Thursday, 21 August 2014

‘Why Dyslexia and not Visual Stress?’ by  Dyslexia Toby © 2014

The strength of good literacy skills is built from firm foundations, early letter and sound association (phonics, phonemes)… we all remember our phonetic alphabet.  What is a phoneme?...  a phoneme is a basic unit of a language's phonology, which is combined with other phonemes to form a meaningful unit. We can change a word by simply changing the phoneme, like kill and kiss (ll), (ss). Sound (auditory processing) is the first step in literacy development, its from that we learn to form speech patterns and then linking this to how can we link dyslexia and visual stress!

DYSLEXIA  -  How can we tell if someone is Dyslexic?

They can have problems with constructing words, although they are generally ok with mono syllabic words.  They can also suffer with letter reversals (using the correct letters but in the wrong sequence) and logical reasoning (not being able to form pairs of letters into sounds like ‘ch’ or ‘ur’ as in ch-ur-ch or church). Short term memory is also a problem as they are not stimulated as they would be through the visual channel.

What causes Dyslexia?

Dyslexia is caused primarily by the part of our brain (brain is made up of several component parts) that decodes the written and sometimes the spoken word. Two strongly held beliefs about dyslexia are that children/adults with it are prone to seeing letters or words in a reversed format, and also that the problem is linked to intelligence. Both ideals are incorrect. The problem is actually a linguistic one, not a visual one, in dyslexia. And dyslexia in no way stems from any lack of intelligence. People with severe dyslexia can be brilliant… however due to being dyslexic we have a huge problem.

When someone writes something for us to copy or dictates words to copy, the information enters the left side of our brain via the audio or visual tract… most dyslexics would find great difficulty in processing information in this way due to poor or limited function of the left side of the brain (left lobe) that forms whole words and letter sounds.  There are three areas - the Broca’s  that works on articulation and word analyses… the Parietal/temporal that also helps to analyse words (includes sensory processing along with the cerebellum ) and the Occipital that helps to form our words. Dyslexics have an impaired Occipital and rely more on the Broca’s area when trying to structure whole words. This is not the last port of call, as we then search in our right side for a stored image of the given word.  This however shows a lack of reading fluency in the child or adult that has not had intervention. It is easy to see why so many children and adults with dyspraxia have problems with reading/spelling and they make up the greater proportion of dyslexics.

VISUAL STRESS  -  How can we tell if someone has Visual stress?

Moving closer to or away from page.
Becoming fidgety whilst reading.
Using their finger to track words.
Missing out words and dropping down to another line (eye tracking) is also a possibility here.
Rubbing or rinsing eyes and neck, gulping (drawing in air) and yawning whilst reading and blinking excessively to re-focus.
Self-confidence and associated behaviour which can be hidden.

What causes Visual stress?

 It is a condition that will contribute unaided to reading and writing problems, eye strain and possibly headaches/migraine brought on by prolonged reading. It can affect and be more noticeable in those with light sensitivity, with the appearance of patterns in text and glare effect that can cause letter to appear bunched up and can lead to letter movement. There is a low tolerance to the amount of white light/glare compared to that of a person that doesn’t have visual stress.

The Wilkins Rate of Reading Test will help test for visual stress, it’s a simple test that does not check for dyslexia (cognitive ability) or IQ/intelligence, but that of fluency of reading, speed, etc.

How is this test conducted?  The test uses simple words, familiar to children/adults. The words appear in each line of a block of text but in a random order (we with old hill, etc.) as we are not assessing the child’s comprehension skills but purely the reading speed.

Dyslexia… Help is at hand

How can we help/intervene with dyslexia?  We can get teachers to use visual stimulus to help transfer information to the Occipital area of the brain, this will also strengthen the visual memory bank. The STEPS Programme used in our centre works on these key areas with a multi-sensory approach through structured reading exercises, sight vocabulary games, a word flash session and targeted reading practice( fluency). This can make huge improvements as it stimulates the brain with variety and is also very visual.

 Visual stress… Help is at hand

As visual stress is caused by intensity of light (white), we can reduce/defuse this by using filters. For the most part this can be extremely low cost, with the use of academic resources like a Reading Ruler or coloured Overlays and, in addition, the use of coloured Work Books.
You can if you wish get specialist lenses prescribed through an optician… however many will feel a little uncomfortable with, this especially older children. An inexpensive pack of filters can help with all academic study and can be supplied for under €12 or £10.

We can see from both visual stress and dyslexia that the two are not directly connected, although through pure averages, around 2-4% of dyslexics will also present with visual stress.

(another great article worth reading @

There are two more in depth articles written by us on both these areas, however I felt that many confuse the two so a short comparison was called for.

For resources that help with both visit our web at