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.
What is Ambidexterity?
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.