To test the efficacy of Irlen colored overlays for alleviating reading difficulties ostensibly caused by Irlen syndrome, a proposed perceptual disorder with controversial diagnostic status.


Sixty-one schoolchildren (aged 7–12 years) with reading difficulties were assessed by an Irlen diagnostician. We used a within-subject study design to examine differences in reading rate across 3 conditions: using an overlay of a prescribed color; using an overlay of a nonprescribed color; and using no overlay. In a subset of 44 children, all of whom had a diagnosis of Irlen syndrome, we also used a between-group design to test the effects of Irlen colored overlays on a global reading measure.


The Irlen diagnostician diagnosed Irlen syndrome in 77% of our poor readers. We found no evidence for any immediate benefit of Irlen colored overlays as measured by the reading-rate test or the global reading measure.


Our data suggest that Irlen colored overlays do not have any demonstrable immediate effect on reading in children with reading difficulties.

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