Visual Stress


By Paul Gee
on 11 September, 2018

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Visual Stress: Do Overlays Work?

What's visual stress?

Irlen’s syndrome, also known simply as ‘visual stress’, refers to a difficulty with visual processing which some readers appear to experience when confronted with black on white text.

The text can seem to swirl around or become fuzzy which makes reading difficult. 

The solution according to the Irlen’s Institute is to change the colour of the background – most simply with a coloured overlay.

But do coloured overlays really help children with reading difficulties? The research is inconclusive, critics claiming that the evidence to support the use of overlays is largely anecdotal.

What's the solution?

My experience, after testing hundreds of pupils with reading difficulties, is that a small minority do seem to have improved reading when using an overlay. The main difficulty then is to get learners to use the aids!

I would recommend that you are not mean with overlays. It is good for children to have 4 or 5 sheets to be used in different books, or to be used as bookmarks.

I find the ‘ruler’ design works well with younger readers. Overlays cut into A5 sizes work well with older key stage 2 pupils and above. 

Remember, overlays are not a panacea. If a pupil has significant reading difficulties, they are likely to need an individualised programme or specialist support.

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If you have any questions, would like support or an assessment in school please be in touch with or have a look at our Dyslexia page for information on the support we can offer.