Was it Left or Right?

by Anna

After I had turned left again instead of the announced right, or possibly the other way around, my boyfriend asked me: “Why is it then that you can’t tell left from right?”

I said I will look into it later and he can then read my blog 😉

Now I have been trying to find an explanation, or condition on the web that would neatly summarise my difficulty of distinguishing between left and right but could not find a proper niche to fit in. But there are several options to pick from, should I choose to give in to my occasional hypochondria.

I couldn’t coin a point in time that I was suddenly aware that I got my directions wrong. It just seemed to happen the more I grew up and began articulating. When I checked with my mother whether she noticed anything when I was young, she said that the first time she became aware that I had problems with left and right was when I painted my right thumbnail for my first driving lesson. There are suggestions that left-right disorders are hereditary.

Philippe De Sainte Maresville has the same problem and describes that it appears to be the words that get it wrong, not so much the hand movement. According to him we damn well know where left and right is, just that the words seem to appear on a random basis, unfortunately not necessarily the right one. Those who often experience mix ups might need a lot of concentration to get it right and most hiccups happen under stress or when tired. He also links it to psychological typing, that we have certain behavioural traits which work with certain parts of the brain.

Wikipedia offered me Acalculia at first, an acquired impairment with difficulty performing simple maths, but the fact that it appears to be acquired later in life as part of a neurological injury, or a stroke, I don’t think it might be what I am looking for.

The next on offer is Dyscalculia, a specific developmental disorder which becomes evident when beginning to learn maths early in life. The list of symptoms is extensive. Interesting is that I can tick most boxes, inlcuding frequent difficulties with arithmetic,  tables and mental arithmetic, often unable to grasp and remember mathematical concepts, rules, formulae, and sequences. I remember well the countless times of counting with my fingers under the table under the stern silence of my likewise stern teacher. If it was down to her, I would have been in a school for children with special needs.

Continuing with difficulty conceptualizing time and judging the passing of time, may be chronically late or early (it’s the early for me), problems with differentiating between left and right (yes), difficulty navigating or mentally “turning” the map to face the current direction rather than the common North=Top usage (oh yes, though I usually find my way around quite well), having particular difficulty mentally estimating the measurement of an object or distance, inability to concentrate on mentally intensive tasks and mistaken recollection of names, poor name/face retrieval, may substitute names beginning with same letter.

“Sorry, what was your name again?”

The list further includes the inability to visualize mentally, which I’m actually really good at. Could it be because of the associated well-developed sense of imagination, possibly as cognitive compensation to mathematical-numeric deficits? I definitely have difficulty reading musical notation and it took three years of weekly violin lessons until someone figured this out! My hearing took over and enabled me to play after having heard it played once, after which I simply copied by sound. And the point stating that we might do exceptionally well in a writing-related field makes me believe that maybe my blog will be famous one day after all. 😉

The following last point actually has a much bigger impact on me than the left-right confusion: low latent inhibition, i.e., over-sensitivity to noise, smell, light and the inability to tune out, filtering unwanted information or impressions. I always had an exceptionally good hearing, to the point where I went to have my ears tested because I actually couldn’t hear well, but found out that it was because I heard too much and probably had difficulties filtering the important from the background noise. I also feel overwhelmed quickly in crowded places… Another explanation for my behaviour on the first day of kindergarten?

Thinking about it, how much would the fact that I hit my head with a spade on a summer fair at the kindergarten go in line with the theory of Acalculia and the acquired neurological impairment? Actually, both, Dyscalculia and Acalculia affect the same part of the brain, namely the parietal lobe and the angular gyrus, which is about the location where the spade hit on the left side, which is also the side of the parietal lobe associated with mathematical problems. And that it was the left is in this case certain 🙂

A note on the side: apparently there have been experiments that showed the possibility that stimulation of the angular gyrus is the cause of out-of-body experiences. Synesthesia would also generally fit well in this topic. But I will tell you more about those another time.

I was secretly hoping that today’s research would also uncover, or at least find a correlation to my decision-making problems and also differentiating between two, which is at times impossible for me. I tend to need a third option in order to make a decision. I always assumed those must somehow be connected to my left-right disorder, but apart from a small experiment that interestingly also links decision-making to the parietal lobe, I could find no correlation other than the possibility of the influence of stress, anxiety or depression.

So I will carry on pretending to pick up imaginary pens to see where my right is and to try to be calm and think twice before I give someone directions. And it would probably be best to actually use a real pen to write down if someone gives me directions, because I surely won’t be able to remember when to go left and where to turn right 😉