Hafusat Kareem didn’t realise she was a lefty until she went to kindergarten. At first, writing was difficult for her until a teacher put a pencil in her other hand. Her right-handed parents assumed that she was a righty because using the left hand to write is seen by many people as a taboo.
Most children have a preference for using one hand or the other by the age of about 18 months and are definitely right or left-handed by about the age of three. Whether a person favours his right hand or his left, and what this reveals about brain function, has been studied for at least 150 years. However, researchers still don’t understand why around 10 per cent of the population turns out to be left-handed.
Very young children often use both hands equally. Hand preference in the early years seems to rely on which hand is closer to the desired object; for example, a toddler may reach for a toy on their left side with their left hand because of convenience, regardless of future hand preference.
But most children have a preference for using one hand or the other by the age of about 18 months, and are definitely right or left-handed by about the age of three.
In certain societies, being a lefty may be considered unlucky or even malicious by the right-handed majority. Many languages still contain references to left-handedness to convey awkwardness, dishonesty, stupidity, or other undesirable qualities.
As such, children who were naturally left-handed were encouraged or forced to use their right hand, mainly because of prejudice against the awkwardness of left-handed writing and nearly everything is designed for right-handed people.
Dr Opebiyi Oyinlade, a consultant paediatric neurologist, University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, said if a child is naturally left-handed, such a child shouldn’t be forced into using the right hand.
According to him, “If he is able to use both hands when he wants to lift or carry an object, it will not do the child any harm if he is left to use his left hand alone to write. However, if he cannot use the right hand for any other thing, there is the need for the child to be taken to the hospital to be assessed to be sure that the right hand is not weak.”
The expert stated that weakness in the right hand due to such conditions as a partial stroke can make a child develop a preference for the left hand.
Being a lefty, however, Dr Oyinlade assured will not affect the child’s cognitive function in any way.
He added: “A lot of lefties are very brilliant. When we force a child that is a lefty to change to and the right hand, it leaves him confused. The child that is supposed to concentrate on his study, who you are now forcing to use the right hand could be frustrated. This invariably can affect such a child’s cognitive function, including the actualisation of his innate potentials.”
Dr Oyinlade declared that parents should also not fear that left-handedness can predispose a child to any specific disease, adding, “I am not aware that it causes any particular disease. Forcing a child to use the right hand is like insisting that a child who wants to study English should read medicine.”
Also, Professor Fatai Adeniyi, a Senior Lecturer and Consultant Physiotherapist to UCH, Ibadan, cautioned that a left-handed child should not be forced to become right-handed due to cultural perceptions.
“Based on my experience, such a child should just be left alone if it is not a problem with the child. If the child is not coping, he will naturally switch over. It is not a serious thing that the child must change at all cost “
Due to cultural and social pressures, many left-handed children were forced to write and perform other activities with their right hands due to the conversion had experienced multiple, including learning disorders, dyslexia, stuttering and other speech disorders.
Interestingly, experts in a new study say that being left-handed have its advantage. The study published in the journal Brain found that lefties’ brains could be associated with better verbal skills, among other talents.
They found that in left-handers, the left and right hemispheres had stronger links in the regions associated with language, which could correlate with greater language ability. Also, they said there was a “significant positive correlation” between left-handedness and mental health outcomes such as sensitivity, having “fed-up feelings” and being a “worrier”.
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