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Visual Dyslexia Assessment

1. About Dyslexia

What is Dyslexia?

Some children and adults struggle with reading and writing, causing them to lag behind in certain subjects. The condition can be frustrating and distressing as the person is otherwise intelligent and there appears to be no apparent reason for the difficulty.

These individuals are regarded as having a specific reading difficulty, which is often called dyslexia.

The condition is quite common, but has often been missed due to a lack of awareness of the condition. Approximately 10% of the population are thought to have some degree of dyslexia, with boys being more affected than girls. Famous dyslexics include Einstein, Tom Cruise and Richard Branson.

What are the symptoms of Dyslexia?

The symptoms are many and varied and commonly include some or all of the following:

      • Skipping words or lines
      • Reading slowly or hesitantly
      • Jumping around of words and letters
      • Difficulty keeping track and frequently losing place
      • Dark, light or coloured patches appear
      • Letters changing shape or reversing eg ‘d’ appears as ‘b’
      • Blurring and doubling of letters or words
      • Sore eyes or head
      • Difficulty remembering what has been just read.
      • Sloping of the page or paragraph

What Causes Dyslexia?

It is not clear exactly what causes dyslexia and research is still on going. Recent studies indicate that there are a number of contributory reasons:

          • Inefficiencies in the wiring of the left hemisphere of the brain: this is thought to occur during the early childhood developmental period. It affects processing of information received by the brain.
          • Genetics: Dyslexia tends to run in families. This has led researchers to conclude that some people inherit genes that make certain nerve cells more vulnerable to adverse factors that affect the development of the cells.

Dyslexia is not linked to IQ or intelligence and it affects people of all racial and social backgrounds.

How Is Dyslexia Diagnosed?

Dyslexia Assessments are conducted by trained Educational Psychologists. They will run a series of Psychometric Tests that measure various attributes such as reading, spelling, memory, spatial and verbal skills. The results are compared against normal aged matched ones. Dyslexia is said to be present when there is a severe shortfall in the expected scores.

2.Visual Problems & Dyslexia

Eye problems themselves are not a cause of dyslexia, however they can be a contributory factor to the reading and writing difficulty.

There are two particular visual problems that seem to occur more often in dyslexics than in non dyslexics:

  • Difficulty maintaining focus at near tasks
  • Poor co-ordination of the two eyes

Because of this it is important that those who have the symptoms of, or are assessed as having a specific reading difficulty, undergo a Pre-Overlay Vision Assessment to check for the above two anomalies.

Pre-Overlay Vision Assessment

This is a detailed investigation that is concentrated on checking near vision focusing and co-ordination.

It is preceded by a standard Eye Examination.

The assessment checks for:

    • Latent Hyperopia (long sightedness): drops are instilled which prevent the focusing muscles from temporarily working for a few hours. This allows any residual hyperopia to be unmasked. Moderate and large degrees of latent Hyperopia can be missed during a routine examination, particularly in young children, as they are able to mask it due to very active muscle activity.
    • Accommodative Insufficiency: The eyes ability to change its internal lens power (accommodate) is measured. An inability to accommodate or maintain accommodation will lead to near vision fatigue and blur.
    • Binocular Co-Ordination: if the two eyes do not work in conjunction with one another a binocular instability is said to be present. Co-ordination problems are fairly common, but are frequently missed. Measurement of the severity and type of instability is undertaken and a treatment plan is formulated to correct or manage it. Most binocular co-ordination problems respond well to a combination of eye exercises, spectacles and prisms.

The correction of any underlying visual problems can often dramatically reduce symptoms in many individuals who are struggling with reading and writing. However those who are still having difficulties, or those in whom the pre-overlay Assessment did not identify any anomalies, are recommended to have a Coloured Overlay Assessment.

3. Coloured Overlays

Children who are symptomatic are said to be suffering from visual stress.

In some of these children it has been found that coloured filters or coloured lenses help the processing of information in the brain. Filters or lenses of a specific colour can eliminate completely or significantly improve symptoms.

Colour Therapy for Dyslexia

The use of colour to help with specific learning difficulties is backed up by considerable scientific research. Arnold Wilkins, Professor of Psychology at the University of Essex and Helen Irlen, an Educational Psychologist from California are two of the most prominent researchers in this field.

Professor Wilkins research showed that approximately 20% of children who suffer from visual stress are helped by placing coloured sheets of plastic film over the reading material. Full details of the study can be found Here.

Helen Irlens research in the 1980’s, led to her identifying a condition and naming it Meares-lrlen Syndrome. She describes it as a syndrome in which reading is hampered by distortions of print. The distortions are minimised when the text has a particular colour. The required colour is different for each individual.

