Tinted Lenses and Dyslexia

I appreciate when teachers and parents ask about tinted lenses as a possible solution for dyslexia – this tells me there is an acknowledgement of the role of vision in reading and learning. People will sometimes ask about ‘Irlen’ lenses. These are normal, uncoated lenses that are sent to special labs to be tinted with color chosen by by a mostly arbitrary selection process. Some parents and teachers have reported that such tints seem to improve the reading problem for some children.

Most recently, a national distributor of glasses frames and lenses has gotten on board the ‘dyslexia glasses’ wagon, that is, tinted lenses for reading problems, and they have made some remarkable claims about the value of such glasses that will almost certainly give false hope to many parents. Because some vendors might be persuaded to offer these products, it’s important to clear some things up about such ‘dyslexia’ glasses.

Start with some facts. There is no question that specific tints and lens treatments (like polarized lenses, and anti-reflective coatings) can help in making visual targets easier to see. So, for myself, I prefer brown polarized lenses for driving in sunny conditions or for fishing and the reason is simple: Things are easier to see, and more comfortable on the eyes. As another example, there is some evidence that grey polarized lenses provide better vision on the golf course.

Some tints can make reading easier by adding contrast to print and by making the reader more comfortable by reducing the ‘noisiness’ of room light or daylight. Generally this benefit is short-lived and parents are left wondering if they should replace the lenses when the child needs an update. People with dyslexia might find tinted lenses comfortable for the same reasons as anyone else might, but the tint will not help the dyslexia.

If these glasses seem to provide a real benefit to a child’s comfort while reading, there is a good chance there is an underlying problem with focusing, eye muscle control, or eye alignment. Addressing the functional issues will usually solve the problem, then the child can continue on with the school curriculum and try to catch up.

There is generally no measurable impact on reading performance due to tinted lenses, nor is it generally measured. When a child’s behaviour doesn’t change and grades don’t rise, and after the the money is spent, parents are left with the feeling that ‘vision’ is of no consequence in reading or learning, and nothing could be further from the truth.

Most children who are referred to my clinic for reading and learning problems have been diagnosed as dyslexic and/or having problems with attention. The great majority of these children do have vision problems that can and should be addressed as part of a full care plan. Strong vision remains an important cornerstone of success in school, but parents and teachers are reminded that reading is complex and tinted lenses are not likely to be a cure. If a child struggles in school, vision is almost certainly part of the problem, but this requires professional assessment and intervention before money is wasted on false claims.

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