Do Colored Overlays Help With Dyslexia?

by | Feb 27, 2021 | Teaching Tips | 5 comments

Have you wondered if colored lenses or overlays could help your child with dyslexia?

colored overlays dyslexia

The quick answer is no. But keep reading to see if colored overlays might still help your struggling reader.

Dyslexia and Vision Problems

Research on dyslexia has shown that dyslexia is not caused by a problem with the eyes. Dyslexia is caused, at least in part, by a difference in how the brain processes visual information. So you can have 20/20 vision but when what the eye sees enters the nerves, the neural pathway is ‘scrambled’ or takes a detour that makes the processing of that information slower.

There are problems with the eyes, however, that can cause difficulties with reading such as visual tracking issues and light sensitivity also known as Irlen Syndrome or Meares-Irlen Syndrome.

Signs of Irlen Syndrome

Light sensitivity or Irlen Syndrome is characterized by:

Slow or inefficient reading
Poor comprehension
Eyestrain
Fatigue
Headaches
Difficulty copying
Difficulty reading music
Poor sports performance
Poor depth-perception
Bothered by glare, fluorescent lights, bright lights, sunlight, and sometimes lights at night

People with Irlen Sydrome are prone to headaches during reading and often complain that letters on a page are blurry, moving, or disappear.

This light sensitivity can cause symptoms that look similar to dyslexia and Irlen Syndrome experts suggest that some people are incorrectly diagnosed with dyslexia when in fact, they have Irlen Syndrome.

According to the Irlen website, Irlen Syndrome Affects:

12-14% of the general population
46% of individuals with reading and learning difficulties
33% with ADHD
33% with autism
55% with head injury, concussion, or whiplash

For more information on Irlen Syndrome, visit the Irlen website here.

How Colored Overlays Work

Irlen Method technology uses colored overlays and filters to improve the brain’s ability to process visual information.

In people with Irlen Syndrome, colored overlays can improve reading fluency, comfort, comprehension, attention, and concentration while reducing light sensitivity. This is not a method of reading instruction. It is a color-based technology that filters out offensive light waves, so the brain can accurately process visual information.

Getting the right color overlay

Color overlays are readily available on Amazon and in the past, I have purchased an inexpensive set to try out with my kids. I tried each color to see if there was one that they preferred. I didn’t realize that you can experiment with several colors at once. My kids were more annoyed by the overlays than anything so I never gave them another thought.

To truly determine if your child suffers from light sensitivity, or Irlen Syndrome, it is recommended that they be screened by a professional trained in the Irlen Method.

Colored lenses provided by optometrists and vision specialists to treat reading problems are not the same as the Irlen Method. These professionals do not have the correct diagnostic process for color selection and inaccurate color selection can result in worsening symptoms.

Is it Dyslexia or Irlen Syndrome?

Since many of the symptoms of Irlen Syndrome and Dyslexia can be similar, how do you know which problem you really have? Let’s define our terms.

According to the International Dyslexia Association, “Dyslexia is a language-based learning disability. Dyslexia refers to a cluster of symptoms, which result in people having difficulties with specific language skills, particularly reading. Students with dyslexia usually experience difficulties with other language skills such as spelling, writing, and pronouncing words.”

Experts agree that dyslexia is language-based, and remediation generally focuses on using a multi-sensory, structured language approach to help strengthen the brain pathways that connect speech with print. In fact, it is a myth that the telltale sign of dyslexia is seeing words backwards.

In contrast, Irlen Syndrome is a perceptual processing disorder. It is not language-based and phonics-based instruction will not help someone with Irlen Syndrome improve in the same way it will help someone with dyslexia improve their reading skills.

Irlen Syndrome is a light sensitivity, where individuals are sensitive to a specific wavelength of light and this sensitivity is what causes the physical and visual symptoms that people with Irlen Syndrome experience. People with Irlen Syndrome have difficulty reading, not because their brains have difficulty connecting the letters they see with the sounds those letters make, but because they see distortions on the printed page, or because the white background or glare hurts their eyes, gives them a headache, or makes them fall asleep when trying to read.

People with Irlen Syndrome have difficulty processing all visual information, not just words on a printed page, so they often experience difficulty with depth perception, driving, sports performance, and other areas not generally connected with dyslexia.

