Visual Stress or Meares-Irlen Syndrome, (also known as Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome) is the term used to describe a number of symptoms which make reading difficult and often unpleasant. Most sufferers have a 'pick and mix' selection of symptoms ranging from mild to severe, symptoms become more pronounced after 10 minutes of reading:
Symptoms of Meares-Irlen Syndrome:
· Blurring of print.
· ‘Squashed up’ print .
· Movement of print – wiggling or vibration of letters.
· Letters muddling or words ‘falling off the page’.
· Letters changing or doubling.
· Letters fading or becoming darker.
· Patterns appearing in the print.
· Illusions of colour – blobs of colour moving on the page.
· Nausea, discomfort or even pain caused by glare from the page.
· Rivers of light snaking through the text (often described as waterfalls).
· Headaches, tired or sore eyes.
· Rubbing eyes.
· Excessive blinking or looking away from the page.
· Tiring quickly. Concentration may be poor and attention span may be short.
· Poor assimilation of reading text.
· Losing place easily.
· Poor spelling.
· Misreading words.
· Speed or rate of reading is slower than expected for intelligence level.
Coloured overlays are rectangles of thin coloured plastic. Coloured overlays are designed to be placed over a page of a book or any other written material. They come in a wide selection of colours and can be doubled up (one on top of another) to create stronger, darker colours.
Place the overlay over the text you are reading. The overlay must be flat to the page with no air bubbles underneath, they must not be creased, bent or written on as this will make it too difficult to read through them.
So many people grow up with no idea that they have Meares-Irlen Syndrome.
Often sufferers are all too aware that they read more slowly than their peers but are at a loss to explain why. For some, it is only after seeing text through a prescribed overlay that they can appreciate the extent of their own symptoms.
It is estimated that 20% of the population would benefit from coloured overlays, and for 5% using colour to read would make a dramatic difference to their education.
Symptoms become worse the longer a person reads, as eyes get tired, so many people avoid reading for long periods of time or may prefer magazines or comic books that are easier to read than full pages of small print.
Many sufferers are unaware that the way in which they see text is not 'the norm'. After all, the visual distortions have always been there, some days they may be worse than others, some print styles in books are easier to read than others, but this can be dismissed as tiredness or lack of enthusiasm.
The right colour of overlay will minimise symptoms for the user. This allows the user to read more quickly and also for longer. One headmistress said ' overlays are all about eye-comfort' which is an excellent way to describe the reduction of visual perceptual distortions.
The aim of an assessment is to discover if a person has any symptoms of Meares-Irlen Syndrome, if they do, it is essential that the correct colour of overlay is prescribed. Some colours can make symptoms worse while others can be very helpful in alleviating them, each person is different. Professional procedures are followed to prescribe the optimum colour.
Signs and Symptoms will be established
A wide selection of overlays representing the colour spectrum will be used
The final choice of colour will be 'doubled up' to fine tune the shade (double overlays are not always required but the patient will be given the opportunity to select them if they are more effective than a single shade).
The test can take up to 1 hour because it is subjective the patient should be allowed to take their time to ensure that they are confident and happy with their final choice of overlay. The assessor is there to help to guide the patient through the selection process making sure that symptoms and distortions are eliminated as much as possible.
Meares-Irlen Syndrome (MIS) is a perception disorder it is not a learning difficulty like dyslexia. Some of the symptoms are the same but the treatment differs greatly. MIS is not connected to dyslexia, a person can have either condition or even both at the same time. MIS is treated with overlays or tinted glasses, dyslexia is treated through varying techniques such as multi-sensory learning and brain gym.
If you or your child has dyslexia there are some very useful contacts and information in our 'useful info' section at the top of the page.
People often say that coloured overlays are for dyslexia - they are not! Coloured overlays are for the treatment of MIS which is a more common eye condition, in the same way that short sighted people wear glasses to correct their vision, people with MIS use colour to correct their vision.
Coloured overlays are designed specifically to read with, the advantage of glasses is that you can wear them to write with too. Tinted glasses can be worn to limit the glare from fluorescent lighting and white boards. They can be also useful when working at a PC monitor, even for supermarket shopping to read product labels and write cheques - the list is endless!
Generally, it is advisable that people (most particularly children) try out their overlay first for a couple of months to establish how beneficial they are to them, before investing in tinted glasses.
The colour of your tinted glasses will rarely be the same colour as your overlay because the brain processes the effects of overlays and glasses in different ways. When using an overlay, your eyes are adapted to white light, but while wearing tinted glasses your eyes are adapted to everything being coloured not just the page of a book.
The test needed to prescribe the colour for the lenses is done with a machine called The Intuitive Colorimeter (for more information: www.ceriumvistech.co.uk and www.essex.ac.uk/psychology/overlays . The machine emulates what it would be like to read text while wearing coloured glasses, it is possible to choose from thousands of shades and hues to arrive at the optimum colour for you lenses.
They can be worn whenever a person feels they will benefit from the colour, they don't have to be worn all the time. Children may need a gentle reminder to put them on (just as they often need reminding to wear prescription lenses) but it is best left to the wearer's judgement.
No, the tests are quite different, it is very possible for a people with Meares-Irlen Syndrome to have perfect vision. Prescription lenses do not help to elevate the symptoms of Meares-Irlen Syndrome, it is colour that makes the difference.
Some colours aggravate symptoms, many people find that the colours they have always disliked and avoided are the ones that cause them the most discomfort. For this reason it is important that the correct colour of overlay is prescribed - not just a case of trying out a couple of colours.
The long -term effects of wearing tinted glasses are not known at the moment.
Research is still on going, but there is evidence that Meares-Irlen runs in families, it is strongly advised that other family members are tested if a child or parent is found to have the condition.
In the same way that prescription glasses are used to 'cure' short-sightedness, coloured overlays are used to minimise visual distortions. Overlays are not a cure, they are an aid just as glasses are. It would appear that if children are identified early enough and helped with the use of coloured overlays or tinted glasses they may 'grow out' of the need to use colour. This is not always the case though.