Shelagh Robinson Mirror Read Blog 51: Learning to See, Right-Side Up

We might assume that we are born seeing.  Actually, sight takes some learning. A neonate needs time to process the new visual world it’s confronted with.

Part of the problem: Eyes are built to see upside down. We learn to see right-side up in our first hours… most of us.

While I’m no expert at reading upside down, when asked, I can do it, and even pick up some speed. But I don’t call it easy.

I’m not at all unusual – as kids, lots of us played with books end-over-end for fun, and are able to read inversed texts as adults when necessary. Those of us who work with a lot of upside down documents, like tutors and clerks in copy stores, learn to be very proficient – however, not likely to read upside down by choice.

There are, however,  some people who preferentially read print formats in orientations other than upright. Called PI – Print Inverted – readers, their perspectives, like those of Mirror Readers, are inspiring exciting new learning tools for teachers and parents.

I recently became aware of a fascinating website called – a research-based hub hosted by Stephen Round – a US elementary school teacher devoted to helping children learn to read in ways that suit their unique points of view.
 His conclusion:  “For some kids, reading upside down is the ONLY way they can make sense of print…” “A true PI reader cannot read at all in the conventional way.”

How is this possible?

We return to the biology of vision: The physics of optics dictates that the images of what we look at are projected onto our retinas upside down and backwards. It’s because of the crystalline lens in each eye that bends incoming light rays. The job of the visual cortex is to take the inverted image produced by the lens in each eye, and make functional sense of it given other sensory information.

For the majority of us, this orientation adjustment occurs early, right after birth. It seems most people come prepared to cope with these  crystalline quirks, and easily adjust.   At least until it comes to dealing with print. Recognizing an inverted tree as a tree is not the same as recognizing an inverted letter or word, because when it comes to decoding text, orientation and directionality matter. Take the classic p and q, or d and b. Learning to read English requires learning to see right-side up and frontwards.

Stephen Round believes that for some people, this ability to perceptually flip the word-image over is incomplete, resulting in tremendous difficulties when learning to read. He contends that children who have problems learning to decode ought to be encouraged to explore different text orientations, to see how they respond.

Round draws on the research of Larsen and Parlenvi (1984) who observe, “A significant percentage of struggling readers perform much better when allowed to hold the text inverted (upside down) rather than in the “normal” way.”

According to Round, “if allowed and encouraged to read text upside-down, these children progress just as rapidly in their reading and writing acquisition as their peers…The interesting thing is that when they are encouraged to read upside down, they will usually ‘turn it over’ within a month and be able to read normally after that.”

Both Mirror Reading and PI Reading are part of a fast-moving new wave of educational research and practice using alternate print formats. These discoveries, that brains approach differently oriented texts with different aptitudes, offer ancient-new options for people with dyslexia and dysgraphia.

When struggling readers learn to love books, something is going very right.

Please let us know about your own backwords skills. :)

3 Responses to Shelagh Robinson Mirror Read Blog 51: Learning to See, Right-Side Up

  1. Skills as a result of a TBI study in 1990 are ” bill = llid ” to my range of vision. All text is mirror inverted as confirmed by the Dean McGee eye institute at OU Campus, Oklahoma City, OK. I have been researching my visual condition since 1995 and still have trouble with certain key fonts ie / dbqp ,pq bd , << egamI rorriM tcefreP ehT nI etirW & deaR I <<
    Boutrophedon is an aquired text writing skill as a result of the same issues ( Strephosymbolia = Twisted Symbols ) Paschar is my User name on the web as it litterally means “Vision” -during my research I have come to understand that Dyscalculia , Dysgraphia & Strephosymbolia are all inner related To Dyslexia ,

    • shelagh says:

      Hi Stephen,
      Your condition is fascinating, and I would certainly like to learn more about the creative ways you have managed to read and write so well – in both directions! :)
      If you would like to be involved in some distance research, I actively supply mirrored readings for adults and teens – they call my voicebox, or Skype, to read the articles – and I suggest self-monitoring for progress on a variety of spatial skills to gauge progress. Interested? Just let me know – we are going international!

  2. Jeanell Smith says:

    I am an adult nutrition educator for SNAP and have a client who has a 5 year old that reads upside down. The teacher seems baffled & does not know how to help him. The Mother is concerned & tries to help him at home, but she too is baffled. Do you have any information or links on how to teach & help these children learn? I have poured over the PIR site, but no guidelines as to how to help them.
    Thank you for your guidance.

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