Should You Try Colored Overlays With Your Struggling Reader?

Our family has never benefited from using colored overlays although I have met and talked with others who have. If your child is experiencing more of the Irlen Syndrome signs and traditional Orton-Gillingham reading instruction isn’t making a big impact, I would consider contacting and Irlen profesional for an assessment.

Irlen Syndrome Resources:

The Irlen web site

Have you had experience with colored overlays or working with an Irlen specialist? Please share your experience below!

5 Comments

  1. Katrina W

    I use to be a big believer in Irlen Syndrome. My daughter’s color was purple, and we used dark purple paper for all of her schoolwork. We have a few purple overlays and bookmarks. Just recently, I had an appointment to take her to the Irlen Institute. We were looking on Google Maps to see where it is in Long Beach. I was expecting a grand building, but it’s actually tiny. My husband thought that was odd, especially since Helen Irlen still works there. He also thought that it was peculiar that our daughter’s favorite color is purple, and purple is the only color that stops words from flying around on the page. I had heard that people usually gravitate to their color, so for me, that explained why it’s her favorite. So, anyway, my husband started looking into Helen Irlen more. She’s just a licensed family therapist, not a doctor. It’s called the “Irlen METHOD.” I found an article where someone was comparing the Irlen Method to an MLM company. My husband looked at the brain scans that they show on the Irlen website and found out that those types of brain scans were used just 30 years ago, which is when Irlen Syndrome was “discovered.” The more we looked into it, the more and more Irlen Syndrome just appeared to be pseudo-science to us. My husband, a registered behavior technician, told me that we could do a simple test on our daughter to see if Irlen Syndrome is real. I told him to go ahead but, he would be wrong. He took a clear laminator pocket sheet (unlaminated) and told our daughter that it’s a special Irlen overlay that it filters all of the colors. He printed out a story on white paper and had her read it. She said that the words were moving around, and her reading was very choppy. Then, he put the same paper in the new special Irlen filter (really just the laminator sheet). She was amazed. She said that the words stopped moving. The line was waving in place, and the words were still swapping places; for example, “the rabbit” looked like “rabbit the”, but to her, it worked better than the actual name brand Irlen filters. She had the same reaction that I see in the Irlen videos. I was shocked. I mean, really shocked! My jaw pretty much fell to the floor. I canceled our appointment with the Irlen Institute after that. So, what is my take-away from this? I believe that a filter (whatever color) gives people confidence and helps reduce stress, allowing them to focus more. It has a placebo effect. My daughter used to complain about bright lights and the words spinning, but after we told her that Irlen Syndrome isn’t real, she stopped. I’ll also add that my daughter has been going in for a vision therapy assessment with an actual optometrist. It’s 3 (1 hour) appointments. I found out that her right eye is 3 times stronger than her left eye. You should see her glasses…the left lens is very thick and she said that she can only see “fuzzy dots” in that eye without her glasses on. Her left eye also can’t see in 3D and has trouble tracking. I honestly believe the words flying around on the page and waving in place on the lines are NOT due to Irlen Syndrome but because of her visual perception issues. I highly suggest doing your research from both angles.

    Reply
    • Christine Strauss

      Katrina W, I can not agree more—-Irlen syndrome is not recognised by most medical professionals and is diagnosed only by a licensed Irlen diagnostician; personally believe it is a easy solution for schools to ignoring DYSLEXIA problem in the public schools…

      Reply
  2. Tammy

    You did a really good job of explaining this. Thank you.

    Reply
  3. Stacy

    Thanks for bringing attention to this. My daughter has both Irlen and dyslexia. This is why the Barton Spelling and Reading system prints its pages on blue paper. The blue filters helped my daughter a lot as did printing math/ reading material on blue paper. She also has the glasses but was too self conscious to wear them. I have Irlen as well and have the glasses for certain tasks such as night driving. If you are visually bothered by black and white stripe clothing- then you may have Irlen.

    Reply
  4. Alana

    Thank you for bringing attention to this, Marianne. Language-based dyslexia and Irlen syndrome specific visual processing disorder both need raised awareness and proper identification to help struggling readers. Accurate identification leads to appropriate interventions and positive outcomes.

    Reply

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