What is Visual Stress? – Sue Kerrigan

People with Visual Stress do not see a page of text the way it is written – with text all lined up neatly in rows.  For them, the text may be swirling in circles or running down the page like a waterfall with whole words or individual letters moving.  Along with these illusions they may also suffer from headaches, feeling sick or sore eyes when they read.  Visual Stress can also be the problem for people who frequently yawn whilst reading or use a finger to keep their place, rub their eyes or read slowly with poor comprehension.

Visual Stress, is very common among people diagnosed with dyslexia – around 35-40% of those with dyslexia also have visual stress.  In the general population the prevalence is thought to be around 5-20%. It also has many different names: Visual Dyslexia, Scoptic Sensitivity, Meares-Irlen or Irlen Syndrome and Binocular Amblyopia.

I suffer from Visual Stress and as a child I experienced sickness and a stuffy head whilst reading.  I experience letters swapping places and I also see halos around words.  I find it hard to read black text on a very white background and even harder to look at white text on a black background because I see the line spaces above and below the white text as shining halo lines.  Using my finger to read helps.  The spaces between the text stand out more than the words I am reading, I have learnt to not be distracted by these space patterns but as a child instead of reading I would play games chasing the patterns down the page.

You can go on the web and see some videos illustrating Visual Stress here: http://blog.letmelearn.co.uk/what-is-visual-stress/

If you think you, your child or a child in your class has visual stress there is a screening test available:   http://colouredlensesandvisualstress.com/screening-test/     If the test indicates visual stress then it is well worth discovering if the use of colour decreases the symptoms as this is often the case. There is a very inexpensive way of finding out if using a tint over the text will make a difference.  Try a pack of coloured reading rulers (overlays).  If they help then other products are also available e.g. coloured lined paper. See: http://www.letmelearn.co.uk/product-category/visual-stress/


If coloured overlays are helpful then you will further benefit by going to a specialist optician (optometrist) who is able to test for Visual Stress along with the standard sight test. In Hampshire, Leighton’s, Owen Leigh and Wingate’s Opticians are able to provide this service and you can find other opticians: http://colouredlensesandvisualstress.com/providers-of-coloured-lens/                 Specialist opticians will be able to provide you with coloured glasses to wear that reduce the symptoms of visual stress. You may find that there is a difference between the overlay tint you find most helpful and the glasses tint you find most helpful.

This is Michelle Doyle’s story about her son and her on going fight to get NHS funding.   “After years with my son Aaron struggling with his reading and writing and being given the impression that he was lazy in class, in Nov 2009 at the age of eleven, my son was given a coloured overlay by a teacher at his primary school.

After I questioned him about this I was shocked and extremely surprised to find out that when he looked at a page of writing it moved around the page. I spoke to his optician and was informed my son has Visual Stress.  He needed two pairs of glasses: one for severe long sightedness and a coloured pair for his Visual Stress. The NHS would not contribute to the cost of the coloured glasses.
I got in touch with the local Primary Care Trust and after about 6 months I finally managed to get his distance vision prescription put into his coloured lenses.

I contacted my MP who wrote to the Secretary of State for Health and the Chief Executive for NHS in my area.  The replies basically told me what I already knew: that vouchers will not cover the cost of tinted lenses – only the prescription lens. I do not feel that the question of funding for children with visual stress was answered at all.

My MP wrote to the Group Director for Social Care and Learning. His reply gave me the impression that he didn’t have a clue what I was talking about. I also got in touch with the Education Dept. for Disabled Children.  They then referred me to The Visual Impairment Coordinator for my area. Even she had to research Visual Stress before she got back to me!

To raise awareness of Visual Stress and the need for funding from the NHS I have started a group on Facebook called ‘Parents of Kids with Visual Stress’.   Our members can discuss the problems that they are having and also get ideas of how to tackle things from other people. We are there to support each other with our fight.

I also have an e-petition running for the funding of tinted lenses for Visual Stress: http://www.causes.com/actions/1677167 I need to get 100,000 signatures for it to be discussed in Parliament. The more votes that we can get the quicker the help can be put in place to help our children.

Testimonials Courtesy of Wingate’s Optician’s in Portsmouth: “As the test and lenses for glasses was very expensive we felt that my son should try the overlay for a while before we could make the decision to get a pair of glasses. After some time the difference was very noticeable, my son’s confidence had grown and we felt that we should make the investment in the glasses to help him further. I must say they have been fantastic, my son uses them in all his school work including reading the board, working on computers, reading books, all writing and maths.”

“Since she has started wearing these glasses her reading age has shot up to nearly where it should be and her confidence and self esteem has improved.”

“The glasses I have been given have given me confidence and passion in reading, which doesn’t sound like a big deal, but for me to achieve reading a whole book cover to cover is the biggest achievement for me.”

Testimonial from a Parent:                                                                                              “I think the confidence that the coloured overlay has given my daughter is amazing. She is now focused, motivated and her new love of reading is amazing. If only she had received a diagnosis earlier, that’s why this fight is so important not only for our children, but for those out there that may now be diagnosed earlier.”  Mrs L Guinane.

For further information see: http://www.bdadyslexia.org.uk/about-dyslexia/further-information/eyes-and-dyslexia.html                                                                                                                           http://www.dyslexic.com/vision                                                                                                    Sue Kerrigan.