and it will look and feel natural to the child. Statistically, only 1% of the population is truly ambidextrous—it’s really very rare, and it is more likely that your child is experiencing mixed dominance patterns.

True ambidexterity requires both hands to be used with equal precision and there is no true preference in either the right or left hand for either both fine or gross motor tasks.

What Causes Mixed Dominance?

This is a tricky area. Therapists recognize mixed dominance as a miscommunication or poor integration of the left and right sides of the brain and that’s how it’s explained to parents. However, there is a lot of information out there on this topic that may or may not be relevant to your child and her struggles— keep this in mind when Googling information.

It is more likely, that your child’s brain is utilizing the left and right sides for very specific motor skills such as writing, eating and throwing a ball. This can lead to motor confusion—this is where the poor integration and lack of communication between the left and right sides of the brain comes into play. When the child is not utilizing one side of the brain more dominantly for motor patterns, confusion and poor motor learning occur leading to delays and deficits in motor skills.
It is unclear why the brain develops this way, but it does happen, and it is okay. In fact, it is easily addressed by an occupational therapist.

Mixed Dominance and Motor Development

I already touched on this a little, but a child with mixed dominance may switch sides for task completion when experiencing fatigue. Due to this, their motor development and precision is typically delayed. The most common area that this is noted in is in fine motor development for handwriting. This is because the child is equally, but poorly skilled with both hands, and will switch hands to compensate for fatigue.

Motor delays may also be noticed later on when it comes to the reciprocal movements needed to throw/catch or kick a ball and when skipping. A child with mixed dominance may attempt to catch and throw with the same hand, hold a bat with a backwards grip, or stand on the opposite side of the plate when hitting.

They may also experience a moderate level of confusion, and frustration as they are unsure of how to make the two sides of their body work together leading to overall poor hand/foot-eye coordination skills.

Ambidexterity or mixed dominance and what this means for kids who use both hands to complete tasks like handwriting.

More visual processing activities

For even MORE information on eye-hand coordination and activities to use in your occupational therapy practice, you will want to join our free visual processing lab email series. It’s a 3-day series of emails that covers EVERYthing about visual processing. We take a closer look at visual skills and break things down, as well as covering the big picture of visual needs.
In the visual processing lab, you will discover how oculomotor skills like smooth pursuits make a big difference in higher level skills like learning and executive function. The best thing about this lab (besides all of the awesome info) is that it has a fun “lab” theme. I might have had too much fun with this one 🙂
Join us in visual processing Lab! Where you won’t need Bunsen burners or safety goggles!
Free visual processing email lab to learn about visual skills needed in learning and reading.

Writing with Both Hands-What you Need to Know

Kids may write with both hands and have poor legibility or speed with handwriting.

Have you seen a child on your therapy caseload that writes with both hands? Writing with both hands can be a problem when it comes to handwriting legibility and efficiency. Have you ever wondered is my child a lefty or a righty? Or been asked if they are a lefty or righty and unable to answer? Have you noticed that your child seems to use both hands equally when writing? If so, your child may be experiencing mixed hand dominance patterns or cross-dominance, and this is why you are not sure if they are a lefty or a righty. Writing with both hands can have implications that affect handwriting. Read on for information on using both hands to write writing and what you need to know about mixed-handedness.

Here is more information on hand dominance and establishment of a preferred hand in functional activities.

 
 

Writing with both hands, wondering what this means for kids in learning and writing? This has great information on mixed dominance and laterality in kids.

Writing with Both Hands —Now What?

First, it’s important to understand what is happening when a student uses both hands to write. Let’s discuss mixed dominance to begin. Here is more information about hand dominance and activities to promote laterality.

What is mixed dominance and what does this mean in child development? Read more about hand dominance and writing with both hands.

What is Mixed Dominance?

Mixed dominance refers to when a child does not demonstrate a strong preference for either the left side or the right side of the body for completion of activities, or clearly utilizes both hands for specific sets of activities. For example, a kiddo might throw with his left hand, but write with his right hand.

