If you suffer from reading difficulties, you may first want to investigate whether or not you have a visual stress problem. Many children and adults with reading difficulties can benefit from a number of aids designed to help individuals who suffer from visual stress.
What is it about?
Many children and adults with reading difficulties may benefit from using coloured overlays or coloured lenses.
Recent research, examining children aged 7-11 in two primary schools, found 50% of children reported improvements in the perception of text with coloured overlays. But how and why colour helps is still not clear.
This visual problem is known as “Meares/Irlen syndrome” or Visual Stress — a difficulty certain people (including some dyslexic people) have with glare from the page. Coloured filters placed over the page can reduce the glare. And the result is that you may be able to read faster, for longer, feel less tired and understand more of what you have read. If working on screen, you will usually benefit from changing the colours that your display uses from the standard black on white to your preferred colour. changing the colours from the standard black on white display to your preferred colours.
(The problem has also been called Irlen Syndrome, Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome, word crowding and Asfedia. Practitioners’ names include Behavioural Optometrists from BABO -The British Association of Behavioural Optometry; Chromagen; and Vision Therapy from the College of Optometrists in Vision Development – COVD in the USA. Amongst others!)
Who can benefit from colour?
The research suggests that 20% of the population could improve their reading by using colour. Although colour can help many dyslexic people, it does not help all dyslexic people and it is not a cure, just a possible treatment of the symptoms. Trained teachers and optometrists can carry out assessments to identify which colour may help you. Different individuals prefer different colours and one person’s preferred colour can change after a time. Please note that normal high street opticians may not know about or be able to test for these conditions, although they are increasingly doing so. You need to see a specialist.
Different practitioners have different approaches and there has been no study to see which approach is “best”. There is no generally agreed explanation of what the process is that means that colour makes a difference.
How is colour used in practice?
Coloured overlays are sheets of transparent vinyl which you lay over each page of type. Assessment kits and rate of reading tests help to work out which is the best colour for you. Coloured lenses can be bought from specially trained optometrists. The colour used in lenses is usually a different colour to that used in overlays because of the difference in the distance between the text and the colour film. For a list of optometrists who prescribe coloured lenses, visit Cerium Visual Technologies. There are different versions for people of different ages.
The best source of information using an evidence-based approach is Bruce Evans’ book on Dyslexia and Vision (Whurr, 2001) ISBN 1-86156-242-X.There is a very useful site on colour and reading problems by Professor Arnold Wilkins at the University of Essex. A video is available from the University of Essex, called Reading with Colour, shows children talking about their experiences with overlays, and a demonstration of a test with overlays. A list of optometrists who prescribe coloured lenses can be found on the Society of coloured lens prescribers website. Frequently asked questions about coloured overlays and reading can be found here. Behavioural Optometrists have a different approach to essentially the same problem, majoring on eye exercises as the cure. It may be more appropriate for younger children if they have the commitment to do the exercises. The BDA has a helpful page of information and contacts on vision.