Visual Stress

Visual stress and visual processing problems

Some children experience sensitivity to light. For example, bright white paper with black writing can appear distorted and hard to read. That is why the I Can Spell workbooks are printed on cream coloured paper, and this website has the facitilty to change the background colour at the top right hand side of the main page to reduce glare.

Many people aren’t aware that a child might be experiencing visual distortion, as the symptoms are very different to being long or short sighted. If your child’s eyesight is good and he still seems to be having difficulty focusing or following the written word, or if your child is complaining of headaches, it is important to refer them to a doctor first and then to an optimetrist. Conservative statistics suggest that more than 10% of children suffer from undiagnosed visual perception problems.

The eyes are not the main source of the problem, it is the way the brain perceives and interprets information. So it is important to be checked out by an Optimetrist or a certified Irlen Diagnostician, as it is not an optical problem, and routine eye tests do not show up this problem.

An optimetrist (not optician) will firstly establish that the eyes are healthy and there is no significant refractive error by undertaking a Behavioural Optometric Assessment, which investigates the efficiency of functional visual skills needed for today’s learning environment.

A Behavioural Optometric Assessment yields a more holistic picture than a routine eye test and provides maximum understanding of the role that vision is playing in the general development and learning of your child. The assessment is based on a behavioural or developmental understanding of vision and its interaction with the other sensory-motor systems of the body.

There is also a syndrome, known as Irlen® syndrome or Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome , that can be a part of the problem for children and adults who have eye problems, or symptoms of dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADD/ADHD, Asperger’s, Autism, chronic fatigue syndrome, behaviour and emotional problems, migraine or headaches. The Irlen® organisation in the UK provides this explanation:

“Having Irlen Syndrome prevents many people from reading effectively and efficiently. The problems are caused by the way in which the brain interprets the visual information that is being sent through the eyes. Individuals with Irlen Syndrome perceive reading material and/or their environment differently. They must constantly make adaptations or compensate for their eye problems.” [i] The Irlen Institute website ( has a facility to search across the whole world for a test centre near you.

If your child is found to have a problem with tracking, visual processing, perceptual problems or Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome, visual therapy and sometimes coloured tinted lenses are prescribed to correct and improve binocular, oculomotor, visual processing and perceptual disorders.

For other children who experience this difficulty, it might be as simple as using cream-coloured paper, dark blue print or a plastic coloured overlay reading ruler to reduce or eliminate glare that causes some readers to experience these perceptual difficulties.


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