Colour therapy involving the use of coloured overlays and specially tinted lenses have been used to help alleviate or reduce the symptoms of Visual Stress and Irlen Syndrome in both poor readers and Dyslexics for a number of years. However, it’s still poorly understood and appreciated.
In simple terms, those who suffer from Visual Stress find words difficult to view on a page of text or on a VDU screen. They move around, or there are shapes and colours, words move. Basically a whole myriad of symptoms affect the Visual Stress sufferer. The result is poor reading speed because it’s simply so tiring.
Plastic coloured overlays and tinted lenses from a range of usually 10-12 colours can be used to help with the symptoms. Usually, there is one colour that an individual with Visual Stress or Irlen Syndrome picks and that is unique to them.
It’s not the contrast of words that’s affected with an overlay. It’s the visual perception. To the non Visual Stress sufferer, there will be no difference in the words. In fact, they’ll find the words look clearer without an overlay as the transparent or translucent sheet can make the clarity of the words reduce somewhat.
To the Visual Stress sufferer, the colour they choose is quite literally magic, as the words all straighten up. Reading is suddenly easier.
However, the selection of the colour is only half the job. The biggest mistake any parent or teacher can make, is to select the wrong material. Why do we say this? Well, the sentences on a page mimic striped patterns and these striped patterns to the Visual Stress sufferer result in a phenomenon called Pattern Glare. Furthermore, the glare effect where light is reflected from the page or the screen compounds the symptoms they experience.
Now, imagine a coloured overlay is chosen for example Pink and this helps reduce the symptoms. If this overlay is shiny or still reflecting light even with a “matt surface”, then this defeats the purpose of the coloured overlay as the glare from the reflections of the plastic will cause distress to the user.
Moving onto the incidence of the colours. Resoundingly, Yellow and Blue are the most popular. Both for different reasons.
Yellow filters out Blue light completely. The significance of this for the person with Visual Stress, be they Dyslexic or
not, is that blue light can be harmful to the eyes and the brain. Blue light has been shown to decrease melatonin levels; a hormone essential in regulating Circadian rhythms. Although not much is known about the effect of blue on the Visual Cortex, this disruption of the Circadian Rhythm could very well be a factor. The fact that Yellow is the most popular colour chosen by Visual Stress sufferers is certainly interesting.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Sky Blue and Double Blue are also a very popular colour and come a very close second to Yellow in our experience. Blue filters out yellow light completely. Why is this significant?
This comes back to the Pattern Glare effect we talked about above in this article. The alternating black and white stripes trigger off a reaction in the Visual Cortex which makes reading difficult and makes the contrast of the words hard to absorb. The sheet of paper with text reflects light back and to an already sensitive eye, this light causes glare. Yellow has the highest luminance factor in the Visual Spectrum. What is Luminance? To put it simply, it’s a measure of “brightness”. It makes sense, that a highly bright component of visible light can trigger off distressful processes to someone with Visual Stress who is already sensitive to light.
This can explain why Blue is a very popular colour of choice to a Visual Stress sufferer.
Yellow, Blue and other coloured Irlen Syndrome tinted lenses can be purchased at www.read123.co.uk
Read123 are fully qualified UK optometrists with 10 years experience working for both Independent and well known High Street Opticians. Their extensive experience examining the eyes of children from all age groups has given them a unique insight into using colour to help reading problems in Dyslexics. They are members of The General Optical Council as well as The Association of Optometrists and The College of Optometrists.