A Quick History Lesson
In 1980 a school teacher in New Zealand, by the name of Olive Meares noticed that some of her class read better when using yellow coloured paper. She wrote this up in a teaching journal and nothing much came of it. Latter in the 90’s a Psychologist in America by the name of Helen Irlen also noticed that the use of coloured filters improved children’s reading speeds. She called the condition Irlen Syndrome. In the UK the condition has been thoroughly researched and championed by Professor Arnold Wilkins who, along with fellow researchers have given us the wealth of knowledge and treatment techniques we have today. In recognition of Olive Meares’ and Helen Irlen’s work the condition has been formally named Meares-Irlen Syndrome. More recently the scientific community has pushed for a further renaming to Meares-Irlen Syndrome – Visual Stress (MIS/VS) or even simply just Visual Stress as it more clearly describes what it is.
What is Visual Stress?
Visual Stress is a condition in which people’s brains are overly responsive to striped patterns or flashing lights due to their specific spatial contrast frequency (the amount of times something changes from black to white, or visa-versa). Many people notice the effect when reading, especially under fluorescent lighting, some on long downward escalators and others can even notice it from patterns on clothing or paintings.
Reading is a visually demanding task at the best of times. In someone who has visual stress it can become even harder. Interestingly text can be broken down into not just horizontal lines of words but actually the lines within the words themselves. This means that some fonts and some words are harder for people to read than others. One famous example from recent research shows that the word mum is in fact a highly stressful word.
The most common signs and symptoms of Visual Stress are:
- Glare from the page / Page being too bright
- Headaches when reading
- Sore eyes when reading
- Movement/blurring of print
- Rubbing of the eyes
- Excessive blinking when reading
- Poor concentration – Fidgetiness when reading
- Inefficient reading
- Losing place when reading
How we can help?
After more than 20 years of research we now have more accurate methods of alleviating the symptoms cause by Visual Stress (it’s important to note we still can’t “fix” the underlying hyperexcitability but we can alleviate it’s effect). The diagnosis of visual stress is achieved through the use of Pattern Glare testing and by eliminating the presence of other ocular conditions which can cause similar symptoms.
If visual stress is present then an overlay assessment, either with the physical overlays or using the modern computer software equivalent, is perfomed as a further screening to assess if it is the form of visual stress which will benefit from the use of coloured filters. After a prognostic trial with a chosen overlay Intuitive Colorimetry can be carried out to diagnose the exact parameters of the precision tint which are usually prescribed in the form of spectacles. For more on Colorimetry please see the colorimetry section.
David Fleischmann has a decade of experience in the treatment and management of visual stress including as a Specialist Visiting Clinician at the prestigious Institute of Optometry. He is Fellow of the International Institute of Colorimetry (http://www.colorimetryinstitute.org), a Member of the Society for Coloured Lens Prescribers (S4CLP.org) and has published research in this area. In addition to his own interests in this areas he gives talks to local educationalist groups and works closely with SENCOs to ensure clear pathways are laid out for children and young adults with this condition. He is lead optometrist for the Paediatric and Squint Clinic at Central Middlesex Hospital.
For more information simply get in touch.