Have you seen people wearing tinted lenses?

So why do people use these? Do they really work and what does the research say?

In Australia tinted glasses are most often Irlen Lenses, although you can get tinted lenses from many Behavioural Optometrists.  Jenny Axtens is a local Irlen Screener based in Nowra, and we have two local Behavioural Optometry Clinics here in Kiama: EyeQ  and The Eye Store near Woolworths.  They’re both fantastic.

There are also tinted Reading Guides (Highlight Strips) in various colours.

There has been strong resistance to the argument that vision perception has an impact on Reading Difficulties (Dyslexia) and that the only universally accepted cause (and treatment) of RD is phonology (as well as Rapid Serial Naming and working memory) and the teaching of synthetic phonics.

We absolutely agree with the explicit instruction of synthetic phonics at Starfish – it is the bread and butter of what we do.  It is the “how to” of teaching children with reading difficulties.

However, it does not make sense to me that Phonology is the only cause of RD when clearly reading involves being able to “see” the print before converting the letters into sounds (and words).  And, vice versa when spelling.

Let’s assume there is no other valid reason for the RD (eg average IQ, absence of a visual or hearing impairment, good teaching)…..

There is now (2018) emerging research to support the idea that RD may be caused by a weakness in the AUDITORY  or  VISUAL  or AUDITORY & VISUAL neurological pathways.

Prof Stein has been a driving force in this research.  Prof Stein started out as Medical Doctor and went on to become a neurosurgeon.  He currently is a Professor in Physiology at Oxford no less.  Anyway, many years ago, he was consulted on the case of a young girl, around the age of 8yrs who suddenly stopped being able to read.  Tests showed that sadly she had a tumour on particular neurological pathways in her brain.  This tragic situation was the catalyst for Prof Stein’s interest in the neurology and physiology of Dyslexia.

Prof Stein and his team argue that many dyslexics have impaired Magnocellular Pathways (or more precisely, impaired magnocells) in the brain. These M Pathways are in both the visual and auditory systems.  In one group of dyslexics, only the visual M pathways are affected, in another group only the auditory M pathways are affected and in a third group both the  visual and auditory pathways are affected.

They state that:

The M pathways are in turn impacted (negatively) by a lack of Omega 3s (because Magnocells require Omega 3s to function properly), and their research (2016) providing appropriate supplements has produced a positive gain in reading.

When M pathways in the visual system are impaired, particularly coloured lenses (yellow or blue) produces statistically significant gains in reading.  These coloured lenses (DRT = Dyslexia Research Trust glasses) are available for a small cost (I made a donation to the Dyslexia Institute, UK and received 3 pairs of each a few weeks later).  The research also found that whilst commercially produced coloured lenses (in this case Harris lenses) did improve reading significantly the DRT lenses improved reading at least as much and in spelling the DRT lenses CLEARLY out-performed the Harris lenses.

40% of all children with RD improved (in their reading) with either filter system by MORE than 6mths in the 3mth trial.

an S score of 1.8 = 4.5mths in Reading Age (approx)

an S score of 1.6 = 6mths in Spelling Age (approx)

There is other research on its way as well – the impact of movement and rhythm on M pathways – however at this stage it is in its infancy.

I was lucky enough to attend a conference where Prof Stein was presenting, and questions from the audience clarified a couple of other things:

Whilst using a full page reading guide (in the yellow or blue, depending on the individual) is effective for reading a book, it is not ideal as the impaired M Pathways will be impacting on all their vision not just when reading.  Coloured lens spectacles worn all the time would be preferable.

The impaired M-pathways may be impacting on other key fundamental skills such as RAN (Rapid Automatised Naming), sequencing and working memory.

There is NO PATENT on the colour of the DRT lenses used in the research,  it is easily found by anyone who looks in the research (Yellow = Kodak Wratten 15 and Blue = Kodak Wratten 47b).

This information has meant we sometimes use tinted overlays or the tinted glasses during tutoring.  We certainly have them handy, to trial.

We remain committed to teaching synthetic phonics explicitly and systematically.

Even if M-pathways are affected, children are still going to need explicit instruction of synthetic phonics. However, we have the yellow (or blue) glasses available to offer children at our centre should they assist.

Lately, I’ve been tending to use the Tinted Highlight strips (Yellow or Blue coloured Reading Guides) as I find them really quick and easy to offer and “check” the kids with.  It isn’t precise, thats for sure, relying on self-reporting.  However what we have found so far, is that children and adolescents tend to be pretty clear as to whether the overlays help or not.  If found to assist, then we can recommend the family look at purchasing coloured lenses either from The Dyslexia Institute, a Behavioural Optometrist (has the advantage of also being able to combine with a vision test and prescription glasses) or an Irlen Screener.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and experience.  Hope you enjoyed this post and that it gave a clear and simple summary for you.


n.b. the graph above was adapted from:

Hall, R; Ray, N; Harries,P & Stein J A Comparison of two coloured filter systems for treating visual reading difficulties.  Disabil. Rehabil. 2014 35:2221-2226

Other related articles:

Vision, Eye Tracking and Visual Perception when Reading.

 Eye movements and Tracking when Reading.