It should also be noted that children with mixed dominance often utilize both sides of the body equally, but poorly. When they fatigue, this leads to confusion with if they are left-side dominant or right-side dominant.

When Does Dominance Develop?

Dominance of one side of the body or the other is not expected until 5 years of age. Before the age of 5 years old, use of both hands is expected to a moderate degree. However, most children are showing a strong preference for one hand or the other by 3.5-4 years of age.

Determining Mixed Dominance

Dominance is typically determined through observation of the eyes, hands and feet and which one the child uses for task completion. For example, a child who is demonstrating mixed dominance may be right eye dominant, and left hand/foot dominant or left eye dominant, right hand dominant and left foot dominant, or any combination of these characteristics.

Therapists may utilize the Jordan Left/Right Reversal Questionnaire or clinical observations to help them determine mixed dominance. In a vision screen, the therapist can have the child pretend to be a pirate, and see what eye they close when looking through a tube/rolled paper. The eye that the child closes is the non-dominant or “weak” eye and the dominant or “strong” eye is the open one. If the “strong” eye does not match the hand preference the child has been showing, this is mixed dominance in action.

Be sure to watch this space, because tomorrow we’ll cover more about writing with both hands, ambidexterity, and mixed dominance.

For more information on visual screening, check out our vision screening packet:

Occupational Therapy Vision Screening Tool

Occupational Therapists screen for visual problems in order to determine how they may impact functional tasks. Visual screening can occur in the classroom setting, in inpatient settings, in outpatient therapy, and in early intervention or home care.
 
This visual screening tool was created by an occupational therapist and provides information on visual terms, frequently asked questions regarding visual problems, a variety of visual screening techniques, and other tools that therapists will find valuable in visual screenings.

 

 
This is a digital file. Upon purchase, you will be able to download the 10 page file and print off to use over and over again in vision screenings and in educating therapists, teachers, parents, and other child advocates or caregivers.
 

Mixed Dominance – Impact on Writing and Reading

Children who experience mixed dominance patterns are often delayed in reading and writing skills, along with poor left/right awareness.

Poor left/right awareness can affect their ability to accurately form letters and result in ‘dyslexia’ looking reversal patterns. The reversal patterns in letter formation and recognition may also lead to poor phonemic awareness, and later poor spelling, further delaying their reading and writing skills.

Reading left to right may also be a significant challenge as a result of poor eye teaming, as both sides of the brain are attempting to ‘dominate’ the skill. This struggle between the two sides of the brain results in poor organization of the information and retrieval of phonemic rules. Here is more information about visual processing and the skills that impact reading and learning.

Difficulties in these areas can be red flags of mixed dominance patterns that need to be addressed.

Final Notes on Mixed Dominance

Mixed dominance does not always seem like a big deal, but when left unaddressed your child may be left frustrated with their struggles in gross motor play, reading and writing.  Struggles in these areas significantly impact a child’s self-esteem and desire to participate in age appropriate activities. Fortunately, mixed dominance can be easily addressed through therapy.

Try this pouring and scooping activity to refine hand dominance in functional tasks.

More visual processing activities

For even MORE information on eye-hand coordination and activities to use in your occupational therapy practice, you will want to join our free visual processing lab email series. It’s a 3-day series of emails that covers EVERYthing about visual processing. We take a closer look at visual skills and break things down, as well as covering the big picture of visual needs.


In the visual processing lab, you will discover how oculomotor skills like smooth pursuits make a big difference in higher level skills like learning and executive function. The best thing about this lab (besides all of the awesome info) is that it has a fun “lab” theme. I might have had too much fun with this one 🙂


Join us in visual processing Lab! Where you won’t need Bunsen burners or safety goggles!


Click here to learn more about Visual Processing Lab and to sign up.

 
Free visual processing email lab to learn about visual skills needed in learning and reading.
What is mixed dominance and what does this mean for kids?