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Dyslexia and Mears-Irlen Syndrome


Some chidren and adults with apparently normal eyesight, experience discomfort when reading a page of text. Sometimes the words appear to move, wobble or flicker while others say that the page appears too bright or the words are too close together. This condition is sometimes known as Meares-Irlen syndrome and is particularly related to people with dyslexia. Those affected by the condition may skip words or lines when reading. Others report eyestrain or headaches after reading.

Coloured Overlays for Reading

About Dyslexia

What is it?

Some children and adults struggle with reading and writing, causing them to lag behind in certain subjects. The condition can be frustrating and distressing as the person is otherwise intelligent and there appears to be no apparent reason for the difficulty.

These individuals are regarded as having a specific reading difficulty, which is often called dyslexia.

Many people with Dyslexia may also suffer with visual stress (visual stress is NOT Dyslexia,but can be particularly prevalent in Dyslexic individuals) and can therefore be helped by colour, so that they are better able to cope with it. Equally there are a large percentage of children and indeed adults who are not identified as being Dyslexic but still suffer with these symptoms. The appropriate coloured overlay can also help this group of individuals.

It is therefore important that overlays should not be reserved only for those pupils who have been “statemented” or identified as being in need of specific help. They should be available to any child who does not naturally like to look at books.

How common is dyslexia?

Statistics show that about 10% of the population have dyslexia – 6 million people in the UK, but has often been missed due to a lack of awareness of the condition. It is estimated that 80% of children with learning difficulty have dyslexia.
Many famous people have been affected by dyslexia including Winston Churchill, Albert Einstein and Richard Branson.


What causes it?

It is not clear exactly what causes dyslexia and research is still on going. Recent studies indicate that there are a number of contributory reasons:

It is not clear exactly what causes dyslexia and research is still on going. Recent studies indicate that there are a number of contributory reasons:

Inefficiencies in the wiring of the left hemisphere of the brain: this is thought to occur during the early childhood developmental period. It affects processing of information received by the brain.

Genetics: Dyslexia tends to run in families. This has led researchers to conclude that some people inherit genes that make certain nerve cells more vulnerable to adverse factors that affect the development of the cells.

Dyslexia is not linked to IQ or intelligence and it affects people of all racial and social backgrounds.


How is it diagnosed?

Dyslexia Assessments are conducted by trained Educational Psychologists.

They will run a series of Psychometric Tests that measure various attributes such as reading, spelling, memory, spatial and verbal skills. The results are compared against normal aged matched ones. Dyslexia is said to be present when there is a severe shortfall in the expected scores.

How will coloured overlays help?

Scientific research has shown that the use of coloured filters on spectacles or coloured overlays laid over text can help some children and adults to read better. The coloured overlays help to reduce the perceptual distortions of text which can sometimes be reported (Visual Stress or Mears Irlen Syndrome). This enables more fluent reading with less discomfort and fewer headaches. Approximately 5% of the population are severely affected by Visual Stress and 20% to a lesser degree.

Symptoms described may be as follows: 

  • Movement of print.
  • Blurring of print.
  • Letters changing shape or size.
  • Letters fading or becoming darker.
  • Patterns appearing, sometimes described as “worms” or “rivers” running through the print.
  • Illusions of colour – blobs of colour on the page or colours surrounding letters or words.
  • Rapid tiring.
  • Headache or eye strain.
  • Oversensitivity to light.


Or if you are observing your child, you may notice:

  • Moving closer to or away from the page.
  • Becoming restless.
  • Using finger as a marker.
  • Skipping words and lines.
  • Rubbing eyes and blinking excessively.
  • Reluctance to read.
  • Short concentration span when reading.

It is difficult to describe visual stress to a non-sufferer. You may recognise that sometimes when we look at someone wearing a very stripy shirt it may feel uncomfortable for us to look at and it may “make our eyes go funny”. This effect can be seen by the many individuals with visual stress symptoms who look at print,as the lines of words on a page can appear to form a “stripy pattern”.

Symptoms of visual stress are not always immediately obvious. Many individuals who suffer with this condition believe the discomfort they feel when reading or the distortions they experience on the page are “normal” and experienced by everyone. That is until someone presents them with an appropriate colour and they realise that reading can become more comfortable and even enjoyable.

The simple application of an overlay at an early stage could save years of anxiety and prevent the downward slide in confidence which occurs in most cases where children struggle to read.


Migraine and Photosensitive Epilepsy
There is increasing evidence that the use of colour for those with some types of migraine and photosensitive epilepsy can be of real help in reducing or alleviating their symptoms.


The Assessment

A coloured overlay assessment is carried out only after a full eye examination. This is necessary to rule out other causes of the reading difficulty, for example long sightedness or eye muscle balance problems.

The assessment consists of allowing the individual to view text through different coloured acetates in a particular order. Their response is then recorded to the different colours, and through a process of elimination, the best colour or combination is determined. The reading speed and accuracy is recorded both with and without the identified overlay to measure whether there is any immediate effect. This assessment can take up to an hour. The fee for the assessment is £50 and the overlays cost £10.00 each.

Following the assessment if a benefit is felt by the patient or measured with the rate of reading test it is recommended that the overlay should be used without prompting. This is to eliminate any possibility of placebo effect to see if sustained use of colour improves reading fluency and accuracy or reduces previous symptoms.


Why does colour work?

It is thought that this discomfort when looking at the print and hence the symptoms of Visual Stress in reading difficulties are also due to a hyperexcitability of neurones in the Visual Cortex. This means that some of the cells in the part of the brain which deals with processing of visual information work too fast and do not respond in the way they should.

We know that certain cells in the Visual Cortex are colour sensitive and therefore by placing a colour in front of the eye; the pattern of excitation can be changed. In other words the colour will help to slow and calm these cells therefore quietening the pattern and reducing the Visual Stress.

The colour needed to reduce the hyperexcitability is very precise and individual to each person.

Please call us on 01245 461 843 if you would like further information on our colour overlay assessments or if you would like to book an appointment.