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The relationship between dyslexia and Meares-Irlen Syndrome


Address for correspondence: Prof Bruce Evans, Institute of Optometry, 56-62 Newington Causeway, London, SE1 6DS. E-mail:


Meares-Irlen Syndrome (MIS) is characterised by symptoms of visual stress and visual perceptual distortions that are alleviated by using individually prescribed coloured filters. Coloured overlays (sheets of transparent plastic that are placed upon the page) are used to screen for the condition. MIS is diagnosed on the basis of either the sustained voluntary use of an overlay or an immediate improvement (typically of more than 5%) on the Wilkins Rate of Reading Test (WRRT). Various studies are reviewed suggesting a prevalence of 20–34% using these criteria. Stricter criteria give a lower prevalence: for example, 5% of the population read more than 25% faster with an overlay. It has been alleged that MIS is more common in dyslexia, but this has not been systematically investigated. We compared a group of 32 dyslexic with 32 control children aged 7–12 years, matched for age, gender and socio-economic background. Participants were tested with Intuitive Overlays, and those demonstrating a preference had their rate of reading tested using the WRRT with and without their preferred overlay. Both groups read faster with the overlay, and more so in the dyslexic group. ANOVA revealed no significant effect of group, but a significant improvement in WRRT with overlay (p=0.009) and a significant interaction between group and overlay (p=0.031). We found a similar prevalence of MIS in the general population to that in previous studies and a prevalence in the dyslexic group that was a little higher (odds ratio for >5% criterion: 2.6, 95% confidence limit 0.9–7.3). The difference in prevalence in the two groups did not reach statistical significance. We conclude that MIS is prevalent in the general population and possibly a little more common in dyslexia. Children with dyslexia seem to benefit more from coloured overlays than non-dyslexic children. MIS and dyslexia are separate entities and are detected and treated in different ways. If a child has both problems then they are likely to be markedly disadvantaged and they should receive prompt treatments appropriate to the two conditions. It is recommended that education professionals as well as eye-care professionals are alert to the symptoms of MIS and that children are screened for this condition, as well as for other visual anomalies.