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What does visual dyslexia look like?

Visual dyslexia refers to difficulties with visual processing that can lead to problems perceiving and interpreting visual information. It can make it challenging to understand text and to identify letters, words, and symbols accurately. Visual dyslexia is sometimes grouped under the umbrella term “irlen syndrome” along with other visual processing issues like light sensitivity. Let’s take a closer look at what visual dyslexia can look like and how it impacts people.

Signs and Symptoms

Some common signs and symptoms of visual dyslexia include:

  • Letters, words, or lines of text appearing to move, shake, swim, or blur
  • Difficulty tracking from one line of text to the next
  • Words appearing distorted, merged together, or with letters missing
  • Bright white backgrounds making text hard to see
  • Trouble recognizing familiar shapes, objects, or faces
  • Headaches, eyestrain, or fatigue from reading
  • Poor handwriting skills
  • Problems judging distance, depth, or speed of moving objects

No two people experience visual dyslexia exactly the same way. The type and severity of symptoms can vary widely. Some people only have mild difficulties that mainly pop up when reading. Others experience more extensive issues that interfere with daily life.


Researchers aren’t entirely sure what causes visual dyslexia, but some factors that may play a role include:

  • Genetics – Many people with visual dyslexia also have family members affected by it.
  • Differences in visual pathway wiring – The nerves carrying visual information to the brain may be miswired or develop abnormally.
  • Brain structure and connectivity – Subtle differences in how the visual cortex processes information can lead to visual processing problems.
  • Nutritional factors – Deficiencies in certain vitamins and minerals may contribute.

Visual dyslexia often overlaps with auditory processing disorders, ADHD, and learning disabilities like dyslexia. Researchers theorize there may be similar underlying neurological causes.

Impact on Reading and Learning

Visual dyslexia can significantly impact reading skills and academic achievement. Common challenges faced include:

  • Letter and word reversal
  • Losing place frequently while reading
  • Skipping lines or reading words out of order
  • Slow reading speed
  • Poor spelling
  • Difficulty recognizing sight words
  • Trouble remembering what was read

Because reading is so visually demanding, people with visual dyslexia often have to put in extra time and effort to get through assignments. They may avoid reading altogether. Following written instructions accurately can also be tough. Overall, visual dyslexia puts students at a major disadvantage in school.


A comprehensive eye exam is the first step in diagnosing visual dyslexia. An optometrist can check for problems like nearsightedness or farsightedness that could impact reading. Additional testing may include:

  • Visual processing evaluation – Assesses functional vision skills involved in learning and reading.
  • Neurological exam – Checks for issues with visual pathway wiring and nervous system function.
  • IQ and psychoeducational testing – Helps determine learning strengths, weaknesses, and discrepancies.

Input from parents and teachers is also key. They can provide insight into how visual dyslexia affects the child’s abilities and activities at home and school.

Treatments and Interventions

While there is no “cure” for visual dyslexia, many treatments and accommodations can help improve function. Common options include:

  • Tinted lenses/overlays – Custom tinted glasses filters out harsh lighting and high-contrast backgrounds that create visual distortion and eye strain.
  • Vision therapy – Targeted exercises help strengthen visual processing weaknesses and skills.
  • Classroom accommodations – Things like tailored seating, reduced workload, audio books, and assistive technology (text-to-speech).
  • Occupational therapy – Works on underlying skills like eye tracking and handwriting.

Medications and dietary supplements may also help in some cases. Treatment is tailored to each person’s unique problems and needs. Consistency is key – regular therapy and accommodation use gives the visual system a chance to develop and compensate.

Coping Strategies

In addition to formal treatment, people with visual dyslexia can take steps to self-accommodate:

  • Use a brightly colored ruler or guide under sentences to prevent losing place.
  • Try different color paper and font styles to optimize text visibility.
  • Take frequent breaks when reading or working visually.
  • Use audiobooks and text-to-speech tools.
  • Minimize distractions and clutter when reading.
  • Ask for written instructions to be given verbally.

Setting up a dyslexia-friendly reading or study space can also help. Reduce glare, use task lighting, declutter, and organize materials. It takes some trial-and-error to figure out what adjustments work best for each person.


Visual dyslexia is a lifelong condition. With proper support and management, people can learn to compensate well. Early diagnosis and treatment provide the best opportunity to prevent major struggles with reading and academics. Even into adulthood, adapting the work and home environment can help minimize the impact of ongoing symptoms. Overall, the outlook depends largely on the individual’s symptom severity and access to accommodations. Mild cases may cause only minor annoyances, while severe visual dyslexia can pose substantial challenges without adequate assistance. Increased awareness and understanding of the condition is critical for helping people achieve their full potential.

Key Takeaways

  • Visual dyslexia involves difficulties processing and interpreting visual information that can profoundly affect reading skills.
  • Signs like words blurring, backgrounds interfering with text visibility, and problems tracking while reading may indicate visual dyslexia.
  • Genetics, brain wiring differences, and nutritional factors may play a role in the underlying causes.
  • Tinted lenses, vision therapy, classroom accommodations, and coping strategies can help manage symptoms.
  • Though lifelong, visual dyslexia can be worked around with the right support and adjustments to reading/learning environments.