Optical Solution; Bringing a Little Colour into Your Life Can Help with Reading Problems

Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland), July 30, 2003 | Go to article overview

Optical Solution; Bringing a Little Colour into Your Life Can Help with Reading Problems


Byline: Dr Sarah Brewer

SOME children and adults experience difficulty with reading due to visual distortion when looking at a page of print.

The letters may appear to move around, become jumbled or blurred or seem to fall off the edge of the page.

At the same time, reading words printed on bright white paper may cause glare, eyestrain and even headaches.

Not surprisingly, this visual discomfort and distortion can interfere with the ability to read, yet children may assume these distortions are normal and not mention them unless asked a specific question such as "what happens to the letters and words after you've been reading for a while?"

If your child has a reading difficulty for which no obvious cause has been found, it's possible that using coloured overlays or even coloured lenses may help.

This idea was first suggested in 1980, when New Zealand educationalist Olive Meares found that placing coloured transparent sweet wrappers on the page helped children with reading difficulties such as dyslexia cope more easily.

Her suggestion was initially dismissed, but the use of coloured overlays has now been shown to reduce eye strain, visual distortions and improve reading fluency in as many as one in five children.

In some of these children, the speed of reading is increased by more than a quarter, which means that instead of reading four pages of text in a given amount of time, they can manage five.

Before using coloured acetates, however, Bill Hay - behavioural optometrist at the Aberdeen Vision Therapy Centre - says it is vital that a child has a proper eye check.

He said: "We need to ensure the child's visual system is working properly and that focus, eye movements and visual acuity are all normal.

"Often there is a problem that can be treated without the use of coloured overlays. If nothing abnormal is found, we might look to see if a coloured overlay might help."

Most optometrists will only test a child aged eight and over. A number of transparent overlays are available. These are placed one at a time on a page of text to see which the child finds most comfortable.

The child is asked to read words as part of the Wilkinson's rate of reading test, which is usually carried out four times - twice with the overlay and twice without, to see if the colour helps. …

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