Her work with adult students showed that some of them read with greater ease when they covered a page of print with a Coloured Overlay. She went on to develop a patented treatment method consisting of specially formulated overlays and lenses.

Coloured Overlay Screening

This identifies those children and adults who are helped by the use of coloured filters. It involves measuring the speed at which a child reads without any filters and comparing that ‘rate of reading’ with the rate when different coloured filters are put in place.

The City University Intiuitive overlays screener, a computer programme that has been accredited by the Institute of Optometry, London is used to assess the impact of different colours.

Some children show a distinct improvement, while for others there is no difference. The colour of any filters that do help will vary from individual to individual.

If the screening shows a statistically significant improvement in reading with a coloured filter an Overlay is issued to use at school and at home for one term. The progress is monitored regularly and if continual benefit is found, the filter is incorporated into spectacle lenses.

These spectacle lens filters differ from normal tints and are produced by a select number of specialist laboratories.

4. Case Study

See how the Jones family benefited from specialist vision therapy from Eye Academy

For years Sam and Paul Jones from Surrey suffered with an undetected eye condition that had a significant impact on their progress at school. Here mum Sue explains how she discovered that her two sons and husband all had the same disorder and why seeking professional help was the best thing she ever did.

"My two boys both attend a local independent junior school in Surrey. Sam, aged 9, the elder of the two is very creative and seems to have an amazing sense of balance - he was roller blading at 5 and could ride a bike at 3 without any help from mum and dad. Although he is bright in some ways, Sam struggled at school. He has a poor attention span and always found reading very difficult.

Sam was identified as a child with potential learning difficulties and the school recommended that we sought help from an educational psychologist. I was horrified at the prospect of my young son being labelled and I initially rejected the idea of seeking help preferring to see if I could get to the root of the problem myself.

The school had tried everything they could to help Sam. No amount of extra lessons or varying teaching techniques seemed to make any difference to his progress. There were major concerns on the school's part that they could not support Sam without the specialist teaching he may require.

By this point I was at my wits end. I came across The Eye Academy by chance and decided it was worth seeing if they could help Sam.

After talking to Romana Hashim, ophthalmic director at Eye Academy, Sam underwent a comprehensive 2 hour vision assessment. I was a bit worried that Sam would find the whole experience rather stressful. However, Romana quickly put Sam at ease and made him feel very comfortable.

When Sam was first assessed he had a reading speed of around 40 words per minute. Romana detected a genetic eye condition known as convergence excess with accommodative insufficiency - basically this means that the two eyes are not working together. The eye muscles become over active which causes images to move around on the page when reading. As a consequence Sam also has a reduced ability to focus at close hand which causes blurred vision.

Looking back on it now, I can see that a lot of Sam's problems stemmed from the fact that he could not actually see properly and this naturally hindered his ability to read.

I feel relieved that although we may not be able to change the data processing side of things - he is dyslexic and this has subsequently been confirmed by an educational psychologist - but at least we have been able to identify and resolve the bit we can fix - the underlying medical problem.

Sam now has a reading prescription and coloured filters which help rectify the problems he was experiencing. As a result he has better concentration and his reading speed has improved by 55%.

Although Sam's younger brother Paul is not dyslexic, he does have the same genetic eye condition, albeit to a lesser degree. He too experienced some difficulties and would talk of seeing rainbow colours on the page when trying to read. However, this time when the dreaded D words were mentioned - dyslexia, dyspraxia and dyscalculia, I immediately knew what to do. We had Paul assessed in the same way and now he has also benefited from similar therapy. Although Paul has only been wearing his special glasses for a short while, he has improved his reading speed from 47 to 90 words per minute in less than six months.

Romana suggested that as my two boys both had the same condition, the chances are that their dad had it too. So my husband, who up until this year had never read a book in his entire life, also underwent the same assessment. Now he too wears the special glasses. After spending years wondering how I could derive so much enjoyment from reading, he has become a convert himself and during the family holiday this year, for the first time ever, he read two books from cover to cover.

So how does my experience leave me feeling? In general, I think there seems to be a lack of awareness of the vision problems that may affect a child and what impact such a condition may have on a child's ability to develop educationally. Some eye conditions are more prevalent in dyslexics and it would be beneficial if there was more awareness about these too. It is very easy to label children and to get an educational psychologist involved at the first indication that there may be something amiss. I feel very strongly that as well as an assessment with an education psychologist the first step should also include a detailed vision assessment with a specialist optometrist.

Bringing in the expertise of a specialist has made a huge difference to my family and turned out to be the best decision I could have made. Both my children have significantly improved their reading skills and this has given them extra confidence which in turn affects them in so many different ways. My husband too is enjoying the pleasure of reading, so much so in fact that he has recently bought a Kindle!"