The physical side of reading

Helen Irlen writes:

Almost never are those with reading problems questioned about whether reading is comfortable. It is assumed that reading is equally comfortable for everyone. In reality, there are some for whom reading is very painful. There are actual physical symptoms that can be associated with reading. People get headaches from reading, they get nauseous, they become drowsy, they experience strain and fatigue. One reason proficient readers can read for long periods is because they rarely find reading accompanied by pain, strain, or fatigue.
Because of those negative physical symptoms, an individual with SSS might, at best, read only briefly or, at worst, decide not to read at all.” (p.68)

There are strategies people use so they will be able to continue reading. One strategy is to incorporate frequent breaks into the reading.
A break can be as simple as briefly looking up from the [-p.70] page or as involved as getting up, walking around, and not returning for five to ten minutes. It is easy to determine how severely affected an individual’s reading is by looking at the frequency and length of the breaks. Those most severely affected take frequent breaks that get longer and longer while the reading time between breaks gets shorter and shorter. Some individuals keep a television on while they read so that they can take breaks every few minutes.
Incorporating breaks into the reading can help, but it also slows down the reading process. Eventually, break times can become longer than reading times. Individuals who cannot read a full chapter without stopping frequently will find reading a much longer process than their peers find it.
Those individuals who cannot read a chapter straight through do not stop only at the end of chapters or at the end of concepts. The breaks occur when perceptual distortion or strain interferes with reading comprehension. Those readers take a break, hoping the distortion or fatigue will disappear. Sometimes it does, for a short period of time. But since the breaks often occur at inopportune times, to return to the task of reading requires a significant amount of rereading and effort.
Adults with SSS are not the only ones who need to take breaks to be able to continue to read. Children with SSS try to employ that strategy in the classroom. When the child puts his or her head down on the desk, looks out the window, talks to a neighbour. or gets up and walks around, the child is often mislabelled as inattentive, distractible, or unmotivated. Quickly such children find that they may not take breaks, but neither can they keep reading. Many find that the safe approach in the classroom is to pretend to read. They move their heads from side to side and turn pages when those around them do likewise. Their behaviour serves a purpose; it keeps them [-p.71] out of trouble. However, it does not help them to read or do classroom assignments.” (pp.69-70)

“…it seems that the problems affecting the reader with SSS are made worse by certain environmental factors. For example, the level and type of lighting where one reads can speed up the onset of SSS symptoms and actually worsen the problems occurring on a page.
Fluorescent light is the worst of all. Wonderful. The kind of lighting most frequently used in classrooms and in the workplace is fluorescent. How much more difficult for people with SSS does it have to be?
In general, it takes more energy and effort for people with SSS than for those without it to concentrate and read under fluorescent lighting, and it requires more effort and energy on their part to read under fluorescent light than under any other type of lighting. They might be able to do it, but the price they pay is that it affects comprehension, the length of time they can read, and their energy level.
Adults with SSS often take their work-related reading home, where they can read under dim lighting – but children in school must read and take tests under fluorescent lights.” (pp.71-72)

“Reading materials themselves compound the problem. The brightness of white chalkboards can make matters worse. So can high-gloss white paper. Both produce glare and make it even harder for children with SSS to stay with a reading task.
The amount of words on a page and the style and size of the print can also add to the problem. Many textbooks and magazines are more difficult to read than paperback books, which use no-glare, off-white pages. Books with pictures, large-print books, and books with two or more columns per page are easier to read.” (p.72)

Ref: Helen Irlen (2005) Reading By Colors: Overcoming dyslexia and other reading difficulties through the Irlen method. Penguin: New York


About backyardbooks

This blog is a kind of electronic storage locker for ideas and quotes that inform my research... literary research into fiction for young adults (with a special focus on New Zealand fiction). Kiwis are producing amazing literature for younger readers, but it isn't getting the academic appreciation it deserves. I hope readers of this blog can make use of the material I gather and share by way of promoting our fiction. Cheers!
This entry was posted in Metaphors and Narratives around children and learners, Understanding literacy and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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