Autism and Colored Overlays That Enhance Visual Perceptual Performance in Reading

by Pat Wyman on November 26, 2013

This is part 1 of a three part article on Autism and colored overlays that enhance visual perceptual performance in reading and a review of the existing research demonstrating that certain facets of autism are helped by using colored overlays.

The primary research in this area comes from a 2007 study by A.K. Ludlow, A.J. Wilkins and P. Heaton, researchers who conducted and then replicated 3 experiments showing conclusively that ” colored overlays can benefit many children with autism spectrum disorders.”

Colored Overlays Enhance Visual Perceptual Performance in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Ludlow’s, et.al study on autism and colored overlays is listed in Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders Journal 2 (2008) 498–515 and called “Colored Overlays Enhance Visual Perceptual Performance in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders”. The study reviews all available literature as well as replicating the findings.

In their introduction, they note: ” Sensory processing abnormalities have been widely reported in individuals with autism spectrum disorder”, and go on to discuss visual processing abnormalities which affect reading, perception of room dimensions and writing.

They estimated that that “20% of the population on the autism spectrum would read more than 5% faster when using colored overlays (Evans & Joseph, 2002;Wilkins, 2003).”

In Ludow’s, et. al earlier 2006 study, 79% of the children with autism tested were able to read more than 5% faster” with colored overlays and “increments of up to 50% in reading speed were observed.”

In my experience as a college professor for teachers and as an author who has worked with and written about autism and colored overlays, this population can significantly benefit from the use of colored overlays. I’ve observed children and adults gain reading fluency and better writing abilities using  colored overlays which instantly cleared up distorted print on the written page.

In the study listed above, the authors go on to say that two theories posit the mechanisms underlying the beneficial effects of colored overlays on reading are the magnocellular deficit theory (Kriss, 2002; Chase, 1996;Chase, Ashourzadeh, Kelly, Manfette, & Kinsey, 2003) and the cortical hyper-excitability theory(Wilkins, 2003).

Magnocellular cells are neurons within the magnocellular layer of the lateral geniculate nucleus of the thalamus and part of the visual system.

While some experts disagree with manocellular deficit theory as the cause of dyslexia or distortions seen by those with autism, the more salient point is that these distortions exist and are often helped with the use of colored overlays.

Many autism experts and people with autism recommend colored overlays.

Temple Grandin Discusses Autism and Colored Overlays

colored overlays    Temple Grandin, Ph.D. is well-known as the most famous woman in the world on the autism spectrum. She is a college professor, author of multiple books including The Autistic Brain and nearly single-handedly changed the livestock handling facilities in this country.

On her web page    she notes, along with several other therapy recommendations, to “try colored overlays or printing homework and reading materials on pastel paper.  Try grey, tan, light green, light blue, light pink, light yellow, and other pale colors.”

Further, Grandin recommends removing florescent lighting, reducing noise with ear plugs and modifying diet.

            Part 2 of this article will continue and focus on autism and colored overlays.

It will take a look at autism through new eyes and how to improve reading, writing, coordination and sports abilities via colored overlays.

Pat WymanPat Wyman is the best selling author of several books, including Instant Learning for Amazing Grades: a 14 Day Complete Study Skills System; Amazing Grades: 101 Best Ways to Improve Your Grades Faster, Spelling Made Easy: Learn Your Words in Half the Time; and a co-author in two books on autism with a chapter on autism and colored overlays.

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