Thursday, October 19, 2006

Improve Reading with Coloured Overlays

A true story: Sue, a fifth-grade student from a professional family, is having trouble in school. When given an assignment requiring reading, she daydreams, talks with friends, and looks around the room . . . anything but read. Sue also has trouble accurately copying work from the board and often leaves out letters, words, and even sentences. She complains that words don't stay still and that numbers disappear; sometimes she gets headaches. She listens in class and raises her hand to answer questions but does not do well on tests. Her teachers insist she could do better if she would just try harder.

It stands to reason that, once classic vision problems are corrected or ruled out, everyone perceives the world in the same way, right? Well, that’s what I thought until a few weeks ago when I was introduced to the concept of "Perceptual Distortion".

Research has determined that not all individuals see the printed page in the same way. Some children see double letters, or letters that seem washed out in the middle, or letters dancing on the page in river patterns. These individuals suffer from a specific type of perceptual problem called Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome (SSS), also known as Irlen Syndrome. It is estimated to affect up to 12% of the general population and a much higher percentage of the dyslexic, learning-disabled, ADHD, and autistic populations.

This means that such students find it almost impossible to read. Their reading comprehension suffers and they may not be able to copy text into their books. They may skip lines, change the order of the letters in the words, or simply give up and stare out the window or become disruptive.

Developmental Optometrists say that for those children who suffer from "Perceptual Distortion", placing coloured filters or overlays on top of the printed page may help see the page more clearly. You can find the overlays here:

Why coloured filters may work: in the 19980s, researchers discovered a visual-perceptual processing deficit caused by light sensitivity. Such people have a problem with the timing in which the brain receives and processes visual information. This timing difficulty can cause distortions of print and of the environment. Altering the timing (with coloured filters) permits the visual information to be more accurately received and processed.

Symptoms of Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome (SSS) may include:
· Sensitivity to light;
· Inability to judge distance or spatial relationships;
· Eyestrain;
· Problems concentrating during tasks such as reading, computer use and watching;
· Problems with high contrast, such as black on white, bright colours, and “busy” patterns, e.g., stripes and polka dots;
· Inability to read words in groups or see groups of objects;
· Problems with tracking, skipping words, skipping lines, rereading for information, and slow reading rate;
· Reports of images, backgrounds, and/or print moving, fading, disappearing, swirling, sparkling, or shimmering.

Of course, not all reading problems are SSS-related. If your child is not reaching his or her reading goals, it may simply be that they are not being taught according to their Learning Style. If they have trouble concentrating on books, computers or watching things, for example, it may simply mean that they are not visual learners.

Please check your child’s Learning Style (and how best to teach them) on


Anonymous said...

As teacher I have recently found a student with SSS. She has been prescribed dark green lens to wear when reading. This makes a considerable difference to her facility to read large amounts of texts.
A. O'Brien

Yvonne Eve Walus said...

Thank you for that. I've had many positive comments about colour overlays and I'm always on the lookout for more.