Are blue overlays helpful?
Coloured overlays are usually helpful to a student when they are experiencing visual stress. You can usually identify visual stress in relation to reading when reading is slower, inefficient and erroneous.
There are a number of ways in which you can start to look out for visual stress indicators but it is a qualified optician who should make the diagnosis. There are also a number of coloured overlay ranging from yellows, greens, blues, purples and pinks and each individual will require their own specific colour to reduce the stress. Again this should be identified by a behavioural optician but you can use some techniques at home and school too. You can find a behavioural optometrist and more about visual stress here
As a dyslexia assessor I will often not only conduct tests and use the standardised scores but also observe the types of errors a student makes whilst reading. Timed tests can also produce a different response to untimed reading tests. In a timed reading test we look to see the student’s automated response. Also non-word reading tests can also provide some valuable information. Many students learn to read by whole word recognition and know ‘what the word looks like’. Think of a child who is a pre reader, they can’t read the word ‘McDonalds’ but when they see the sign they know what it says, as they’ve probably got a semantic link to that word and heard a few times when pointing to the sign. The same happens with reading, sometimes a student will learn the word through whole word recognition and being told what the word says. Therefore they don’t have to truly decode the word. Therefore if we present students with non-words or nonsense words they then have to use decoding skills. In other words, break the word down, labeling letters and giving them a sound.
This is sometimes where we start to see ‘b/d’ or ‘p/b’ even ‘w/m’ start to be reversed and transposed. It’s almost like a mirror action is taking place. We can also start to see letters in words become transposed, the typical example ‘was/saw’.
On other occasions we might see words or even lines omitted when reading and unable to track a sentence, without using a pen or underlying with a piece of paper etc. Often we talk about print dancing, but that’s not always the case for everyone. Some people see the rivers of white paper between the text.
I’ll often get asked if these letters being transposed and reversed diagnoses dyslexia. The simple answer is ‘no’. As a stand alone difficulty we would not say this is dyslexia, yes it can be a characteristic of that, along with other clusters of difficulties. However I would always strongly recommend a full diagnostic dyslexia test and certainly a visit to a behavioural optometrist.
Another test which assessors can use is SDMT (Symbol Digit Modalities). This is an excellent test to identify visual processing speed, when not linked to letters and reading and also very quickly identifies if students are struggling to focus on shapes. The shapes in this test are mirrored and often students will label the shapes incorrectly or need to spend some time focusing on the shapes and the time to complete the test is then very slow.
Crossbow Education have also developed a visual stress test and are the the developers of the coloured reading ruler. The reading rulers are a wonderful classroom and home resource. As soon as I identify a student is struggling I trial the various coloured overlays to identify which colour helps to relive some visual stress. Sometimes it can be hard to know which colour is best, as sometimes a student may say a particular colour is best because it’s their favourite colour. However overlaying it on some text and asking then to try to read can often see immediate benefits. I also tend to look for facial expressions, as at times you can see that ‘light bulb’ moment. On other occasions I go through the colours making a pile of ‘maybe’ and ‘no’, then go back through the ‘maybe’ pile to compare colours. Sometimes you will begin to see the ‘maybe’ pile is all from the same colour, i.e. pink/purples. They won’t be a magic cure for every child but it’s worth taking 10-15 minutes to check all the colours, as blue is not the answer for every child.
If you’ve identified a particular colour is more suitable for a student remember this only supports reading. It’s likely that the student may have visual stress when writing and this may be displayed by letter reversals, transposed letters and poor handwriting. Therefore it’s always best to provide coloured paper pads to write on too. The same colour as the overlay. Where possible also change the colour background on computers and interactive white boards.
In another article I’ll talk about my own visual processing difficulties and how it affected me. click here
Some of the symptoms of visual stress can be:
Reading Related Signs
- Text appears to move, words may move together becoming unrecognizable
- Individual words my blur, float or have a halo around them
- Lines of text may ripple, see-saw up and down, become wavy, shaky, washout or swirl around
- Headache or migraines from reading
- Fatigue quickly when working with text
- Problems copying from the board
- Skip words or lines when reading
- Movement of the head or body during reading—moving closer to or further away from the page
- Reading slowly and haltingly and difficulty absorbing information
- Tracking words with a finger
- Problems with depth perception such as judging distance or height
- Discomfort with fluorescent lighting
- Discomfort using computer screens
- Discomfort with busy patterns, particularly horizontal stripes
- Discomfort with sharp contrasts such as black text on white paper
To read more about this interesting aspect of learning click here