Not a lot of people are aware of the benefits of colour on their page when reading. Some learners complain that they don’t like reading and that reading are boring and/or difficult. They easily get tired and just does not want to read. I hope that you might have new insight in the benefits of colour after reading this passage. Please also visit the website: for more information.  

  1. What is Irlen syndrome?

Irlen syndrome is a visual perceptual problem, rather than a vision problem. It affects mainly writing- and reading activities.

Learners affected by this have difficulty processing full spectrum light efficiently, and thus experience perceptual distortions. It is a complex, changeable condition, which many times occur in combination with other learning- or reading disabilities, hyperactivity, attention distractions or dyslexia.

Irlen sufferers have to concentrate more and experiences more difficulty with reading, because they perceive letters and words differently than ordinary readers. They must continually stress themselves to adapt to distortions of the printed text, or the white background.

Genetic transmission plays a great role in the neurological problem. There’s a strong chance that one parent also suffers from this syndrome.

  1. What is the relationship between dyslexia and Irlen Syndrome?

According to statistics one out of ten people suffers from dyslexia and / or a type of learning disability. About half of the group suffers varying grades of Irlen Syndrome.

Irlen sufferers are frequently classified plainly as dyslexic.

Dyslexic adults without Irlen perceive a page similarly, irrelevant of how long they have been reading. In contrast, Irlen sufferers struggle to form a constant image of a page and experiences reading more stressful the longer they do it.

  1. What is the role of coloured lenses – is it the solution?

Helen Irlen came forward with coloured filters in the form of lenses and overlays in the early 1980’s.

One of the theories behind the coloured lenses is that it sharpens the contrast between the background and letters.

About 98% of Irlen symptoms can be alleviated by using lenses, but because this is a syndrome, a person never gets rid of it completely.

4. How do I recognise if my child struggles with a possible Irlen Syndrome?

The learner with possible Irlen Syndrome will show the following symptoms:

  • Poor depth perception: The disability to estimate distance and space correctly. This causes problems with, for instance, escalators, steps, ball sports and driving a vehicle.
  • Light sensitivity: Intense light, fluorescent lighting, sunlight or halos around headlights of oncoming vehicles affect the learner. It is uncomfortable to concentrate and work under intense lighting conditions.
  • Problems with contrast: The learner has problems to read on a white, high gloss paper. The paper is uncomfortably bright, looks as if it “breaths’ or shines and blocks comfortable reading.
  • Problems with printed text: The learner struggles to read letters, numbers or music notes. Problems include: print that moves around, shakes, duplicates, vanishes, flickers or fades with time.
  • Restricted span of recognition: The learner finds it difficult to read letters, numbers, words or music notes in groups. This prevents him to keep a spot on the page, identify words correctly and to speed-read.
  • Lack of sustained attention: The learner concentrates with difficulty while he/she is reading or doing schoolwork. The learner cannot keep busy with one task for long, takes breaks regularly, looks up from the page constantly and gets restless, tired or fidgety quickly.
  1. What are the common things to look out for to confirm a suspicion of Irlen Syndrome?


     Your child will display the following:

  • Prefers reading in dim light.
  • Perceives white background of page as overwhelmingly bright.
  • Avoids reading.
  • Reads slowly or hesitant.
  • Poor reading comprehension.
  • Cannot read continuously.
  • Writing inclines down- or upward.
  • Careless mistakes in mathematics.
  • Mistakes in copying text.
  • Experiences words “jumping” from the page.
  • Skips words or phrases.
  • Read words inaccurately.
  • Uneven spacing of letters.
  • Headaches / nausea.
  • Problems with reading music.
  1. The way ahead
  • If you suspect that your child shows symptoms of Irlen syndrome, assessment by an “Irlen screener” is suggested.
  • If it is confirmed that your child suffers from Irlen syndrome, he/she is referred for an eye assessment – do not order the lenses immediately, before an Irlen diagnostician can assess the learner.
  • Thereafter a specialized person does the lens assessment. I am one of the two diagnosticians in Pretoria: Leanne Greeff  in Montana:  012 547 0952
  • The prescription is then processed in South Africa (Irlen Lab SA in Lynnwood Glen).  While waiting for the lenses the learner must use coloured overlays for reading any printed work.
  • Furthermore it is preferable to copy the learner’s work on the given colour to better comprehension and concentration.
  • Most probably one must determine the nature and extent of remedial education as the diagnosing of the syndrome is not the whole solution, but just the beginning.
  • For the first time the learner has a better chance of success concerning scholastic assignments.
  1. Help in the classroom.

The following can help:

  • If your child is oversensitive to the reflection of white paper, you can use coloured paper to make copies. Double spacing helps to prevent fusion of words and letters.
  • The bright reflection from the blackboard can complicate copying. If you use these methods in your class, your child with IS should be placed right under the blackboard.
  • Remember your child with IS sometimes could lag behind on reading ability, it is difficult for them to read aloud, be sensitive about this towards them.
  • Fluorescent lighting and direct sunlight causes discomfort to learners with IS. Such learners should be moved around in where you do schooling until discomfort is reduced to a minimum. They can also wear hats in class.

About the author

Leanne Greeff is a Educational Psychologist and Irlen Diagnostician. You can contact her on 012 547 0952 or email for more information.


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