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SOUTHPAWS : Left Wing : Organization recognizes the needs and frustrations faced by lefties.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Picture this. You are one of the 10% to 15% of the population who are lefties living in a right-handed world. In school you had to look under your arm to read a ruler. Cranking the handle on a pencil sharpener was an exercise in futility. And scissors? Forget it.

Your left shoulder no doubt is now slightly higher from holding your elbow in the air while writing or drawing in a right-handed spiral notebook at a curved right-handed student desk.

This, you tell yourself, is the real reason fellow lefties Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci painted on walls and ceilings. Chances are Britain’s Queen Victoria uttered the famous rejoinder, “we are not amused,” when she couldn’t find any left-handed slot machines. And Benjamin Franklin? That stunt with the key and lightening might have been a suicide attempt--wrestling with a grapefruit knife finally made him snap.

Then again, you’ve probably developed superior coordination and spatial relations skills after years of negotiating three-ring binders and ice cream scoops.

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Now you can use a telephone without strangling in the receiver cord, and you’ve learned to live with the fact that you’ll never see the cute slogan over the little bear on your coffee mug as you drink.

Just when you’ve come to terms with your left-handedness--your very left-naturedness--and managed to learn to drive with a stick shift, a new study comes out. This one contends that southpaws are more accident-prone and tend to expire about nine years sooner than right-handed people.

But as you try to set your wristwatch while reading it upside down, take heart. You’re not alone at the end of the Thanksgiving dinner table. In 1976 an organization in Topeka, Kan. called Lefthanders International (LHI), proclaimed Aug. 13 as International Lefthanders Day to recognize the needs and frustrations of left-handed people.

For 16 years, LHI has published Lefthander Magazine, which it says is the world’s only magazine for left-handers. To accommodate its readers, the bimonthly periodical is printed backwards. The cover appears on the traditional back, and columns run from right to left. It features profiles of left-handed celebrities, articles on coping, rights and a catalogue section.

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More than 30 million people in the United States are left-handed or use both hands, according to the magazine’s managing editor, Suzan Ireland. She fears that the controversial study by California and Canadian psychologists Diane F. Halpern and Stanley Coren will perpetuate a prejudicial view of left-handedness, one that has been around for centuries.

“There is a feeling that left-handedness is associated with evil,” Ireland said. “For example, during the Salem witch trials, a woman who was left-handed was much more likely to be accused as a witch. It stems from a Biblical allusion to the devil residing on the left hand of God.”

Before readers start approaching left-handed friends with a sharpened stake, consider recent neuropsychological research. Scientists believe that left-handedness is related to asymmetries in the organization of the brain. Each hemisphere is specialized for different mental processes. One hemisphere controls the motor functions of the opposite side of the body.

Generally the hand dominance of a child is not determined until between ages 3 and 6. It used to be a common practice for schools to try to make lefties into right-handers.

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Nowadays schools let lefties be lefties. The current issue of Lefthander Magazine offers parents tips for helping left-handed children manage in the classroom. It also advocates that more left-handed desks and other adaptive supplies be provided.

When 11-year-old lefty Colin Sechrist of Newbury Park, starts sixth grade at Banyon Elementary this fall, he expects some surprises. But there are a few things he can count on.

“When I write a big essay, I find ink smears on my left pinky and sometimes on the paper,” he said. “But at least my school has left-handed scissors.”

Dr. Frank Dawson, a family practice physician in Thousand Oaks said when parents bring their children to him, being left-handed is not typically a big issue.

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Like many left-handed people, Dawson is actually ambidextrous. He eats and writes with his left hand, curving it into contortions that illustrate the slogan, “hire the left-handed, it’s fun to watch them write.” But he uses his right hand for other tasks.

Research has shown that left-handed people are more creative and imaginative. Usually they have superior memory for music and pitch. They have an advantage in some sports including baseball and tennis.

Dawson said researchers feel that true left-handed people are right-brain dominant. “The popular belief is that makes them more ‘arty’ and creative. But then there are people like me who use both hands for different activities. And the question is--what’s the matter? Can’t we make up our minds?”

* FYI

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For a sample copy of Lefthander Magazine, send $2 to P.O. Box 8249, 2713 N. Topeka Ave., Topeka, KS 66608, (913) 234-2177. Annual subscription for 6 issues is $15.

The Southpaw Shoppe located in Seaport Village, 849 W. Harbor Drive, Suite B, San Diego, CA 92101, (619) 239-1731, specializes in products for the left-hander.


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