Do you have visual stress?
A visual stress quick checklist:
Do you or your child:
- Tire quickly when working with text?
- Have difficulty copying from the board?
- Seem to experience increased difficulty reading after an initial period of about 10 minutes?
- Keep adjusting their head or body position, or moving nearer or further away from the page?
- Read slowly and without fluency?
- Track the text with their finger?
- Yawn whilst reading?
If any of these points are noticeable it is likely that trying a tinted overlay may improve you or your child’s speed of reading. The most affordable way to do this is to purchase a pack of the plain reading rulers, lay them side by side in turn on a piece of text, if the text seems clearer or reading is more comfortable with one of them, choose that one to read with. Once you have tested the different coloured tints and have ascertained which colour is right for you, use the one you prefer for a few weeks. You will have a good idea after that if you have the right colour and if you wish to buy any other items: plain and duo reading rulers, coloured overlays and monitor overlays.
Some questions that may be helpful to ask your child:
- “Do the letters stay still or do they move?”
- “Are the letters clear or are they fuzzy/blurred?”
- “Is the page too bright, not bright enough or just about right?”
- “Does it hurt your eyes to look at the page or is it OK?”.
- “After you have been reading for a while, do the words or letters do anything different?“
Reports of movement, blurring and glare are more likely in children who would benefit from overlays
We would always stress that you should see a school vision practitioner (www.schoolvision.org.uk) should you find that a colour works particularly well for you or your child, they are familiar with the use of coloured lenses and will check there are no underlying eye problems.
There is a Society for Coloured Lens Providers: They provide a list of recommended practitioners following an agreed code of conduct.
What is visual stress?
Describing visual stress to a non-sufferer is a little difficult: sometimes you may notice that someone is wearing a really stripy top and it feels uncomfortable to look at and might make your eyes go ‘a little bit funny’. Many individuals with visual stress experience similar feelings when they look at text. Visual stress describes the discomfort some people feel when looking at text for long periods. Our tolerances for repeating shapes, high contrasts and brightness are each slightly different. Visual stress refers to discomfort and print distortion brought about by pattern glare. It is also known as visual dyslexia and scotopic sensitivity.
The term visual stress is sometimes used to refer to the collection of symptoms and signs of visual fatigue when reading that are reduced when colour is used as therapy.
Visual Stress might not be seen as a serious problem until it comes to coping with small black text on a white background or volumes of reading. Many children who suffer from visual stress are unaware that they see the page differently to others.
What are the symptoms of visual stress?
Below are some symptoms that may indicate visual stress. (This list is for guidance only, and is not proof of visual stress)
- Words or letters may appear to move or jump on the page, letters may have a back to front appearance, may shimmer or shake
- Words or letters may fade or blur, often going out of focus, become darker or flash
- Letters may seem to change size
- Patterns may appear in the dark print or the white spaces
- You may feel tiredness during and after reading, dizzy or even nauseous
- Headaches, often frequent, may occur from reading. Regular migraines (especially when working at a computer)
- You may find it easier to read large, widely spaced print, than small and closely printed text.
- Words or letters may break into two and appear as double.
- You might experience difficulty with tracking across the page, losing your place
- You may feel uncomfortable in the bright daylight, sunlight or under fluorescent lighting conditions
- Glare on the page might be upsetting to you, most noticeably with black print on bright white paper
- You might experience sore eyes when reading, often rubbing them during or after reading, experiencing eye strain
- You might blink excessively
In some cases any of these symptoms can significantly affect a persons ability to read. It can also make reading very tiring. Note: A child may not recognise what they see as a problem, as this is how they have always seen text.
Research has shown that around 20% of the population suffer, to varying degrees, from visual stress (around 5% of the population are severely affected). Reading through an overlay of the right colour can reduce the symptoms or remove them altogether. Overlays enable more fluent reading with less discomfort and fewer headaches.
Recent studies indicate that visual stress is more prevalent in people with dyslexia than in the rest of the population
The symptoms of physical stress can be similar to those caused by other physical eye conditions e.g. undiagnosed short or long sight or binocular vision problems. Therefore, any person experiencing visual stress should be examined by an optometrist. Nonetheless, visual stress can remain, despite correction of refractive error and treatment of binocular problems.
Why does colour work?
Research indicates that the discomfort when looking at the print and the related symptoms of visual stress in reading difficulties are due to a hyper-excitability of neurones in the visual cortex. Some of the cells in the brain that process visual information work too fast and don’t respond in the way they should.
Some cells in the visual cortex are colour sensitive and so, by placing a colour in front of the eye; the pattern of excitation can be changed: the colour helps to slow and calm these cells thereby quietening the pattern and reducing the visual stress.
