Directional Dyslexia

Directional Dyslexia

Quick facts about directional dyslexia:

  • Not an actual kind of dyslexia, more of a symptom of other types of dyslexia or a different kind of disability all together
  • Sometimes called spatial or geographic dyslexia
  • Distinguished by left-right confusion and a tendency to become disoriented or lost
  • May be related to difficulty remembering sequences and short term memory deficits


Extreme difficulty distinguishing right from left and following a sequence of directions or retracing a path.

While very real and very frustrating for those affected, the term directional dyslexia is problematic.  Those turning right not left out of the elevator have a Dys (difficulty) but not with Lexia (words). A better name for this problem would be something like Dysorienta.  Admittedly, dyslexics are notorious for mixing left and right ("no, the other right") so there is some 'comorbidity' there, meaning that problems with direction and words often go together.

Common threads

Interestingly, a common symptom of dyslexia is difficulty memorizing sequences, and since knowing the directions from A to B is about memorizing a sequence of actions—'Left at the store, right at the school then left again at the park'—it's possible that the problems getting lost are really just a particular example of a problem with sequences of information.

Digging deeper, the problem with memorizing sequences may in turn be a result of weak short term memory, another very common symptom of dyslexia. It simply takes many more repetitions for dyslexics to learn something, especially abstract things like multiplication tables. This may carry over to learning of routes and directions.

Directional Dyslexia Strategies

There aren't formal treatments for directional dyslexia, but there are some strategies that can help:

1) For left-right confusion

  • Wear a watch on the left hand to provide a point of orientation
  • visualize something you always do with the right hand such as write or shoot a basketball
  • The index and thumb of the left hand can form an L when held in front of the face

Make Light but
Don't Take Light

Being told,' just go back the same way', or 'I'm sure you will find your way' can be terrifying to someone with a very weak sense of direction.

While getting lost can be funny or even educational, usually it's not. Keep this in mind when you discover a friend or family member is directionally challenged.

2) For poor sense of direction

  • Write down the steps to your destination and try to memorize them
  • Try to walk the journey in your mind, in both directions while describing the route out loud: "I will walk toward our corner store then turn right at the first intersection where the statue is, I can see the bronze bust..."
  • Study maps. Dyslexics are often superior visual learners, so understanding the directions visually may be the key for you
  • Ask for directions when you really need them
  • Purchase a dedicated GPS for your car. And remember your phone is a GPS too! 
  • Always try to travel with family or a friend. Life is better together
  • Worst case, leave breadcrumbs

Want to connect with other who are directionally challenged? 
Check out this Facebook page!

* Note that it is a private page and you will have to ask to join the group.

Final thoughts on directional dyslexia

There are many cognitive challenges associated with dyslexia including ADHD and dysgraphia, for example. Following sequences such as directions is another common difficulty. Why exactly so many cognitive abilities are tied together remains a mystery, although as we have noted there are linkages between short term memory deficits and problems with sequences of information tying some of these issues together. 

Neuroscience may one day illuminate exactly why some people have more problems with direction than others, but until then, extra planning and prudent use of technology can help all of us get from A to B successfully.

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