Eye care and Dyslexia

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Eye care and Dyslexia

Article in Families Magazine

What is dyslexia? At its simplest level it is a condition that affects the ability to read and spell and 4-5% of the population suffer from this lifelong condition. Males are predominantly affected; from all IQ levels and backgrounds. Indeed many people with dyslexia can have great gifts; geniuses such as Leonardo da Vinci, Einstein and Shakespeare are thought to have been dyslexic.

Many people with dyslexia have reduced ability to focus up close and difficulty in co-ordinating their two eyes together. Tests to detect these problems are not done as part of the standard school eye test and dyslexic children must have their sight thoroughly investigated by an experienced optometrist. These visual deficits are rarely the sole cause of reading difficulties, but are often contributory factors.

Children find it hard to describe visual problems but the key things to look out for is blurring, doubling, moving, fading, changing colours, shimmering and seeing patterns and shapes within the text. They also may be experiencing headaches due to eyestrain when reading.

For some dyslexic children (and adults too) coloured overlays can make a remarkable difference and dramatically improve reading speeds. They make the eyes more comfortable allowing more fluid reading and greater concentration times.

Meares Irlen syndrome is the name given to people whose condition is helped by the use of coloured overlays; indeed someone with the condition and using overlays will be able to read 25% faster. With 5% of school children thought to be sufferers, there are many children who could be helped. My own research during my honours degree showed overwhelming results and this is why I now provide a dyslexic and special needs consultation service at my practice.

During one of these consultations, an eye examination is undertaken to see if spectacles are required and to eliminate any health concerns. Next the binocular visual system (i.e. how the two eyes work together) is thoroughly examined to identify any visual factors that may contribute to the reading difficulty and exercises may be given to strengthen any weaknesses. Finally a specific reading test determines the best coloured overlay required. The selected overlay is then issued on a trial basis for up to one school term to see if it reduces the symptoms of eye strain and headache.

If these prove to be successful, then progressing to tinted prescribed spectacles is the next step. Further testing for this is required as the colour may differ from the overlay to the spectacles.

A detailed report accompanies this consultation which can be sent to the client’s teachers, special needs teachers and educational psychologists.

These coloured overlays can also help other specific learning difficulties such as dyscalculia (a learning difficulty affecting numerical skills), dyspraxia (a disorder of involuntary movements), Aspergers syndrome and autism.

I recommended that all children, suspected by parents or teachers of having learning issues and report suffering from any of the symptoms already described, should be examined by an experienced optometrist. Adults may also benefit from this service.

The consultation is just £45 and is suitable for all age ranges with a reading disability. If you require any further information on this service please do not hesitate to contact, Downes’ Practice Director Julie on 0131 553 5358.

Free eye examinations for all are available at Downes Opticians supported by NHS Scotland.