Struggling Readers?  Visual Stress?

Have you ever asked your child what the text looks to them?

It has been discovered that many of us see text differently – for some the words themselves may move or jump on the page, others describe color appearing on the page, while others say the lines “scrunch” or jumble together, as just a couple of examples! Would you not agree that being able to see text clearly is a fairly basic prerequisite of reading effectively?

This is where we should look towards our British counterparts, where this condition, known as visual stress is now widely known and recognized. Visual stress is a neurological condition characterized by hyperactivity of the brain’s visual cortex, whereby improper processing of visual information causes perceived distortions when viewing text. Amazingly it has been found to affect nearly 20% of the population; however the percentage is much greater in those with other learning disabilities such as Dyslexia.

This over-stimulation occurs when looking at text as a result of two things: firstly, the high contrast of the black text on a white page, and secondly the patterns that the lines of text create. The two combined cause what is called “pattern glare”. This pattern glare creates excess electrical activity in the visual cortex, which can creep into other areas of the brain, which in turn, creates the distortions.

For many, visual stress simply means that they do not like reading for prolonged periods, or they may get a headache after a while when reading, however for 5% of the population, visual stress can have such an effect that reading can become very difficult indeed.

Symptoms of visual stress vary, but can include headaches and migraines (especially when working at the computer), eyestrain, and words or letters appearing to “jump” or move on the page.

Some, or all, or the following can be noted while reading. Sufferers may:

  • Fatigue quickly when working with text, or seem to experience increased difficulty after an initial period of about 10 minutes
  • Skip words or lines when reading
  • Read slowly and haltingly and have difficulty absorbing information
  • Track with the finger
  • Yawn while reading or frequently rub their eyes
  • Keep moving their head or body position, or moving closer to or further away from the page

Visual Stress typically causes the following distortions of print, although not all of the following will necessarily be experienced by one person:

  • The print appears to jump or otherwise move on the page – sometimes appearing to move off the page altogether.
  • Swirling effects appear in the text.
  • Whole lines of text may appear to move.
  • Shimmering colors may appear on the page.
  • White “rivers” may seem to run down the page, where the white background, as opposed to the black text, has become the dominant image perceived.
  • Letters may double, reverse, fade or blur.

Basically the image of the letters and words is unstable against the white background, and this instability can be experienced in a number of ways.

So what can be done? Well fortunately there is a simple solution, which is to read in color!

It has been found that for each of us there are specific wavelengths of light which cause the most stimulation, and when these are filtered out by reading through the correct color overlay, it “calms” the brain down enough to process the information correctly, and fix the text in place – simple! The effective color is different for everyone, so assessing correctly is very important, as where yellow may help Jack, it may make things worse for Jill. Fortunately all that is required is a set of 10 overlays or Reading Rulers, of different colors, to systematically work through.

You may want to ask your child what the page looks like, and try reading through color!



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