Dyslexia May Be Behind Directional Confusion

For those who do suffer from “directional dyslexia,” the simple act of responding to situations where they must act on left-right decisions can produce stress, anxiety, and all-out panic.

Marson Nance’s wife doesn’t have to worry about him leaving her; she simply says his sense of direction is so bad, if he did go back to his parents on the east coast he’d probably end up in Nevada (where they live) anyway.  When she tells him to turn left, he’ll always turn right.

Like possibly millions of others, Marson may have a form of dyslexia that can be the root cause behind directional confusion. The matter of left-right confusion, which is found in those who suffer from dyslexia, as its own form of dyslexia, has not been considered, so there are probably more people with this problem than is known. For those who do suffer from “directional dyslexia,” the simple act of responding to situations where they must act on left-right decisions can produce stress, anxiety, and all-out panic.

The underlying reasons for directional confusion are still unknown, but its most probable cause is the difficulties with spatial relationships those with dyslexia experience. Many people who suffer from the reading, writing, and math issues of dyslexia also have directionality issues. These issues are mostly visible in their writing, with directional letters and numbers, such as b or d and 3 or 5, facing the wrong way.

However, these left-right issues can also be seen with the inability to tell the difference between the left hand and the right. This leads many people to continue using, throughout adulthood, the tricks their parents taught them as a child to tell the difference. Compass positions, north, south, east and west, also are a problem. With these obvious directional challenges comes the problem of confusion with directional words, such as up and down, before and after, over and under.

For those who have not been officially diagnosed with dyslexia and have no difficulty reading or doing math, there is little scientific explanation for why they have a problem telling left from right. Those who struggle with this confusion on a daily basis just consider themselves “directionally disabled” or as one put it, having “Directional Deficit Disorder.”

Feelings of anxiety, panic, embarrassment, and isolation have been associated with this condition. Just being told to “go back the way you came,” can produce enough panic to put many sufferers into a cold sweat.  Friends and family become irritated when a simple “turn left here” turns into an extra mile around the block. They’re told to “pay better attention.” Some suffers become isolated, giving up driving altogether. With or without dyslexia, they have no idea what may be behind their directional confusion; they just want to get a handle on it.

Because those who consider themselves “directionally disabled” have a difficult time reading maps, the invention of the GPS, has been a miracle of sorts. Now, adults who were still getting lost after living in the same town for years can drive with confidence. Other devices the directionally challenged have used include having landmarks for guidance, memorizing routes and never deviating from them, and  leaving for a destination long enough to compensate for getting lost.

Just knowing that dyslexia may be behind their confusion with direction and that there are lots of others like them, can help relieve the stress. For many the best way to deal with “directional dyslexia” is to see the humor. In a recent blog post, a commenter summed it up, “I feel like we should band together and have a parade. A parade with non-geographically challenged people telling us which way to go and then walking us back to our cars.”

By: Lisa Nance

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6 Responses to "Dyslexia May Be Behind Directional Confusion"

  1. Derrick Chapman   January 10, 2017 at 11:53 am

    For me the problem of left-right discrimination is only a problem when there isn’t time to think which way is which. If someone suddenly says, “Turn left NOW!” that leads to a 50/50 chance of my turning the right way.

    Reply
  2. Stephanie Nguyen   July 16, 2015 at 3:59 pm

    Very interesting piece! It’s comforting to know there are people out there like me who have trouble getting oriented or knowing how to navigate (especially on foot!) I’m building a mobile app called Landmark, a navigation app for walking that uses crowdsourced photos of buildings and landmarks to help you get from point A to point B. “Turn left at the Starbucks… in 4 blocks take a right at the National Building Museum, etc.” While some people navigate best using cardinal directions and points on a map, others like to use visual points of interest like landmarks and buildings. For a designer like me, it’s really intuitive.

    If you’re reading this, we’d love for you to help us beta test the app. If you live in a walking city and want to beta test or just stay posted when the app is live, please sign up at http://www.landmarkdirections.com.

    Reply
  3. K.Poetzsch   October 29, 2014 at 7:44 am

    I’ve had this problem all my life, and family and friends have never understood that it is a disability, and not just me having no confidence. I literally have to drive to a place 20 times before I am comfortable getting there. Any place new and unfamiliar is a nightmare, and I have to take cabs or ask other people to drive me, until I can remember the route. North, south, east, west are meaningless to me. I navigate mainly by landmarks, so if I can’t see a familiar landmark, I go into a panic. I recently moved, and though my new residence is right off the main road, I can’t seem to find the new street to turn into my apartment complex, and I keep driving past it! I guess it’s because there are no disernable landmarks on that street. This is a very frustrating problem for those who have it, but we have learned to get by, despite other people’s ridicule. I need a GPS, I know, but can’t afford one. Meanwhile, just have to live with it, as usual…

    Reply
  4. Rowe Kaple   August 3, 2014 at 9:13 am

    Dyslexia has always been a perplexing topic and its profile still remains questionable. Many feel that these students are deficient in phonic skills which is the cause. Our research of almost twenty some years found just the opposite. It is the result of, not the cause. The phonics can not be correctly learned, because they have a condition we have named RPS (reversed positioning sensation). This means that they have a genetically induced condition that allows them to sense the direction of moment from its top and bottom sense of feeling for direction. This has positive affects for spatial skills, however academic subjects are often times negatively affected. Depending upon how they grip a pencil determines whether they feel the top or the bottom of the movement when making letters when shaping them. If they are sensing from the bottom of their pencil with the bottom of their fingers, what they are feeling is reversed. Consequently the symptoms of dyslexia occur. Because the letters do not match what is seen and heard, much of the phonic values are lost and learning to read, write and spell is severely affected.

    This is why these students are often times referred to as bright under achievers.
    All of this can be corrected.

    A company specializing in handwriting for 100 + years, recognized the discovery of our research. They have put together a program that can be found at the following web site. This information is freely available.

    http://www.peterson-handwriting.com/teacher_support/Research-teachersupport.html

    Reply
  5. David cardew   August 3, 2014 at 4:15 am

    There are two sculptures one sits down with his chisel and starts working on the stone. The other one walks round the stone and can’t make up there mind before they start.
    Question which one is confused and which is the better sculpture?

    Reply
  6. Vivian de St. Vrain   October 7, 2013 at 5:39 am

    I discussed this at length in 2006; read the comments to get an idea about how people are affected by this disability: : http://www.drmetablog.com/2006/09/geographical_dy.htm

    Reply

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