Visual Stress

Visual Stress and Specific Learning Difficulties

Learners with visual stress or Irlen Syndrome - will experience a range of unpleasant symptoms which limit their ability to successfully process visual information when reading.

These symptoms are caused by dysfunction in visual perception, and can lead to reading and copying difficulties, lack of control of eye movements, fatigue, eye pains, headaches and oversensitivity to written print.

15-20% of the population are thought to suffer visual stress to some extent.  Visual stress may be linked to dyslexia and be particularly prevalent in dyslexic learners.  However, there is some controversy surrounding this theory, and the two are not always linked: not all children and young people with Specific Learning Difficulties experience visual stress, and not everyone experiencing visual stress has Specific Learning Difficulties.

Learners with visual stress may claim that:

  • Text is moving or spinning
  • Text is blurry
  • Page appears to be sloping
  • Letters or words appear crowded together
  • Letters appear to be disappearing or moving position
  • Letters appear to be changing size or shape
  • Patterns appear to be running through print
  • The text or background is changing colour/fading
  • Words are difficult to track
  • The page is too bright.

The consequences of these difficulties can be varied.  Problems are likely to become more pronounced after viewing texts for extended periods of time.  Eye problems - including the need for glasses - must always be ruled out first by carrying out a thorough eye examination.

Information adapted with kind permission of North Yorkshire SpLD Team