Mixed-Handed Kids May Struggle With ADHD, Learning Problems

Parents can use handedness as a clue to watch out for developmental issues.

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Being ambidextrous may not be as neat as it sounds; children who are mixed-handed are more apt to struggle with learning and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), according to a new study in Pediatrics. It found that ambidextrous children were twice as likely to have difficulties with language and school at age 8 as were right-handed or left-handed children. And mixed-handed kids were more likely to have symptoms of ADHD in adolescence, particularly if they had other behavioral problems.

Being mixed-handed doesn't mean a child is destined to have difficulties. But parents of an ambidextrous child might want to be aware that if there's any sign of trouble, child may need evaluation for learning problems or ADHD and extra help along the way in school. The study assessed 7,871 children in Finland at ages 7 to 8 and age 16. A little more than 1 percent of those studied—87 kids—were ambidextrous.

About 90 percent of humans are right-handed, and scientists (and the rest of us) have long been fascinated with those of us who aren't. Most people's language centers are on the left side of the brain, but nonrighties are more likely to have language dominance in the right brain hemisphere. Lefties are more likely to have dyslexia and stuttering, and they are more prone to schizophrenia. As a result of those differences in brain architecture and language-related disorders, in years past, scientists put forth a theory of "pathological left-handedness": that prenatal brain development is somehow altered in a way that predisposes those children to both non-right-handedness and developmental disorders. Genes seem to play some role in making people non-right-handed, but developmental or environmental factors undoubtedly play a role, too.

Is your child a nonrightie? Take heart! Being mixed- or left-handed doesn't mean a child is destined to have difficulties, As Alina Rodriguez, the study's lead researcher, told NPR.org, Leonardo da Vinci and Albert Einstein were mixed-handed, and they managed quite well. Add in the fact that being a leftie or ambidextrous can provide a huge benefit in sports, from tennis and baseball to basketball, cricket, and hockey, and your little nonrightie might start feeling all right about being different.

Are you're a nonrightie? I'm a leftie and I'm proud, despite being harassed for writing left-handed by my sixth-grade teacher. I don't have language problems, but I sure hate using rightie scissors. Do you, or the nonrightie you love, have issues with handedness? Let us know.