People with learning disabilities learn differently, obviously. Does that mean the way that they learn is wrong?
- Joanne Dumm

August 2020, Volume 44

Reading by the Colors

by Bernice Tillman*

Reading by the Colors is a program and technique developed by Helen Irlen to help people with reading difficulties, and is also the name of a book that Irlen wrote to explain the program.
Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome (SSS) is a disorder that causes difficulty with printed materials. People with SSS do not see print the same way most of us do, but this is a perception problem, not a vision problem. 

People with SSS may experience low energy level, low motivation, low productivity, dyslexia, dyscalculia, attention deficit disorder and other learning problems. They may be sensitive to light, see background as gray instead of clearly defined black or white, perceive that the print appearance is poor, or struggle with syllabification - meaning, they are unable to break down more than two or three syllables. 

Slow reading, inefficient reading, tiring easily, difficulty reading continuously, headaches and nausea are all possible red flags for SSS. Auditory processing, depth perception, and coordination are additional areas that can be affected by SSS. 

Testing for SSS varies with each person. Irlen's training materials (and book) include a question sheet for parents or guardians to answer and printed pages showing distorted print to see if someone is seeing print as it appears on those pages. 

Examples of print distortion are shown in Images 1 to 3 below.




Image Source for 1 through 3: Reading by the Colors

Distortion can also mean:
  • Words falling off page
  • Words moving together
  • Letters reversing and rotating
  • Letters switching
  • Background pulsating, flashing, bright, or uncomfortable

There is a screening process, and special eye doctors may help. Vision training exercises are available, along with tools such as colored reading strips, which are available at stores such as the Dollar Tree, and colored transparent pages to place over print. (See Image 4). These are available from the Sight Center of Northwest Ohio. Printing on colored, pastel paper instead of white paper helps many people read better. (See Image 5)

Image Source: Job Accommodation Network,

Image Source:

Outcomes for people with SSS are often good, especially if they are diagnosed early. A combination of programs for those with dyslexia and other struggling learners, along with regular school intervention programs, may help. Sometimes, special glasses are needed. 

Look at the picture, what do you see? 
Do you see a vase, or two faces, or are the two images "dueling"?

Image Source:  Reading by the Colors

*Bernice Tillman is involved with LCBDD as a family member and as an educator. She has taught children with learning disabilities at various schools, and currently teaches at St. Richard's in Swanton. Many years ago, she completed a training dealing with Irlen methods. 

Many of the materials referenced in this article are from her training kit. If you think you or someone you serve should be tested for SSS or would benefit from using these tools, you can reach Ms. Tillman at 419-376-4392

She is not a physician, but can help you develop questions to ask your eye doctor.

For additional information about the reading methods and aides developed by Helen Irlen:

Irlen's site:

Job Accommodation Network -, choose Accommodation Search, or

Amazon and Staples for colored overlays, strips, and paper

August Activity Tip: Neighborhood Bingo
August is a great time to take a walk in the neighborhood and while you're at it, play Neighborhood Bingo!

You can choose what will be counted as a BINGO: in a row, up-and-down, diagonal, four corner or postage stamp (upper right four squares.) 

If you choose, you can use the Bingo card and make it a neighborhood scavenger hunt, and see who has the most squares marked off. 
  • Bingo cards
  • Pens or pencils
  • Clip board

If in a group, determine what will be acceptable for a BINGO (See above.) If you are playing alone, try to mark off all of the squares. Take your walk through the neighborhood and when you see an item that is on the card, cross it off. It's that simple. 

See the image below for a sample Neighborhood Bingo card that you can use. 

Additional resources to find a bingo card template or create bingo cards:

Thanks to Jenny Kinney, LCBDD Provider Support Specialist, for sharing this activity that she developed while working for another agency that served seniors.

If you're new to Aging Gracefully, past issues can be found at the Lucas County Board of DD's web site,, under Publications.
Copyright © August 2020 Aging Gracefully, Volume 44, All rights reserved.

Aging Gracefully is published and edited by the Lucas County Board of Developmental Disabilities.

Contributions come from:
Triad Residential Solutions
Unique Healthcare Solutions
Lucas County Board of Developmental Disabilities
Contact us at:
419-380-4000 or
1154 Larc Lane
Toledo, Ohio 43614

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