Dyslexia, Reading and Visual Stress

Doreen Dyslexia Awareness Craft Maker Creative

This year as I am approaching 40, I finally have tinted specs for visual stress (sometimes people use the terms visual difficulties or Meares-Irlen). I had been tested at least twice before. Once as a kid, just after I had been identified as having dyslexia and again around 5 years ago.

Before going for a coloured overlay test about 5 years ago, I had not been reading in my spare time and especially not for enjoyment. I was sent away with a yellow reading ruler and told to read with it, so I did and read most of a detective novel before going back for the next appointment. I even sat in the waiting room, reading my book. Unfortunately, all that practice meant when I was tested again my reading speed was very close to normal. I was told to ‘take the overlay and use it to read: as I was reading now due to the overlay’. This was far from the truth: I was reading because I had been told to. After I left that appointment I stopped reading in my spare time and never finished that detective novel.

So, to more recent times – I was getting really embarrassed about not reading and how slowly I read, especially in the work place. So I decided that I would use my spiritual and religious life to give myself a reason to read at least a few pages every single day. Luckily there are a number of publications of daily prayers and meditations that are perfect for this.

Then when I became extremely sensitive to light and began to get a large number of headaches, I decided to get another visual stress test; I did not go back to the same optometrist. Luckily this time my visual stress was caught and I got orange coloured glasses (they are expensive and took 6 weeks to be manufactured).

It wasn’t until I first wore my orange specs that I realised what I’ve been missing. I could suddenly see (words) clearly. However, I’m fairly sure I still have tracking issues and still need to use my fingers fairly often to keep my place. Sitting down and reading a novel is still far from the top of my list of favourite things to do. I’d rather pop on an audiobook, while being creative or doing the housework.

I have realised that I need at least 15 minutes “recovery” time after pure reading. Studying (i.e. reading, taking notes and deliberately learning) is a completely different story, and for me doesn’t require as much “recovery” time before I can safely face other people.

I am an anxious person with periods of low mood; and to take this a little further I think I would say I am socially anxious. I have noticed that if I try to avoid mixing with people before an event by reading, I am quite withdrawn and socially prickly when I try to take part in the event.

This new aspect to the dyslexia monster’s attacks (perhaps a little like those of the black dog of depression) has only become obvious to me now that I have another weapon in my arsenal to fight it. However, I am extremely dismayed that as I get closer to defeating it, the monster fights dirty and tries to destroy my support networks.

Here is a poem that I wrote recently about the dyslexia monster at a Glasgow Women’s Library creative workshop:

Be afraid!!!

Do you hear me dyslexia monster?

Afraid. I said “Be Afraid!!!”

Now after living a lifetime bowing and scraping to you: I am drawing a line!

Be afraid!

Be very afraid!!!

Each day I am going to force that line closer and closer to you!


You have been in control for too long. No more!!!

Your sphere of influence has grown too big.

I have been afraid.

But no longer, this is the beginning of the end for you!

Be afraid!


Be very afraid!!!


You know what they say about the shrew turning.

I am an avenging angel !!!

I am coming …

Fear awaits you dyslexia beast.


I will pry those big fat talons off that fairy butterfly you have entrapped.

Then I will chop them off one-by-one.

And as you scream: that beautiful, creative and colourful creature will spread her wings and fly away.

Be afraid!

Be very afraid!!!


Your time has come. Your time is over. Your time is ending!

Be afraid!

Be very afraid beast!

As Beauty’s time to rule has come!!!

Doreen Kelly, Dyslexia Scotland member and volunteer


Published by Dyslexia Scotland

We encourage and enable people with dyslexia, regardless of their age and abilities, to reach their potential.

2 thoughts on “Dyslexia, Reading and Visual Stress

  1. A fascinating blog post, Doreen. Really interesting to read about the distinction but links between dyslexia and visual stress. I really love your poem and the idea of recovery time.

  2. Thank you for making the distinction between dyslexia and visual stress: they are 2 separate conditions. I didn’t realise this until after I was assessed for dyslexia and a colleague told me about visual stress and told me where I could get tested for it.

    I think it would help dyslexic people if dyslexia assessors were to recommend in their report as a matter of course that anyone who has been identified with dyslexia also gets tested for visual conditions, and signposts them to local eye care professionals who test for these.

    Regarding tracking text, Vicki Goodwin and Bonita Thomson recommend (in their book ‘Making Dyslexia Work for you’) using a ruler or piece of card, not under the line you are reading but *above*. ‘This will allow your eye to read on but doesn’t allow it to drift back’. I use a piece of white card with nothing on it – I find anything else distracting. This has transformed my reading ability.

    I also find that if I find a book really compelling, this means I find the reading of it almost effortless / unnoticeable, like wearing a pair of comfy shoes – you forget you’re actually wearing them. For example, I’m currently reading a novel by Neil Ascherson called ‘The Death of the Fronsac’, set in Scotland during WW2. Although I can’t take in all the military detail, I’m greatly enjoying the story and finding it hard to put down.

    One type of writer who seems able to write compelling fiction is journalists. But I’ve also read many books which I’ve found compelling which are written by writers who aren’t journalists.

    I’ve read that many people who find reading difficult can overcome their difficulties by reading in an area of interest for them. For me, I think the accessibility of the book is more important than the topic. For example, I’ve read graphic novels that are about things I wouldn’t choose to read a print book on, but which the graphic novels make accessible for me.

    For example, ‘Sally Heathcote, Sufragette’ by Mary and Brian Talbot, and ‘Radioactive’ by Lauren Redniss. There is one particular image which has really stayed with me from ‘Radioactive’. I find it helpful to accept that my brain takes in information through pictures as well as text and that there is no shame in learning through pictures as an adult.

    There are other visual conditions associated with dyslexia, as well as visual stress, for example binocular instability. You can find out more in Dyslexia Scotland’s leaflets ‘Dyslexia and Visual Issues’ (also available in audio); and ‘Visual Issues – Frequently Asked Questions’.

    Regarding social anxiety, I see a direct connection between this and difficulties with social interaction. For self-help resources on this I recommend
    1) ‘Speaking and listening skills’ by Sylvia Moody (3-page guide). This is available to download in pdf in ‘Specific performance difficulties: A working person’s Guide’ at http://www.sylviamoody.com/workingperson.html
    2) ‘Dyslexia and Counselling’ by Rosemary Scott (text book)
    ISBN 978-1861-563958
    Especially the following sections:
    • ‘Isolation through language problems’ (pp193 – 196);
    • ‘Isolation through lack of social cognition’ (pp197-198); and
    • ‘Counselling communication with dyslexic clients’ (pp246-253).
    3) ‘The Dyslexic Adult – Interventions and Outcomes’ by David McLoughlin and Carol Leather 2nd edition (text book). ISBN 978-1-119-97393-5.
    • Social Skills (pages 133 – 135).

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