The colour needed to reduce this hyper-excitability is individual to each person.
Statistical data from recent studies has shown that 5% of children in mainstream schools read at least 25% more quickly with coloured overlays (Wilkins, 2002).
Visual stress products include:
Our visual stress products are made by Crossbow Education. Their products are designed using the findings of the research from the Department of Psychology at Essex University. They are the visual stress products most commonly chosen by UK schools.
They are made from transparent PET and enable you to read longer and with less stress. All our visual stress products are available in the same colour range which include: Yellow, Celery, Grass, Jade, Aqua, Sky, Purple, Magenta, Pink, Orange and NEW Grey (only available in the A4 overlays and virtual type-thru monitor overlays at present).
Reading rulers: There are two types of reading rulers: Duo window reading rulers and Plain window reading rulers.
Duo reading rulers: are divided into a narrow reading window and a wide reading window by an opaque strip. People who have difficulties keeping their focus on the line being read find this design useful. Focus can be further confined by taping paper over the wide transparent window a quarter of an inch below the opaque part of the ruler, so that all words except the present line are completely blocked out. The rulers can be trimmed to fit in books or even cut in half to keep in a small dictionary.
The Eye Level Reading Ruler is a coloured overlay filter and text highlighter about the size of an eight-inch ruler. It is discreet and professional-looking and can be kept in a book as a bookmark for easy storage.
The Duo reading ruler is made of a combination of opaque and transparent plastic that both underlines the text and highlights it in a coloured tint. Simply read the text through either of the tinted plastic strips of your selected colour, and track down the page: broad strip for paragraphs; narrow strip for single lines.
Plain window reading rulers: are the same size, price and colours as the Duo Window reading rulers, but with only one window and a tracking line half an inch from the edge. They have no opaque strip in the middle. Confident readers who struggle with visual stress often prefer plain because there is no interruption to the flow of text, allowing them to read ahead easily.
Page overlays: Full sized coloured overlays can be useful; in an exam or revision, and research where you are glancing around the page and going back and forth to the same page. It can just be left in place over the whole page. Other useful applications are for reading sheet music and machining patterns. Overlays can be easily cut in half to use with smaller pages or to keep in dictionaries and other reference books. In the workplace, page overlays are perfect for invoices and copy typing.
Monitor overlays: You can change the background colour in your windows preferences, but you can’t change the background colour of a web page, such as the “google” page. Monitor overlays deal with this, and also the glare from the surface of the screen itself. Crossbow monitor overlays simply stick to the screen by static electricity, effectively reducing the glare, allowing you to work comfortable for much longer periods of time.
Virtual Type-Thru Overlays: The virtual overlay will tint the screen of the monitor any colour you like from 2 million colours. It will not deal with the surface glare like a monitor overlay does but it does give flexibility if more than one person uses the computer. Many people find it sufficient for their needs. You also don’t need to worry about scratching your monitor overlays.
Crossbow Education Visual Stress Assessment pack – School Edition: Suitable for all schools and children aged 6-18. A complete guide to testing for visual stress in schools: contains full instructions for testing for visual stress. No prior experience needed. Contains directions on how to deal with the results and where to get help. Contains 2 sets of A5 Crossbow overlays to do the test, photocopiable leaflets for parents, classrooms, staff rooms etc.
How should an overlay be used?
- Simply place the sheet over the page, when reading. You may want to cut your overlay down to A5 size if you normally use if for reading books.
- Try both the matt and the glossy side to see which side you prefer, and use the side you like best.
- Position the text to avoid reflections from the surfaces of the overlay caused by lighting
- The overlays can be used as often as you like, wherever it is helpful
- You can touch the overlay in order to point when reading
- There may not be a difference straight away as the improvement may only show after 10 minutes or so of reading, when fatigue would normally have set in. Your experience will vary depending on lighting conditions, style and size of print etc.
Care of your coloured overlays and reading rulers:
- Coloured overlays can scratch and the colours wear off and so care should be taken. Don’t slide them across the table as they may pick up a small piece of grit underneath which may damage the surface.
- Keep your overlay free from creases, being careful how you pick it up, don’t let it flap around.
- Keep your overlay in a sturdy envelope when not in use.
- Use a soft, clean glasses lens cloth to clean your overlay, using just soapy water. Do not use window cleaner, methylated spirit or any chemicals on your coloured overlay.
References: Wilkins, A.J. (2002). Coloured overlays and their effects on reading speed: A review. Ophthalmic and Psychological. Crossbow Education (2015). What is visual stress, and How can you reduce it?
Copyright. Fantastic Dyspraxic, 2015. Author: Lisa Bochenek.