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Using Colored Overlays to Help Irlen Syndrome

written by: Margo Dill • edited by: Sarah Malburg • updated: 9/11/2012

Irlen Syndrome is commonly referred to as visual stress. It is when students have trouble reading black print on a white background. This is often a difficult problem to detect because teachers often do not have the tools to assess for this problem or knowledge of colored overlays to help students.

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    Irlen Syndrome and Testing

    Colored overlays for reading can help students with Irlen Syndrome. But first, you should understand what a student with this syndrome may see and how he can get a diagnosis.

    If you have students with Irlen Syndrome, they may complain of words looking blurry when they are reading a text book with white background and black text. They may also complain that words are moving on the page. You may see students with Irlen Syndrome rubbing or blinking their eyes often. They may also complain of headaches. Irlen Syndrome is not an optical problem; it is actually a visual processing problem.

    To test for Irlen Syndrome, you actually use colored overlays for reading. You can order a colored overlay assessment from the National Reading Styles Institute. This kit comes with 24 sample colored overlays for reading and a DVD, which instructs how to assess students for Irlen Syndrome. If you suspect one of your students has a problem with visual stress, it may be a good idea to have this kit available. Irlen Syndrome is often mis-diagnosed as dyslexia or a learning disability. Making the correct diagnosis for a student can often make a huge difference in his ability to overcome his reading difficulties.

    There are also centers that test for Irlen Syndrome located around the United States. If you have parents who are concerned about their child's diagnosis based on an assessment you did, you may want to let them know about these centers for further testing.

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    Helping Students with Irlen Syndrome

    Colored overlays for reading have been shown to help students with Irlen Syndrome see words more clearly when looking at a book. Colored overlays can also help your students read faster and reduce the stress and fatigue they felt with their visual stress before they used the colored overlays for reading.

    Basically, once you do the assessment, you will know which overlays work best for your student. Then, when the student is reading any black print on a white page, she will place the colored overlay, which looks like a colored transparency, over the words. You will want to ask your student questions the first few times she uses the colored overlay such as, "Are the words blurry with the blue overlay over the print?" "Are the words still moving?" "Does it look better with the color over the words or worse?"

    Some students will want to use colored overlays because they are "pretty" or they want to be like their friends who use them, so this is why you will want to ask the student questions to check that the method is working and actually helping a student with Irlen Syndrome.

    Colored overlays for reading are a simple and inexpensive solution to a problem that can hurt students' reading and language development for many years if the problem is not diagnosed and treated.