Ambidexterity is not a typical trait for a student with learning disabilities to have. Often associated or perceived as something geniuses or gifted students possess, this condition by itself is not often a deciding factor for someone to be placed in special education. Still, there are students admitted to special education programs for dysgraphia who happen to be ambidextrous.
Someone with this condition has the ability to favor both hands while doing an activity such as writing or throwing a ball. Many are believed to excel in academics or in sports. As a result, those with ambidexterity are often labeled “extraordinary.”
However, recent studies suggest that those with ambidexterity may not always fit the perception. While this condition may be associated with extraordinary talents and intellect, it may have a link to several learning disabilities – in particular, Dysgraphia.
Dysgraphia is a disorder often associated with a student’s ability to write by hand. Its causes are not known; however, many researchers know it is primarily a neurological dysfunction in a part of the brain that controls motor skills.
There are no known causes for dysgraphia in children (adult who have had injury to the parietal lobe of the brain have been reported to have developed this condition). As a result, any condition or trait associated with neurological/motor skill functions are being examined. Ambidexterity has been one of those conditions under suspicion.
Ambidexterity, alone, is not a learning disorder. It is rare (but possible) for a person to born with this condition. It is often learned. Many notable people in history have had the conditions and were considered to be geniuses. Albert Einstein, Galileo, and President James Garfield were some of the people associated with this condition (in fact, it had been reported that Garfield was able to write in English with one hand and Latin with the other, simultaneously).
Despite its positive reputation, ambidextrous students – especially those who were born with it – have been associated with developmental lags and other problems. A 2010 “Scientific American” article reported on a study in Finland in which 8,000 ambidextrous children were studied. The researchers discovered that they were at an increased risk of linguistic, scholastic, and attention-related difficulties (Anthes, 2010).
Also, websites such as “Wikipedia”, “Psychology Wiki”, and “ADD Forums” (which posted the “Wikipedia” articles as well as responses from other readers) are stating that children suspected to have dysgraphia or dyslexia should be tested for ambidexterity “which can delay fine motor skills in early childhood (Wikipedia, 2011).”
Part of the reason given by sites such as “Psychology Wiki” has to do with the lateralization of the brain. According the American Heritage Medical Dictionary, lateralization is the “localization of function attributed to either the right or left side of the brain.” In other words, it refers to the development of certain skills on either the right side or left side of the brain.
The theory is that ambidextrous children may not fully develop certain skills as quickly has those who are considered right or left-handed. One such component is the motor skill associated with way a person holds an object such as a pen or pencil.
A curious article from “LDRC.com (Learning Disabilities Resource Community)” detailing an observation made of an “underachieving child” in the Canadian school system seems to support this concept. In the article, titled, “Laterality, Quackery, and Teacher Attitude,” Ann Thompson described a student she observed as having difficulty with writing his thoughts on paper. As someone who was aware of lateralization, she became suspicious – and later confirmed this through a parent interview – that the student was ambidextrous and it may have been at the root of his disabilities.
Despite the compelling account, many researchers are still cautious of making a definite link between ambidexterity and dysgraphia.
According to Alina Rodriguez, a clinical psychologist at King’s College in London and the lead author of the 2010 Finnish study, the concept of handedness” is not a good measure of how the brain works (Anthes, 2010).
While inconclusive, dysgraphia in children may be the result of a delay in motor skills affecting hand coordination. Still, ambidexterity is not seen as the only cause – or for that matter – a cause at all. Ambidexterity is often a trait a person can learn. And, with a collection of accomplished athletes and academics with this condition, it may hold on to its title as an “extraordinary” ability.