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Learning Differences: Irlen Syndrome / Visual Stress

Irlen Syndrome

This guide focuses on Irlen Syndrome / Visual Stress and studying. It includes:

What is Irlen Syndrome?

Things Everyone Should Know About Irlen Syndrome by Irlen Institute

What is Irlen Syndrome?

Irlen Syndrome, also known as Visual Stress, is a perceptual processing disorder. This means that the brain can have trouble processing visual information. Irlen Syndrome affects different people in different waysSymptoms are often triggered by the environment, but simple changes to the environment can reduce its' effects. 

Read more about Irlen Syndrome here.

Learning Strategies for Students

These learning strategies might be useful to help you manage your study and make it easier for your brain to process visual information.

Natural Lighting
  • Experiment and find a seat in your classroom or study area where the lighting conditions make it easier and more comfortable to read and work.
  • Indirect natural lighting is the best. If you need lights on, try dimming them.
  • Wear sunglasses if the light is too bright.
Tint Your Screens
  • Dim the brightness of your screens
  • Change the background colour of your laptop and phone screens.
  • Try colour tinted glasses
Plastic Coloured Overlays  
Edit your documents

Just because a document is formatted in a certain way, it doesn't mean it needs to stay like that.

  • Edit the document so it suits you. For example,  
    • Change the page colour or text colour
    • Increase the size of the text and change the font
    • Increase the line spacing

Paper Colour

  • Avoid high contrast texts. For example, black text on bright white paper.
  • Ask your tutors to print course material on coloured paper.
  • Buy a coloured pad/book to take your notes on.  
Reading Ruler
  • If you are reading on paper, try using a ruler to help keep track of which line you are on. 
  • If you are reading on a screen, try adding a digital reading ruler to Chrome 
Take breaks
  • Frequently take breaks to give your eyes a rest.


Take a moment: Choose one or two learning strategies to try this week. 

Teaching Strategies for Tutors

The best things you can do to support your students with Irlen Syndrome are:

  • Learn more about Irlen Syndrome
  • Get you know your students and their learning preferences.

Tutors can support learners with Irlen Syndrome by:

Reduce your fluorescent lighting 
  • Create areas in the classroom that have different lighting options  
    • Areas with no fluorescent lights, areas where half the lights are off, and areas with full fluorescent lighting.
  • If there is enough natural lighting, turn fluorescent lights off.
Style guides
  • Avoid lots of text on one page.
  • Use plain large fonts, such as San Serif fonts.
Print on coloured paper
  • Print course material on coloured paper, especially assessments.
    • Ask your students what works best for them. 
    • The wrong colour may make no difference.
Assistive tools 
  • Encourage the use plastic coloured overlays.
  • Allow students to wear hats and tinted glasses in the classroom to block out light.
  • For students who have trouble writing, encourage them to write on coloured paper. 
  • Help students personalise their laptop and phone screens to dim the brightness or the light, tint the light colour, and reduce the contrast. 
Plan regular breaks
  • Allow students to take regular breaks to rest their eyes. 

Does this sound like you?

Want to check if you might have Irlen Syndrome?

Click the arrow on the right to answer some questions. 

If you answer yes to many of these questions, then you might be experiencing the effects of Irlen Syndrome.

This self-assessment can give you an idea of whether you might have Irlen Syndrome. It shouldn't be used to diagnose yourself. Talk to your Accessibility Coordinator for more information.


  • Do you skip words or lines when reading?
  • Do you reread lines?
  • Do you lose your place?
  • Do you read close to the page?
  • Do you use your finger or other markers when reading?


  • Are you easily distracted when reading?
  • Do you need to take breaks often?
  • Do you find it harder to read the longer you read?
  • Does reading make you tired?
  • Do you get restless, active, or fidgety when reading?



  • Do you get headaches when you read?
  • Do your eyes get red and watery?
  • Do you blink or squint?
  • Do you prefer to read in dim light?


Are any of these colours better than the others?

Do you find this line easier to read than the other lines? If so, maybe a pink background works well for you. 

Do you find this line easier to read than the other lines? If so, maybe a blue background works well for you. 

Do you find this line easier to read than the other lines? If so, maybe a green background works well for you. 

Do you find this line easier to read than the other lines? If so, maybe a yellow background works well for you. 

Try some different coloured backgrounds here. (Change colours by clicking on the glasses at the top of the screen)

How to change your screen colour by The Codpast

What does Irlen Syndrome feel like for learners?

Irlen Syndrome Sample Print Distortions by Irlen Institute

If you want to talk about any information on these pages, please contact Wayne Samways, the Accessibility Coordinator. or 027 218 9180


Thank you to the team at Te Pūkenga Weltec Whitireia who gave us permission to adapt and use their guide on Learning Differences