Behavioural Eye Clinic - Visual Stress, Dyslexia, Autism, Migraines

Behavioural Eye Clinic - Visual Stress, Dyslexia, Autism, Migraines

Some people experience symptoms of visual perceptual distortions and eyestrain when viewing text, and this is often described as ‘visual stress’. Symptoms of visual stress include words appearing to move around or merge together when reading, patterns or shadows appearing within a block of text and a strong aversion to striped patterns.

The latest estimates are that visual stress is present in around 1 in 5 people with dyslexia, but although they may co-exist, visual stress and dyslexia are different conditions

If your child has vision problems that don’t get picked up, their learning may be significantly impacted. Click here to book a specialist appointment with us today.

Struggling to read? Visual Stress

Do the words on a page move? If this is something your child says to you frequently they could have visual stress - sensitivity to visual patterns particularly stripes and the condition can interfere with reading. Visual stress symptoms can occur with normal vision. When describing the symptoms children often say that the words on a page move or jump, that they are blurry or explain that some have colours around them. Signs that a child is suffering with visual stress often include: moving closer or further away from the book, skipping words or lines, rubbing of the eyes, frequent blinking and poor understanding of the written content.

Vision plays a vital role in most people's lives every day - 80% of our sensory input comes through our eyes. This is especially true in school where eye coordination and vision problems can slow down progression. Too much effort is used up just trying to see correctly instead of thinking about the task being learnt.

visual stress

Visual stress is more common in people who have dyslexia; however, people who struggle with reading due to visual stress can be misdiagnosed as dyslexic. Therefore, as soon as a person shows signs of visual stress it is important to try to identify it and treat it to avoid any further stress or lack of confidence in reading.

If you are concerned however that you or your child have learning difficulties, visual distortion or problems processing what you are reading including letter reversals, then you may need a more detailed specialist "behavioural eye examination" which looks more deeply at how you use your eyes and how they work together. If reading, writing, spelling or maths is a concern, then we may be able to help.

Dyslexia, Autism and Learning Difficulties

Mackey Opticians have specialised in visual problems related to conditions like dyslexia and autistic spectrum disorders for over twenty years, initially by Mark and James Mackey and run more recently by Richard Mackey. We have a specialist "behavioural" clinic at our Holywood Arches practice at 422 Newtownards Road, Belfast. You may want to get your eyes routinely checked at one of our other practices initially and they can advise you on referral for a "behavioural eye examination". Or you can simply book an initial appointment at the clinic.

The initial assessment normally takes 60 minutes (plus eye examination if needed) using a wide array of extra investigations and equipment to spot problems with vision, eye and behavioural coordination. You may be given a questionnaire to fill out prior to your appointment.

Coloured Lenses

Some people who suffer from visual stress find that their symptoms are alleviated by coloured filters, either in the form of coloured overlays or tinted lenses. Coloured filters are normally only considered once a sight test has been performed, and any other potential causes of visual difficulty have been addressed. Coloured overlays are often handed out by teachers without any training - the child is simply given a choice to see if they "work".  Problems with this approach include

  • does the child have "Irlen syndrome" and need a coloured filter?
  • does the child need a spectacle prescription?
  • is the colour is the best one for that child?

Only 5-10% of children suffer with "Meares-Irlen syndrome" - where patterns of lines and letters cause visual distortion which can be helped with specific colours. Many children like a coloured filter when they should be wearing a spectacle prescription instead. Others may be masking an eye coordination problem or the filter is just a placebo. 

Intuitive Colorimeter

Mackey Opticians have been using the "Intuitive Colorimeter" for over 25 years developed initially by Professor Arnold Wilkins of Cambridge University alongside Cerium Precision Tints. This scientifically decides whether the child needs a coloured tint and what specific tint they require. Click here to read some of their testimonials.. Instead of a choice of just 12 coloured filters, Cerium Precision Tints offer a choice of millions of colours and different intensities - these are then put into a pair of spectacles that can also be fitted with your child's spectacle prescription if needed.

Please visit our page on coloured filters and the Intuitive Colorimeter for more information. 

Vision Therapy

The majority of children and adults with Visual Stress or other behavioural eye coordination problems will benefit from "Vision Therapy" - a bespoke set of exercises that are carried out at home and also in our clinic. String and beads, letter cards on walls, balance mats and metronomes are just some of the tools that may be used for Vision Therapy. Alternatively (or alongside) it may include a computer (internet) based program which can allow you to improve your skills independently at home and take your through increasing levels of difficulty to "strengthen" your eye muscles focusing abilities. You will be given a set of "flipper lenses" and blue-red goggles to work alongside the computer program. Prices for Vision Therapy will depend on what tools are required, how long the program lasts and also how frequently we have to review your case or show you new exercises. 


About 40 per cent of all migraines are triggered by flickering light, patterns or reading. Vision therapy and Precision Tinted lenses may have an impact on helping to reduce/stop migraines.

If you have any questions, or you would like to book an appointment, please contact our Newtownards Road practice or email Richard Mackey. 

Mackey Opticians

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   422 Newtownards Road, BELFAST, Co. Antrim, BT4 1HJ

   028 9073 9909

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